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Framing the Issue of the Digital Divide in Education

Friday, November 17, 2017

Equity vs. Equality in the Digital Divide

Equity vs. Equality in the Digital Divide

bzml8pgceaaprab-jpg-large.jpgIn most states, school funding formulas are fraught with politics and this has significant implications for technology infrastructure, devices, and opportunities.  The urban vs. rural digital divide surfaces in most states, especially as it relates to connectivity.  Many rural schools in my state (Oregon) struggle with getting enough bandwidth to do innovative and meaningful classroom learning.   When discussing home connectivity for students, some of my rural colleagues lament the cost of the middle and last miles and the struggle for reliable bandwidth and the lack of opportunities that this creates in comparison with most urban and suburban schools.

The urban vs. rural connectivity divide, though, is just part of the issue.   In many urban districts, schools are funded in a relatively equal manner.  However, monies flow into schools from parent organizations at a very different rate.  Rich schools can raise thousands of dollars at a drop of a hat while poor schools struggle to raise extra funds.  This can have serious implications for types of opportunities within the same district.  Wealthier schools can fund robotics clubs, lego programming experiences, engineering activities, computer labs, drones, etc. while poorer schools often cannot afford to offer these things.  From the school district's perspective, the schools are being funded equally, but the extra money that comes in makes for a much different educational experience.

Of course, parent contributions and volunteering in schools is a good thing as it means that the public is invested.  This should always be encouraged.  With that said, it can create vastly different learning environments between schools who are just a few miles apart.  

Portland Public Schools has taken on this problem of the great differences in parental contributions in their schools through the creation of the PPS Parent Equity Fund.  Portland is a district that has some very wealthy schools and some very poor schools.  The Equity Fund collects parent donations and allocates 1/3 of them to schools in need.   The wealthier schools still end up with more money for purchases at their schools as they keep the majority of funds that they raised.  With that said, at least some of the money that is raised ends up in schools where there is great need.  

Not everyone is happy with the redistribution of funds, especially some of the parents at wealthy schools.  This unhappiness has been documented in a thoughtfully written New York Times article.
Having a percentage of money taken away from a successful school campaign can cause frustration.  However, the inequities in many cities like Portland are significant.    There will always be a difference in resources and opportunities when comparing wealthier and poorer schools.  Portland's effort, though, at least acknowledges the opportunity gap that is created by disparate levels of giving.  Looking at school opportunities from a systemic district wide view is the least that educators can do when considering opportunity gaps.

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