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.