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Framing the Issue of the Digital Divide in Education

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Homework Gap in U.S. Education

What is the "Homework Gap" and why should we care?

When talking about the digital divide in U.S. education, many articles reference “the homework gap.”  A good working definition of this term is provided by families.com:

The homework gap “is the space between the students whose families have access to the internet at home – and the students whose families do not have internet access at home. Those who cannot access the internet at home are at a disadvantage.”

But why is this significant?   As it turns out, the past several years have seen large influxes of technology into classrooms around the country.  Although this technology hasn’t been distributed equally among all districts, great strides have been made in technology integration and the vast majority of students are getting at least some hands on use.  In many districts, this influx of technology has led to a change teaching practice.  At Its best, this change has led to a redefinition of education and to tasks, collaboration, and projects that were not possible before.  (See SAMR model below)

Technology has led to the increased integration of learning management systems like Edmodo, Google Classroom, Haiku, Schoology, and Canvas.  Assigning digital homework, projects, and collaboration can lead to deep understanding, but it also puts students without home access at a significant disadvantage.    When teachers have just a few students without access, they often work to find alternatives (even though these alternatives are not always equal).  When the number of students without home internet access increases, then teachers become hesitant to assign work (hopefully empowering and redefining work that motivates students). 

Although the United Nations has recognized the detrimental impacts of the digital divide on a global level (http://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/ares68d198_en.pdf) the majority of school districts have not made plans to address the issues surrounding the homework gap in the U.S..  There is no magic solution, of course.  However, beginning to address this problem on a system level is crucial for the education of all of our students.  

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