Major Findings of the Homework Gap Report

The survey analysis unearthed seven major findings that address the primary research purposes: to better understand the scope of the homework gap in North Carolina’s 115 school districts and to better understand the barriers to students’ access to the internet and their use of it for homework and school activities.

Findings

Tab/Accordion Item

Contrary to the researcher’s hypothesis, people who completed the survey online as opposed to the paper version did not differ in the extent to which they reported having internet access in their homes. However, due to the survey’s limitations caused by the sampling method, this figure of 10% is not generalizable to the state as whole. Meaning, the statewide percent of K-12 households who lack access to broadband is still unknown.

However, this finding does not significantly differ from national and previous state estimates. Pew Internet estimated the homework gap affected roughly 17.5% of K-12 households in 2015, while 2013 data from the North Carolina’s Citizen’s Survey indicated roughly 14% of North Carolina’s K-12 households did not have broadband at home (Wilson, 2014). Thus, while further study is needed to determine the actual percent of North Carolina’s K-12 households impacted by the homework gap, the difference between the survey’s findings and the actual figure likely is not greater than 5 to 15 percentage points.

Of the 10% of respondents without access, 65.96% (n=799 – or the majority of those without access) cited cost as the primary reason for not having internet in their homes.

This is similar to national data that shows that cost and relevancy (a lack of understanding of how the internet impacts daily life) were the two primary reasons households with school-age children cited for not having access in 2015 (U.S. Department of Education, 2018). This was particularly true for those with low incomes (those making less than $34,999) – 76.2% of whom indicated cost was the primary barrier.

Relationship Between Income Level and "Too Expensive" as Main Reason Respondents Did Not Have Broadband Home Access; N=777

Income Internet Access No Internet Access

Low (less than $10,000-$34,999)

23.8% 76.2%
Medium ($35,000-$74,999) 43.3% 56.6%
High ($75,000-$200,000+) 81.2% 18.8%

Of the 10% of respondents without access, 65.96% (n=799 – or the majority of those without access) cited cost as the primary reason for not having internet in their homes.

This is similar to national data that shows that cost and relevancy (a lack of understanding of how the internet impacts daily life) were the two primary reasons households with school-age children cited for not having access in 2015 (U.S. Department of Education, 2018). This was particularly true for those with low incomes (those making less than $34,999)  –  76.2% of whom indicated cost was the primary barrier.

Lack of access to the service itself was the second most-frequent response, with 23.27% of respondents citing “it is not available in my area” as a reason for not having access in their home. Respondents could choose multiple reasons.

Cost was also the primary barrier to device ownership. While just 36 respondents reported not owning a single digital device, 69.44% of them cited cost as the primary reason for not owning a device.

However, for high-income respondents without broadband access (those with annual incomes greater than $75,000), the primary reason they lacked broadband at home was because it was not available at their household. Of those without access who also had high incomes, 71.9% indicated that it was the main reason they lacked access.

The response option, “Internet Too Slow” was the third-most frequent selection as a reason for not having home broadband access.

Relationship Between Income Level and "Too Expensive" as the Main Reason Respondents Did Not Have Broadband Home Access; N=777

Income Internet Access No Internet Access

Low (less than $10,000-$34,999)

23.8% 76.2%
Medium ($35,000-$74,999) 43.3% 56.6%
High ($75,000-$200,000+) N/A N/A

However, as with the availability of the service itself, this response was more frequent among households with high incomes. Of high-income respondents, 12.5% indicated the speed of the service was their primary barrier, whereas 6.2% of low-income households selected the same option. Other response options  –  ‘’Don’t see the need for it,” “My device does not connect,” “I use the internet somewhere else” and “Concerns about online privacy”  –  did not significantly impact respondents' access to broadband in their home.

Mobile devices and smart phones were included as possible response options for the question that gauged device ownership. As such, many respondents had access to a mobile or smartphone only. However, the survey was constructed in such a way to prevent calculation of the number of households with only a mobile or smart phone. Future research should separate mobile phone ownership from computer ownership to better understand the true nature of device ownership.

Contrary to the researcher’s hypothesis, people who completed the survey online as opposed to the paper version did not differ in the extent to which they reported having internet access in their homes. However, due to the survey’s limitations caused by the sampling method, this figure of 10% is not generalizable to the state as whole. Meaning, the statewide percent of K-12 households who lack access to broadband is still unknown.

However, this finding does not significantly differ from national and previous state estimates. Pew Internet estimated the homework gap affected roughly 17.5% of K-12 households in 2015, while 2013 data from the North Carolina’s Citizen’s Survey indicated roughly 14% of North Carolina’s K-12 households did not have broadband at home (Wilson, 2014). Thus, while further study is needed to determine the actual percent of North Carolina’s K-12 households impacted by the homework gap, the difference between the survey’s finding and the actual figure is likely not greater than 5 to 15 percentage points.

The data show that the higher a household’s income, the more likely it was to have access to broadband, even free broadband. And the higher a person’s income, the more likely they were to have broadband access. The median income bracket for respondents without access was $25,000-34,999  –  65% of those without access reported household incomes of $34,999 or less.

The same is true for educational attainment. The lower the household’s educational level, the less likely it was to have access at home. Of those without access at home, 64% responded as having completed “Some College” or less. Those with access were more likely to have a bachelor’s degree or higher than those without access.

The relationship between race and/or ethnicity and broadband access was less clear. This is primarily due to the make-up of the respondents, which was predominantly white, at 79.8%. However, national research shows that higher percentages of minority-led households lack access compared to their white peers (Pew Research Center, 2015). To better understand the relationship between race/ethnicity and broadband access in North Carolina, further research is needed.

Of respondents without internet access, 78.9% do not own a desktop computer, and 51.4% did not own a laptop computer. Meanwhile, only 9.3% of respondents with a paid subscription did not own a laptop computer. The ownership difference between those with and without broadband access is statistically significant for all three digital device types.

However, of the three device types, respondents without broadband access were most likely to own a tablet. Of respondents without access, 57.1% reported owning a tablet, while 48.6% reported owning laptops, and 21.1% indicated they owned a desktop computer.

Relationship Between at Home Access and Ownership of Tablets; N=8,257

Internet Access Does Not Own a Tablet Owns a Tablet
Paid access 9.5% 90.5%
Free access 28.3% 71.7%
No access 42.9% 57.1%

Ownership of other types of internet-enabled devices such as smart TVs, streaming devices and gaming systems was less frequent than desktop, laptop and tablet ownership among those with and without broadband access. However, those with access continued to own these devices at a greater rate than those without broadband access.

The most popular device for accessing the internet among respondents was the smart phone: 98% (n=7,691) of households reported owning at least one smart phone.

However, the analysis demonstrated a statistically significant difference in the number of smart phones individuals reported owning based on their internet access at home.

Those with home broadband access were more likely to own more smart phones. Those without access were more likely to own fewer smart phones or no smart phone at all.

For instance, 9% of those without broadband access reported not owning a smart phone, while for those with access, just 1.8% reported not owning a smart phone.

Relationship between Access at Home and Ownership of Smart Phone Devices; N=8,653

Internet Access No Devices 1 Device 2 Devices 3 Devices 4 Devices
Paid access 1.8% 10.4% 34.7% 27% 26.2%
Free access 4.7% 23% 26.7% 19.3% 26.4%
No access 9% 29.2% 33.6% 15.4% 12.8%

 

The difference in levels of comfort in assisting their children with online schoolwork between respondents with access and those without was statistically significant. In addition, there was a statistical difference between those with and without access and their level of comfort in using digital devices and the internet to complete each of the categories surveyed: online banking, completing work, online shopping, accessing personal information, job searching and accessing entertainment.

These findings mean that respondents with broadband access were more comfortable navigating and using digital devices than those without access at home.

Level of Parents’ Comfort in Helping Children with Schoolwork by Access Level; N=7,995

Internet Access Very Uncomfortable Somewhat Uncomfortable Somewhat Comfortable Very Comfortable
Paid access 9% 6.1% 22.3% 62.6%
Free access 13.9% 7.4% 29.2% 49.5%
No access 16.5% 11.3% 28.1% 44.1%

 

To better understand where K-12 students complete homework that requires internet access, the survey asked parents to rate the frequency at which their children visited a variety of locations to complete homework requiring the internet. "Someone else's home" was the most frequent response from all respondents and those without access.

Of those without access, 45% reported accessing the internet in someone else’s home at least once a week, while 20% of the total respondents reported the same. Restaurants and libraries were equally popular (at 31%) among those without access while for the entire survey population restaurants (at 12%) outranked libraries (at 9%).

These results mirror national data which also identified “someone else’s home” as the most popular place to access the internet outside of school (U.S. Department of Education, 2018). Public libraries outrank restaurants by 13 percentage points in the national data, however, indicating that further study of North Carolina’s most popular destinations is needed.