Now that most students have returned to live classrooms this fall, there is a lot that can be learned from a post-mortem examination of the ability of students to learn from home. Several studies have shown that students without good home broadband fall behind their peers even when school is back to normal, and so the pandemic gave us a good look at the many homes where students didn’t have broadband or computers.
Pew Research Center released the results of a survey last month that looked at the effectiveness and the problems uncovered when we sent kids home to learn.
93% of parents surveyed said that K-12 children received some online learning during the pandemic. That alone is big news because it means that 7% of students didn’t partake in any online learning. This matches what we’ve been hearing. For example, we recently talked to a high school principal in Arkansas who said that online learning went reasonably well but that the high school ‘lost’ 7% of students. The students never logged into online classes, and the households didn’t respond when contacted by the school. We’ve heard the same story in many other counties where some students seemingly dropped off the grid during the pandemic. That’s going to cause problems for years to come.
30% of the parents in homes that tried online learning said that it was somewhat or very difficult to use technology and the Internet needed to take classes from home. I think it’s fair to say that students who struggled with the technology or who didn’t have adequate broadband fared poorly in terms of learning during the pandemic period.
As might be expected, the households that struggled varies by demographics. Low-income homes were twice as prone to struggling with the technology, with 36% of low-income homes reporting the problem. Rural areas (39%) had more problems with technology and the Internet than other groups like urban (33%) and suburban (18%). What’s scariest about this survey response is that almost one in five suburban kids – areas that likely have the best broadband – struggled with technology and the Internet.
About one-third of parents said that children experienced technology issues that were obstacles in completing schoolwork. 27% of parents said students had to try to do homework on cellphones. 16% said students did not have access to computers. 14% said that kids left home to use public WiFi to complete schoolwork and homework. 46% of low-income homes had the biggest technology obstacles compared to 31% of homes with mid-range incomes and 18% of homes with higher incomes.
Black teens were the most heavily disadvantaged during the pandemic. 13% of black students said they were regularly unable to complete homework due to technology issues compared to 4% for white teens and 6% for Hispanic teens.
Household incomes affected the ability to complete schoolwork. 24% of teens from households making less than $30,000 annually said that the lack of a dependable computer or internet connection sometimes hindered them from completing schoolwork, compared to 9% of students living in homes making more than $75,000 annually.
Hopefully, the pandemic is now behind us and won’t close so many schools again – although even now, schools are closing temporarily due to Covid outbreaks. But even as we return to a normal school year, we need to pause and recognize that the students who struggled with schooling from home continue to be disadvantaged compared to their peers even when school is back to normal. Hopefully, we won’t stop caring about the homework gap.