Mil­lions of stu­dents lack in­ter­net

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - Front Page - ByMichaelM­elia, Jeff Amy and Larry Fenn

HART­FORD, CONN.>> With no com­puter or in­ter­net at home, Rae­gan Byrd’s home­work as­sign­ments present a nightly chal­lenge: How much can she get done us­ing just her smart­phone?

On the tiny screen, she switches be­tween web pages for re­search projects, los­ing track of tabs when­ever friends send mes­sages. She uses her thumbs to tap out school papers, but when glitches keep her from sub­mit­ting as­sign­ments elec­tron­i­cally, she writes them out by hand.

“At least I have some­thing, in­stead of noth­ing, to ex­plain the sit­u­a­tion,” said Rae­gan, a high school se­nior in Hart­ford.

She is among nearly 3 mil­lion stu­dents around the coun­try who face strug­gles keep­ing up with their stud­ies be­cause they must make do with­out home in­ter­net. In class­rooms, ac­cess to lap­tops and the in­ter­net is nearly universal. But at home, the cost of in­ter­net ser­vice and gaps in its availabili­ty cre­ate ob­sta­cles in ur­ban ar­eas and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties alike.

In what has be­come known as the home­work gap, an es­ti­mated 17% of U.S. stu­dents do not have ac­cess to com­put­ers at home and 18% do not have home ac­cess to broad­band in­ter­net, ac­cord­ing to

an As­so­ci­ated Press anal­y­sis of cen­sus data.

Un­til a cou­ple of years ago, Rae­gan’s school gave ev­ery stu­dent a lap­top equipped with an in­ter­net hot spot. But that grant pro­gram­lapsed. In the area sur­round­ing the school in the city’s north end, less than half of house­holds have home ac­cess.

School dis­tricts, lo­cal gov­ern­ments and oth­ers have tried to help. Dis­tricts in­stalled wire­less in­ter­net on buses and loaned out hot spots. Many com­mu­ni­ties compiled lists of wifi-en­abled restau­rants and other busi­nesses where chil­dren are wel­come to linger and do school­work. Oth­ers re­pur­posed un­used tele­vi­sion fre­quen­cies to pro­vide con­nec­tiv­ity, a strat­egy that the Hart­ford Pub­lic Li­brary plans to try next year in the north end.

Some stu­dents study in the park­ing lots of schools, li­braries or restau­rants — wher­ever they can find a sig­nal.

The con­se­quences can be dire for chil­dren in these sit­u­a­tions, be­cause stu­dents with home in­ter­net con­sis­tently score higher in read­ing, math and sci­ence. And the home­work gap in many ways mir­rors broader ed­u­ca­tional barriers for poor and mi­nor­ity stu­dents.

Stu­dents with­out in­ter­net at home are more likely to be stu­dents of color, from low-in­come fam­i­lies or in house­holds with lower parental ed­u­ca­tion lev­els. Jan­ice Flem­ming-But­ler, who has re­searched barriers to in­ter­net ac­cess in Hart­ford’s largely black north end, said the dis­ad­van­tage for mi­nor­ity stu­dents is an in­jus­tice on the same level as “when black peo­ple didn’t have books.”

Rae­gan, who is black, is grate­ful for her iPhone, and the data plan­paid for by­her grand­fa­ther. The hon­ors stu­dent at Hart­ford’s Jour­nal­ism and Me­dia Academy tries to make as much progress as pos­si­ble while at school.

“On a com­puter — click, click — it’s so much eas­ier,” she said.

Class­mate Madi­son El­bert has ac­cess to her­mother’s com­puter at home, but she was with­out home in­ter­net this spring, which added to dead­line stress for a re­search project.

“I really have to do ev­ery­thing on my phone be­cause I have my data and that’s it,” she said.

Ad­min­is­tra­tors say they try to make the school a wel­com­ing place, with ef­forts in­clud­ing an af­ter­school din­ner pro­gram, in part to en­cour­age them to use the tech­nol­ogy at the building. Some teach­ers of­fer class time for stu­dents to work on projects that re­quire an in­ter­net con­nec­tion.

English teacher Su­san John­ston said she also tries to stick with ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams that of­fer smart­phone apps. Go­ing back to pa­per and chalk­boards is not an op­tion, she said.

“I have kids all the time who are like, ‘Miss, can you just give me a pa­per copy of this?’ And I’mlike, ‘Well, no, be­cause I really need you to get familiar with tech­nol­ogy be­cause it’s not go­ing away,’” she said.

A third of house­holds with school-age chil­dren that do not have home in­ter­net cite the ex­pense as the main rea­son, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment sta­tis­tics gath­ered in 2017 and re­leased in May. The sur­vey found the num­ber of house­holds with­out in­ter­net has been de­clin­ing over­all but was still at 14 per­cent for metropoli­tan ar­eas and 18 per­cent in non­metropoli­tan ar­eas.

A com­mis­sioner at the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion, Jes­sica Rosen­wor­cel, called the home­work gap “the cru­elest part of the dig­i­tal divide.”

In ru­ral north­ern Mis­sis­sippi, re­li­able home in­ter­net is not avail­able for some at any price.

On many af­ter­noons, Sharon Stid­ham­cor­rals her four boys into the school li­brary at East Web­ster High School, where her hus­band is as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal, so they can use the in­ter­net for school­work. A cell­phone tower is vis­i­ble through the trees from their home on a hill­top near Maben, but the in­ter­net sig­nal does not reach their house, even af­ter they built a spe­cial an­tenna on top of a nearby fam­ily cabin.

A third of the 294 house­holds in Maben have no com­puter and close to half have no in­ter­net.

Her 10-year- old son, Miles, who was re­cently di­ag­nosed with dys­lexia, plays an ed­u­ca­tional com­puter game that his par­ents hope will help im­prove his read­ing and math skills. His brother, 12-year- old Cooper, says teach­ers some­times tell stu­dents to watch a YouTube video to help fig­ure out am­ath prob­lem, but that’s not an op­tion at his house.

On the out­skirts of Starkville, home to Mis­sis­sippi State Univer­sity, Jennifer Hart­ness said her chil­dren of­ten have to drive into town for a re­li­able in­ter­net con­nec­tion. Her daughter Abi­gail Shaw, who does a blend of high school and col­lege work on the cam­pus of a com­mu­nity col­lege, said most as­sign­ments have to be com­pleted us­ing on­line soft­ware, and that she re­lies on down­load­ing class pre­sen­ta­tions to study.

“We spend a lot of time at the cof­fee shops, and we went to Mc­Don­ald’s park­ing lot before then,” Abi­gail said.

At home, the fam­ily uses a satel­lite dish that costs $170 a month. It al­lows a cer­tain amount of high­speed data each month and then slows to a crawl. Hart­ness said it’s par­tic­u­larly un­re­li­able for up­load­ing data. Abi­gail said she has lost work when satel­lites or phones have frozen.

Rae­gan says she has learned to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for her own ed­u­ca­tion.

“What school does a good job with,” she said, “is mak­ing stu­dents re­al­ize that when you go out into the world, you have to do things for your­self.”

RO­GE­LIO V. SO­LIS — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Third-grade stu­dent Miles Stid­ham uses an East Web­ster High School lap­top to do home­work in Maben, Miss.

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