Digital Exclusion: A Troubling New Form of Student Segregation

Five million households in this country with school-aged children don’t have broadband access. But what makes this about segregation is the population most disproportionately affected—Black and Hispanic children living in low-income households.

Digital-Inclusion-OR-Transforming-Education-1-300x272In 1954, the Supreme Court ended school segregation with its landmark decision in Brown v. the Board of Education.  It recognized that racially-segregated public schools were inherently unequal. Integration took place across the country in the decades that followed.

In 2018, I would argue we’re seeing a new form of this inequality through lack of access to broadband (high-speed internet). School-aged children are sent home every day with school work in hand, but millions of them don’t have access to the resources they need to complete it.

Five million households in this country with school-aged children don’t have broadband access according to the Pew Research Center.  But what makes this about segregation is the population most disproportionately affected—Black and Hispanic children living in low-income households.

The percent of homes without high-speed internet is much too high for all households with children; but the persistently greater disadvantage for children of color deserves special attention.  Roughly one-third (31.4%) of households with incomes below $50,000 a year and children between 6 and 17 years old do not have high-speed internet at home. This number is much higher for Black (38.6%) and Hispanic (37.4%) families with school-aged children in the same income bracket.

Why Access Matters

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Child in a school library

School districts across the United States have recognized the importance of internet access for children’s education. It means having information at their fingertips. Kids can now explore the world, find answers to important questions, and discover new opportunities like no other generation before them.

As a result, most schools have connected their classrooms and some have provided Chromebooks or laptops for students to take home, often assigning work that can be done online. With all these advances, it’s easy to see this as each school giving every child an equal opportunity to learn and grow.

But, for those children who don’t have broadband at home, they are left struggling. They can’t access the most basic resources that could help them and can’t complete on the same level as their classmates. Before they even begin to work on their first homework assignment, they are already behind.

This trend is so alarming and widespread that it’s been dubbed the “Homework Gap” by policy-makers across the country. As we ponder the importance of Digital Inclusion Week, I think we need to address the real impact this gap is having our youth, including its disproportionate impact on minority groups—daily and for their futures.

For all children, the internet can provide a tool to grow beyond their immediate surroundings and economic limitations, improving their lives. It can affect not only their primary and secondary educations but also help lead them into new possibilities for college, jobs, and understanding not only themselves but others, accessing the world’s economic, educational, and social opportunities. Given the legacy of segregation, the larger gap in access for children of color and in lower-income families is especially troubling.

I founded the Children’s Partnership and, more recently Kids Impact Initiative, because I believed we could and should do more to identify the changing needs of America’s children and find ways to address them. And I joined Connected Nation’s Board of Directors because I recognized that the lack of access to high-speed internet and computing devices was one of those immediate needs that we, as a country, can address. And we must.

Join us as we work to find new ways to connect more children now, so that they too can benefit from the opportunities that so many of their friends and classmates already enjoy.

Everyone belongs in a Connected Nation.

To read the full analysis provided by Pew Research Center author, John B. Horrigan, click here.

This blog first appeared at www.connectednation.org.

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