LAUSD authorizes $100M to bridge digital divide amid coronavirus closures

Dive Brief:

  • The Los Angeles Unified School District will spend $100 million to improve online learning while schools are closed until at least May 1 due to the coronavirus, with Superintendent Austin Beutner announcing in a Monday address Verizon is working with the district to help provide internet access to all students.
  • In a message to families, Beutner said about half of the district’s students are continuing studies online successfully and about 25% are doing okay with it, but the remaining quarter are not getting an equal opportunity to learn because they do not have access to the internet.
  • The district’s online initiative will focus on literacy, math and critical thinking at the elementary level. At the high school level, the focus will be on continuing studies to the extent possible, with adjustments made for settings like labs that may not be replicable in the digital environment. 

Dive Insight:

To help districts grappling with school closures, the Federal Communications Commission is temporarily waiving E-rate program gift rules. The change will allow schools and districts participating in the information services discount program to receive free broadband, WiFi hotspots and other services and gear needed for online learning.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai urged service providers and equipment makers to partner with schools and libraries to help launch these initiatives. Future Ready Schools, an initiative of the Alliance for Excellent Education, has also urged educators to sign a letter asking Pai to expand the E-rate program’s coverage to include home internet service.

Nationally, approximately 12 million students fall into the homework gap because they lack home internet access, according to the FCC. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) is pushing for connectivity funding through his proposed Homework Gap Trust Fund Act. The American Federation of Teachers is among groups that have endorsed the legislation.

There are many logistics for districts to work through as they move to e-learning during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. How long should students be on their devices during the day? What if a student has trouble submitting an assignment digitally? Many teachers are working remotely for the first time and addressing these issues as they arise.

Librarians are also stepping up efforts to help districts pull syllabi together to provide access to student learning opportunities during school closures. Most academic libraries have plenty of digital content available for online learning. They have also developed platforms from which to share information, and many academic librarians have already been working with teachers to digitally update lesson plans and increase student engagement.

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