The Deep South was left particularly disadvantaged by coronavirus closures

Dive Brief:

  • Students in the rural Deep South were particularly hit hard by the coronavirus’ impacts on learning, according to The Hechinger Report, which notes that schools in the region have some of the nation’s lowest levels of resources, few families with good jobs, and a lack of home Wi-Fi and medical insurance.
  • In Washington County, Mississippi, more than half of children between 5 and 17 live in poverty. Overall, only 27% of rural districts required direct instruction through distance learning during coronavirus closures due to lack of broadband access, and almost 78% of counties with the highest food insecurity rates are rural, with some of the most extreme cases being in the Deep South.
  • For educators like 4th grade teacher LeKesha Perry, Facebook has been valuable to remain connected with parents and figure out which students need paper schoolwork packets, since many students can’t do assignments online.

Dive Insight:

The rush to transition online as schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic highlighted just how broad the equity gap between families really is  and how few resources schools have available to successfully make such a transition. Many students didn’t have computers or home internet access, teachers struggled with a shift to a model they weren’t prepared for, and many parents were simply unable to help due to their own jobs, lack of familiarity or other factors. 

The homework gap especially received significant attention as closures revealed the extent to which many students lack reliable home internet and computer access. According to a Pew Research Center analysis, 65% of suburban 8th-graders use the internet every day or almost every day for homework, compared to 44% in towns and 50% in rural communities.

One-third of households with children between the ages of 6 and 17 with an average household income of $30,000 or less don’t have a high-speed internet connection at home. But only 6% of those whose families make more than $75,000 a year or more lack internet access.

Black teens and those from low-income families are the most likely to be affected by the homework gap. One quarter of Black teens often can’t do homework assignments due to lack of reliable internet or computer access, and 21% say they use public internet access to do homework. Also, about 25% of teens whose families make less than $30,000 lack home computers.

Nationwide, 12 million students fall into the homework gap because they don’t have internet access at home, according to the Federal Communications Commission. School closures created an added disadvantage for these students, as their families already had to go to additional lengths such as driving to a McDonald’s parking lot to use free Wi-Fi to complete assignments prior to the pandemic.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has urged broadband providers to work with schools and libraries to create more remote learning, and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware) sees the pandemic as an opportunity to push for more capacity to work and study from home.

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