Bridging the Digital Divide for Families Can Improve Student Outcomes

EdSource

By Delaine Eastin |May 23, 2016

California, once revered as a top school system, now ranks among the bottom in the nation. Despite being one of the most expensive states to live in, California is near the bottom in per-pupil spending. Inadequate funding has led to teacher training and retention problems, overly large classes and the fewest number of counselors, nurses and librarians per student of any state. Most disturbing, we are experiencing low achievement for too many students.

This comes at a time of historically high rates of poverty and income inequality.  Amidst all this bad news, however, there is an overlooked bright spot: parent engagement through educational technology. Not only are online teaching and learning aids transforming the learning potential for students, they are providing a revolutionary way for parents of all backgrounds to engage in their children’s education.

We’ve always known that parent engagement matters. And over the past decade, a ream of academic studies has confirmed that parent engagement – across income, ethnicity, race and geography – is a key to student learning and academic success.  Yet parent engagement tends to be higher at higher income schools – and that’s because wealthier parents generally have three things poorer parents don’t have: time, money and access.

Educators can’t solve parents’ time and money problems. But there is plenty we can do about access. One promising approach is an innovative program called School2Home that’s been adopted in 11 low-performing middle schools in five California districts. The program, where I’ve served as a coach for educators, is showing that Internet access and digital literacy training can provide significant benefits for students, teachers and parents.

School2Home is based on the simple recognition that around 30 to 40 percent of low-income California households do not have high-speed Internet and that this “digital divide” is widening the academic achievement divide. For that reason, School2Home has set out to: get students connected to the Internet at home through affordable broadband programs and low-cost computers; provide parents the digital literacy skills they need to engage with teachers, schools and their children’s learning; and train teachers to use the increasing abundance of hardware and software to the benefit of their students’ education.

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