The Common Core Standards ushered public schools into the digital world by requiring students to move from #2 pencils to online testing. As early as second grade students are required to take the nation wide standardized tests on a computer connected to public school broadband alongside their fellow classmates. If that doesn’t sound questionable enough then we should consider the socioeconomic implications of asking low income and affluent public schools to perform equally well on a test that requires a critical understanding of technological interfaces and is largely dependent on resources available to students.
“Technology gap” is the commonly used term to refer to the differences in access to digital tools among various income levels. It is frequently described as a symptom of the increased income inequality happening nationwide, but fewer people are concerned about its impact on standardized test scores.
When we first met with Ms. Hunter, principal of Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, she gave us some critical insight on the issue. She explained that a majority of the students in her school did not have computers at home. Not only did they not have computers, but in some cases the parents relied on phones without a modern interface. A non-”smart” phone. She said some of her students only had the opportunity to interact with a modern interface while at school. This wouldn’t be as large an issue if the school had a massive Parent Teacher Association purchasing new technology equipment every year, but that isn’t the reality at MLK Elementary.
After our conversation with Principal Hunter, we did more research on the technology gap and found statistics and cases from all over the United States where low income students suffered as a result of the technology gap. As far back as 2012, Pew Research has been recording data on the subject. They report only 60% of people in households making less than $30,000 use the internet while 90% of those making 50,000-74,999 do. This comparison demonstrates the correlation between internet access and economic well being. It may seem obvious, but Pew puts this into a wider context. 54% of all teachers nationwide said their students had adequate internet access at school, and only 18% said the students had adequate access at home. The majority of our youth at home and at school are being deprived of the necessary resources to succeed, and it has everything to do with wealth distribution.
We created Civic Leaders to make a difference in the lives of public school students, but before meeting Ms. Hunter we weren’t sure how we could best do that. We are striving to purchase tablets or chromebooks for Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary so that one less school is left behind by the technology gap.