More than 70 policy-makers, educators, community leaders and stakeholders convened Wednesday to address digital inequity in North Carolina, focusing on the homework gap: the difficulty or inability of students who lack high-speed internet connectivity at home to complete homework assignments, compared to their classmates with access.
The North Carolina Department of Information Technology (NC DIT) Broadband Infrastructure Office (BIO) and the William Ida Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, at North Carolina State University, hosted the “2017 Homework Gap Convening.”
The event opened with remarks from NC Governor Roy Cooper’s Senior Education Advisor, Geoff Coltrane, and NC DIT Secretary and State Chief Information Officer, Eric Boyette. Both Coltrane and Boyette emphasized the importance of household broadband access for students and the need to eliminate the homework gap. “It impacts what we do. If you look at the challenges that we face, it helps us socially, economically and culturally, level the playing field for many of our students, ” Sec. Boyette said. Boyette also cited a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) study which showed that more than 400,000 N.C. households are without access to high-speed internet.
Jessica Rosenworcel, FCC Commissioner and a long-time proponent of digital equity, who coined the term “homework gap,” said in her keynote speech that, “The homework gap is the cruelest [digital divide] problem we have, but I think it is in our power to fix.” She praised North Carolina’s efforts, adding, “When you have data like you are collecting here… people are going to be pointing to North Carolina.”
BIO and Friday Institute researchers Amy Huffman, Janine Parker and Emily Antoszyk presented the findings of a recent study on the scope of the homework gap in the state, noting 67 percent of those without internet access cite cost as the primary reason.
Many in North Carolina are already at work combatting the homework gap in their schools and communities. In a panel discussion, Rob Dietrich, Director of Accountability and Technology for Lee County Schools; Beth Lancaster, Director of Project ACCESS for Montgomery County Schools; and Bruce Clark, Charlotte Digital Inclusion Project Manager at Queens University of Charlotte, shared their innovative initiatives, like wi-fi on school buses and distributed hotspots, to reduce the digital divide.
Following the speakers, breakout groups discussed solutions on the homework gap that will be included in a follow up report.