Monday, October 12, 2015

Solving for the Homework Gap

My role as CIO has changed significantly over the 5 years I’ve been at BVSD. My first major challenge was to modernize IT practices and provide reliable technology and systems to support teachers. Today, that goal has been largely accomplished with open IT issues at their lowest point ever, and the reliability of our systems greatly improved.

This new, more stable environment has allowed me to focus on bigger picture issues. One in particular that strikes home for me is the “homework gap”.  Also known as the digital divide or opportunity gap, it is the recognition that some of our students go home to little or no Internet access.

Ironically, the homework gap is happening at a time when quality educational resources are rapidly moving online. The Khan Academy alone is a significant force in helping students learn outside of the traditional classroom environment. With thousands of tutorials on everything from basic math and calculus to classes in science, computer programming, history, art, and economics, Khan Academy and similar resources can be of significant help to a struggling student.

But what if you are a student with no Internet at home? What if you don’t have a mobile device to take to the library, Starbucks, or hundreds of other publicly available Internet access sites? This is what creates the homework gap, and it is real for many of our students.

At BVSD, we are working to eliminate the homework gap through these pilot programs:
  • Providing Internet at a Boulder Housing Partner site while determining the feasibility of expanding the program.
  • Promoting both the Comcast and CenturyLink $9.95 Internet access programs for students qualifying for free or reduced lunch.
  • Providing Chromebooks to all freshman at Centaurus and Broomfield High Schools through our 1:Web program.
  • Providing Chromebook carts to all schools to be used at the school's discretion, including taking the devices home. 
Although the above pilot programs are a start, I’m exploring additional ways to close the homework gap.

I am working with administration to find funding for a district-wide 1:Web rollout, but at a cost of $2.2 million it will take time and have to be balanced with other critical needs, all at a time when state K-12 funding is critically sparse. A more feasible first step may be funding 1:Web at the high schools for $800k.

This November, BVSD is asking voters to consider an override to SB152. An override would allow public/private telecommunication partnerships that are not available to BVSD today. New partnerships could allow the district to monetize the portion of the fiber that we are not using, giving the Board of Education new revenue to use at their discretion.

CoSN, a professional organization I belong to, is studying other ways to help resolve the homework gap. CoSN's CEO, Keith Krueger, is on sabbatical at Harvard studying the digital divide and how to address it. I encourage you to read his latest blog on bringing the Internet to our students.

As curriculum and educational tools move online, the need for ubiquitous Internet is becoming a necessity. I’ll continue to spend my time working to reduce the homework gap.

I would appreciate your ideas and comments on this topic.  Please chime in below.



  1. Can Boulder Universal bridge the gap?

  2. I have poor students who need technology at school and at home. We're not a 1:1 school, so where do I go to get these students the help they need?
    Leigh Campbell-Hale
    teacher, Fairview High School

    1. We are working to get funding for all schools but that will take time. In the meantime please talk with your Principal. I've also updated the blog with links to the Comcast and CenturyLink $9.95 internet programs.

  3. We should pilot a 1: web program at the elementary level! what about starting this at the "exemplar" (rebuild) schools? Samara Williams, Emerald principal

  4. Andrew - we'd love to talk to you about this! Kajeet is entirely focused on off-campus Education Broadband access and we are the leader in this space. We have grown to serve over 100 districts in 28 states in the past year. You can also reach me at @michaelmflood or our contact page if you'd like to discuss. We work with all size schools and districts.

  5. The technology gap is real and it is not just for the "poor" it is for people who choose not to spend funds on technology or do not believe it is part of "home life". The internet bill is quite a bit to pay if you are a middle income family and trying to make ends meet. I don't think time as a family needs to be spent on a computer. So, I have a personal experience that demonstrates the impact no internet or computer at home can cause in this digital age. Use of school computer for work is great, kids can stay after to go early to the library in the high schools to work. BUT if something is happening in the library for staff (meeting), then student does not have access to the technology or the files. Thus, when they go early to school to print, they are unable to enter the library, first period they are unable to turn in paper, and teacher responds, "When you turn it in later today the highest grade you can get is 50% because it is late." Even though we here at school create great band-aides for computer access, it doesn't necessary meet the needs of non home tech families., If a family chooses not to pay the fees for internet to "those companies" then their child is penalized educationally. I get i,t we create support programs for the "have nots" but some of the "sort of haves" may need help too, Some families are just not keen on technology teaching their kids or letting kids have access to games and other on-line "adventures". There are many issues to getting technology to all students and really is that what we want for our society?

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