Giving Compass' Take:

• COVID-19 has caused virtual learning gaps wider than the average homework gap, revealing education inequities in America. 

• How can donors help school districts increase internet access during this time? 

• Here is a discussion of education challenges and the digital divide during COVID-19. 

Educators and digital equity advocates have tried a number of solutions to close the so-called “homework gap,” from deploying mobile hotspots to getting help from local businesses, but the problem has persisted. And then it finally erupted in March, when schools across the U.S. closed with little warning.

In a matter of days, the “homework gap” widened to a full-fledged learning gap, as computers and internet connections soared to the top of the list of required school supplies and districts made hasty plans to roll out virtual learning.

What that disparity has revealed about the education inequities in our country, according to Common Sense Media’s CEO Jim Steyer, is “a national disgrace.”

Indianapolis Public Schools distributed devices to students who lacked them, then ordered 1,500 mobile hotspots for those who also lacked reliable internet access. There were some delays, since so many other districts were trying to do the same thing simultaneously, but they were eventually able to get students what they needed, Johnson said.

Before COVID-19, Pew Research found that 25 percent of black teens had been unable to do their homework because of barriers to internet access at home, and 21 percent had used public Wi-Fi to do homework for the same reasons. That’s compared to 17 percent and 12 percent, respectively, for all U.S. teens.

The digital divide impacts more than homework and grades, King explained. It has reverberations throughout the higher education and workforce pipelines, too. Students use the internet to research prospective colleges, apply to them, file for federal financial aid and scholarships, apply to jobs and internships, and more.

Because of that, access to the internet can be the difference between a student continuing or breaking the cycle of poverty in their family, Johnson noted. “We have to broaden our thinking about how technology is being leveraged in our homes,” she said.

Read the full article about COVID-19 learning gap by Emily Tate at EdSurge.