Nationally, seven in ten teachers assign homework that requires internet access, but an estimated 5 million households with school-age children do not have internet access at home, according to research from the Pew Research Center (2015). From difficulty completing homework to diminished educational outcomes, the consequences of the homework gap are vast and combine to hinder future career and economic opportunities for both the students and their communities.
Yet, until the U.S. Department of Education released a report in April 2018 compiling data from multiple sources to provide a more robust analysis of the impacts a lack of access to broadband at home has on K-12 households, little was known about the size and scope of the homework gap beyond rough national estimates. Even with an increase in data available to measure the national homework gap, state, county and municipal-level data on the homework gap is non-existent and is not collected by the federal agencies that measure broadband availability and adoption. However, before targeted policies and programs to bridge the homework gap can be designed and implemented, its size, scope and regional distribution must be determined.
This need for granular data, coupled with the desire to address the homework gap holistically and systemically, led the Broadband Infrastructure Office and the FIRE Group to partner to conduct a pilot research study on the topic. The two organizations designed and piloted a survey to collect information on the homework gap, who it affects and its primary causes for North Carolina households.
Both organizations have a long history of advancing research, policies and programs designed to bridge the digital divide in North Carolina’s public schools and communities. The FIRE Group leads the development and current implementation of the “North Carolina Digital Learning Plan,” which highlights the digital learning needs of the state to include out of school access (Friday Institute, 2015).
In 2016, the Broadband Infrastructure Office released the Connecting North Carolina State Broadband Plan with nearly 80 policy recommendations to ensure that all North Carolinians who seek to adopt broadband have access to it by 2021 (DIT, 2016). Given the importance of ensuring that the state’s youth are adequately prepared to participate in a 21st-century economy, closing the homework gap became one of the primary topics the plan addressed. Among the four recommendations focusing specifically on the homework gap, the plan recommended conducting statewide research on out-of-school internet access to fully articulate the breadth of homework gap challenges for N.C. students.
More specifically the plan reads:
HG2.1 The state should distribute a survey in schools for parents to complete and return to obtain more granular data on where the homework gap exists. This could be a telephone, internet or paper survey (or all the above) targeted at parents. The Friday Institute at N.C. State University is regarded nationally for developing and evaluating these types of surveys.
To this end, the Broadband Infrastructure Office partnered with the FIRE group to 1) develop and administer a pilot homework gap survey, and 2) hold a convening of educational technology leaders to brainstorm solutions to eradicate the homework gap. This report details these activities.