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Homework is a Social Justice Issue


But even these questions have significant assumptions underlying them. Do students have a stable family life? Or does the return home in the afternoon bring an increase of stress and anxiety about their family’s well-being? Single parents working multiple jobs, for example, may put the “parenting” of young children onto the shoulders of their older siblings . The increased responsibility likely increases the stress experienced by the older child, while simultaneously reducing time for academic study outside of school.

Situations like these are not isolated incidences. In fact, they are common — and increasingly so. Recently released data show that the majority of American public school students are living in poverty . Researchers have also documented that students from low-income families tend to have a chronically higher level of anxiety than their middle- and upper-class peers. This anxiety reduces working memory load , diminishing their ability to utilize and develop higher-order cognitive capacities. And this reduced cognitive growth at early stages in life compounds as young people progress through school. (Thanks to Laura Eakman , graduate student at CU–Boulder, for bringing some of these resources to my attention.)

While schools can provide low-income students with warmth, food, supplies, and a knowledgeable teacher, asking students to bring essential work home with them may remove those pillars of support from their educational process. Further, making in-class work dependent on progress made at home invites that stress into the classroom and diminishes the positive effect of those support structures that the school has put in place.

This negative effect is compounded by the use of digital technology. As some educators have noted, bring-your-own-device (BYOD) practices privilege students of financial means . And as some districts are finding, that privilege is also reinforced where schools — or external technology grants — provide students with identical equipment. While students may be on a relatively level playing field in class, students do not have equal access to a reliable internet connection at home . Some have no access at all. Nevermind the disparity in technological expertise among parents, guardians, and siblings for when students need help with their homework.

The bottom line is this: a pedagogical strategy that is homework-dependent will treat students unequally. Homework privileges students of privilege — students with multiple parents or guardians who do not work evenings, students without jobs and significant domestic responsibilities, students whose families can afford the technology necessary to do the work asked of them.

While education is often held up as the antidote to poverty, it is quite possible that the opposite is the case . An education that is dependent on homework, especially if it requires expensive technology, may actually reduce social mobility.

The Flipped Classroom: A Cautionary Tale

During my first year of full-time teaching, I began experimenting with the flipped, or inverted, classroom. While there are many different approaches to flipped pedagogy , I began where many instructors do: video “lectures” for students to watch outside of class, so that class time could be freed up for active student work. Implementation varies, of course, but flipped pedagogy has a solid theoretical basis: put student work that requires a low cognitive load (such as information delivery or memorization) outside of class so that the time spent in the presence of peers and the teacher can be devoted to higher-order thinking and more complex tasks.

I made my students a series of high-definition videos. I teach music, and the HD quality was necessary to make the music notation legible and to provide audio that would allow students to hear all of the nuances in each example. I then shared the videos with the students via a file-sharing service. To watch my videos, each student had to download several hundred megabytes of video each week.

Most of these students lived on our residential university campus. We quickly found the university wifi network not up to the challenge — especially if the students were attempting their homework during prime Netflix and gaming hours. Many of my students, through no fault of their own, were unable to prepare for the challenging tasks planned for class.

While this arrangement made sense psychologically and socially, unfortunately the technology was “flipped.” It made it more difficult for students to access the information, even if it was easier to process once it was accessed.

I quickly shifted pedagogical gears. In those early flipped sessions, I asked what is the most cognitively and pedagogically appropriate use of class time and homework time? and made assignment decisions accordingly. After discovering the technological hurdles, I had to ask what is the most cognitively, pedagogically, and technologically appropriate use of class time and homework time? The resulting approach was still in the realm of flipped pedagogy, but with more reliance on text, and using videos only when text was not up to the task. (This collection of resources formed the beginning of what is now an online “text”book, Open Music Theory .)

Blooms Taxonomy and Social Justice

Advocates of the flipped classroom often frame their pedagogy in light of Benjamin Bloom’s (revised) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives . This taxonomy puts low-cognitive-load tasks like memorization and comprehension on the bottom of the hierarchy, and high-cognitive-load tasks like analysis and creation on the top of the hierarchy. Lecture-based teaching tends to put the lower, foundational tasks in class and the higher-order activities into homework and take-home projects. Flipped pedagogy reverses this, often drawing on digital technology to facilitate the transfer of information outside of a class lecture.

I advocate adding another dimension to Bloom’s Taxonomy — one that incorporates consideration of social justice alongside pedagogical philosophy and cognitive psychology. This does not come in the form of a chart, but rather a series of questions to ask before assigning a task for out-of-class student work:

Does the task sit low on Bloom’s Taxonomy? In other words, are students likely to be able to do it independently?

If not, does the task build primarily on work already performed or begun in class? In other words, have students already had sufficient opportunity to dig deep into the task and work through their difficulties in the presence of peers and/or the teacher?

Does the task require only the technology to which all students have sufficient access outside of school?

Can the task reasonably be accomplished, alongside homework from other classes, by students whose home life includes part-time work, significant household responsibilities, or a heightened level of anxiety at home?

When the answer to any of these questions is “no,” we run the risk of disadvantaging students from lower-income families. And so we must consider: is this task pedagogically necessary? If so, we should strongly consider making room for it in class so that all may benefit from it.

Education is often lauded as the great equalizer, the giver of opportunity to the disadvantaged. However, a homework-dependent, technology-heavy pedagogy is likely to diminish social mobility. But if we educators take proper care to consider pedagogy alongside concerns of social justice, that need not be so.

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Low Income Students At Disadvantage In Remote Learning

Posted by John Hammer | Aug 8, 2020 | News

Low Income Students At Disadvantage In Remote Learning

The Guilford County Board of Education voted to begin the school year with nine weeks of remote learning and no in-person classroom teaching.

According to a study done by the Harvard-based Opportunity Insights, the big losers in remote classroom learning are low-income children.

The study was based on data from Zearn, which is a nonprofit that provides online math platforms to schools.

The study states, “Children in high-income areas experience a temporary reduction in learning on this platform when the COVID crisis hit, but soon recover to baseline levels; by contrast, children in lower-income areas remain 50% below baseline levels persistently. Although this platform captures only one aspect of education, these findings raise the concern that COVID-19 may reduce social mobility and ultimately further amplify inequality by having particularly negative effects on human capital development for lower-income children.”

According to the study, low-income students were already at a disadvantage in completing homework that requires internet access, but when not only homework but the entire school day is remote learning, it makes that problem much worse.

A study by the Pew Research Center showed that before the COVID-19 pandemic, one out of three teenaged students only had access to the internet by cellphone to do their homework and one out of five students in the US were unable to do online homework because they lacked internet access.

To help ameliorate these problems, Guilford County Schools has made internet access available in the parking lots of at many schools across the county.

School buses have also been equipped with Wi-Fi hotspots and are placed in underserved communities to allow students to use the hotspot on the “smart buses” to access the internet. Each bus can handle up to 65 simultaneous connections to students within about 300 feet of the bus.

During the spring semester, after schools were closed in March, GCS data showed about 80 percent of students were engaged in online learning on a regular basis.

Even with these efforts, the data shows that low-income students without reliable internet connections are at a disadvantage when schools implement remote learning.

low income students and homework

About  John Hammer

About the author.

John Hammer

John Hammer


There is no substitute for personal instruction & contact. How are you going to learn interact? Sit in front of a machine all day? Supervising and instructing children at home, is like supervising employees working from home. People will invent ways to simulate work, without actually doing so. It’s human nature. We are not machines.

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As schools close due to the coronavirus, some u.s. students face a digital ‘homework gap’.

A sophomore at Brooklyn Friends School checks into her classes remotely from home after the school announced that it will be closed due to concerns about the coronavirus in Brooklyn, New York. (Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

As K-12 officials in many states close schools and shift classes and assignments online due to the spread of the new coronavirus , they confront the reality that some students do not have reliable access to the internet at home – particularly those who are from lower-income households.

Here are key findings about the internet, homework and how the digital divide impacts American youth.

low income students and homework

This analysis examines the impact of the internet and the digital divide on youth in the United States. The survey data cited here comes from a Pew Research Center poll of 743 U.S. teens conducted March 7 to April 10, 2018, using the NORC AmeriSpeak panel. AmeriSpeak is a nationally representative, probability-based panel of the U.S. household population. Randomly selected U.S. households are sampled with a known probability of selection from the NORC National Frame, and then contacted by U.S. mail, telephone or face-to-face interviewers. More details about the NORC AmeriSpeak panel methodology are available here .

Part of this analysis also relies on data from the 2018 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The NAEP administers the digitally based Technology and Engineering Literacy assessment to better understand what students in the U.S. know and can do in the areas of technology and engineering. For more, see the assessment methodology .

Another part of this analysis uses the 2015 American Community Survey (ACS) data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The ACS is a national survey using continuous measurement methods. In the survey, a series of monthly samples produce annual estimates for the same small areas (census tracts and block groups) formerly surveyed via the decennial census long-form sample. For more, see the ACS methodology .

2 The “homework gap” – which refers to school-age children lacking the connectivity they need to complete schoolwork at home – is more pronounced for black, Hispanic and lower-income households. Some 15% of U.S. households with school-age children do not have a high-speed internet connection at home, according to a previously published Pew Research Center analysis of 2015 U.S. Census Bureau data. School-age children in lower-income households are especially likely to lack broadband access. Roughly one-third (35%) of households with children ages 6 to 17 and an annual income below $30,000 a year do not have a high-speed internet connection at home, compared with just 6% of such households earning $75,000 or more a year. These broadband gaps are particularly pronounced in black and Hispanic households with school-age children – especially those with low incomes.

3 Some lower-income teens say they lack resources to complete schoolwork at home. In a 2018 Center survey , about one-in-five teens ages 13 to 17 (17%) said they are often or sometimes unable to complete homework assignments because they do not have reliable access to a computer or internet connection. Black teens and those living in lower-income households were more likely to say they cannot complete homework assignments for this reason.

low income students and homework

For example, one-quarter of black teens said they often or sometimes cannot do homework assignments due to lack of reliable access to a computer or internet connectivity, compared with 13% of white teens and 17% of Hispanic teens. Teens with an annual family income below $30,000 were also more likely to say this than teens with a family income of at least $75,000 a year (24% vs. 9%).

low income students and homework

4 A quarter of lower-income teens do not have access to a home computer. One-in-four teens in households with an annual income under $30,000 lack access to a computer at home, compared with just 4% of those in households earning over $75,000, according to the 2018 survey. There are also differences by race and ethnicity. Hispanic teens were especially likely to say they do not have access to a home computer: 18% said this, compared with 9% of white teens and 11% of black teens.

low income students and homework

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About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts .

Why Millions of Teens Can't Finish Their Homework

The push toward technology-focused education overlooks the students who lack the resources needed to complete their assignments.

low income students and homework

In decades past, students needed little more than paper, pencils, and time to get their schoolwork done. For the vast majority of students, that's no longer the case. Most schoolwork these days necessitates a computer and an internet connection, and that includes work to be done at home. One federal survey found that 70 percent of American teachers  assign homework that needs to be done online; 90 percent of high schoolers say they have to do internet-based homework at least a few times a month. Nearly half of all students say they get such assignments daily or almost daily.

Yet despite the seemingly ever-growing embrace of digital learning in schools, access to the necessary devices remains unequal, with a new report from the Pew Research Center finding that 15 percent of U.S. households with school-age children lack high-speed internet at home. The problem is particularly acute for low-income families: One in three households that make below $30,000 a year lacks internet. This is despite an emerging reality in which poorer students are attending schools that evangelize technology-based learning while their more affluent counterparts, as The New York Times reported this past weekend, are “going back to wooden toys and the luxury of human interaction.”

It’s a glaring irony that’s also a major force behind class- and race-based discrepancies in academic achievement. In what’s often referred to as the “homework gap,” the unequal access to digital devices and high-speed internet prevents 17 percent of teens from completing their homework assignments, according to the new Pew analysis, which surveyed 743 students ages 13 through 17. Black teens are especially burdened by the homework gap: One in four of them at least sometimes struggle to complete assignments because of a lack of technology at home. And close to half of teenagers in the bottom income bracket have to do their homework on a cellphone occasionally or often.

Read: The futile resistance against classroom tech

From a history-class assignment on the political debate over immigration to required participation in an online discussion board for AP Environmental Science, access to a functioning computer and high-speed internet is all but a prerequisite for success in high school. This is becoming especially true as schools gravitate toward software where students file assignments and papers virtually, as well as schools that equip each student with a laptop or tablet ; one 2017 survey found that half of U.S. teachers have one device for each of their students, up 10 percentage points from the year prior. Close to two in three teachers use technology in their classroom daily, according to a separate 2017 survey .

The homework gap can have major consequences, with some studies suggesting that teens who lack access to a computer at home are less likely to graduate from high school than their more technologically equipped peers. The “challenge to complete homework in safe, predictable, and productive environments can have lifelong impacts on their ability to achieve their full potential,” wrote John Branam, who runs an initiative to provide lacking teens with internet access, in an op-ed for The Hechinger Report last year.

Although the big telecom providers offer subsidies to low-income families, these programs are generally underused . And while disadvantaged students can resort to public libraries and other venues that offer free Wi-Fi, such alternatives are still major obstacles to finishing homework every night. “Your aunt has internet access [at home] but she lives a 40-minute bus trip across town,” Branam wrote, illustrating the roadblocks for teens without internet access. “The public library does, but it has a 30-minute computer use limit and, as a young woman, you don’t feel comfortable there late at night. McDonald’s has free Wi-Fi but it’s noisy, you have to buy food and you can’t linger there forever.”

Read: When students can’t go online

With a team of researchers, the University of Texas at Austin professor S. Craig Watkins spent a year and a half observing and interacting with high schoolers to better understand the digital divide. The researchers’ forthcoming book, The Digital Edge: How Black and Latino Youth Navigate Digital Inequality , chronicles the ways low-income students of color get around not having access to the internet and a computer. In what Watkins calls “social hacking,” students often “reengineer their socioeconomic circumstances in order to get access to technology that they otherwise would not have access to.” For example, the researchers observed that students without such resources at home were adept at developing relationships with teachers who could, say, give them special weekend access to laptops and software for use at home. They also tended to rely on other needy classmates to find work-arounds, sharing with one another smartphones and tablets that more affluent students often take for granted, for instance. “It was an inventive way of cultivating social capital,” Watkins says, “but it also created a kind of sharing economy.”

Watkins says the digital divide is an “institutional blind spot” for many school leaders and policy makers. “I suspect that people a pay grade or two above teachers likely don’t understand the depth at which this access- and participation-gap divide still exists,” he says.

While embedding technology into the curriculum is all the rage in some schools, “oftentimes there’s a lack of clarity and vision in terms of what learning should look like with technology,” Watkins says. “There’s this assumption that just by providing access to technology you’re somehow creating a better learning future for kids, but that is not always the case.” After all, technology in schools is going to be of limited success if kids don’t have access to the internet and a computer once the final bell rings.

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Is Homework Necessary? Education Inequity and Its Impact on Students

low income students and homework

Schools are getting rid of homework from Essex, Mass., to Los Angeles, Calif. Although the no-homework trend may sound alarming, especially to parents dreaming of their child’s acceptance to Harvard, Stanford or Yale, there is mounting evidence that eliminating homework in grade school may actually have great benefits , especially with regard to educational equity.

In fact, while the push to eliminate homework may come as a surprise to many adults, the debate is not new . Parents and educators have been talking about this subject for the last century, so that the educational pendulum continues to swing back and forth between the need for homework and the need to eliminate homework.

The Problem with Homework: It Highlights Inequalities

How much homework is too much homework, when does homework actually help, negative effects of homework for students, how teachers can help.

One of the most pressing talking points around homework is how it disproportionately affects students from less affluent families. The American Psychological Association (APA) explained:

“Kids from wealthier homes are more likely to have resources such as computers, internet connections, dedicated areas to do schoolwork and parents who tend to be more educated and more available to help them with tricky assignments. Kids from disadvantaged homes are more likely to work at afterschool jobs, or to be home without supervision in the evenings while their parents work multiple jobs.”

[RELATED] How to Advance Your Career: A Guide for Educators >> 

While students growing up in more affluent areas are likely playing sports, participating in other recreational activities after school, or receiving additional tutoring, children in disadvantaged areas are more likely headed to work after school, taking care of siblings while their parents work or dealing with an unstable home life. Adding homework into the mix is one more thing to deal with — and if the student is struggling, the task of completing homework can be too much to consider at the end of an already long school day.

While all students may groan at the mention of homework, it may be more than just a nuisance for poor and disadvantaged children, instead becoming another burden to carry and contend with.

Beyond the logistical issues, homework can negatively impact physical health and stress — and once again this may be a more significant problem among economically disadvantaged youth who typically already have a higher stress level than peers from more financially stable families .

Yet, today, it is not just the disadvantaged who suffer from the stressors that homework inflicts. A 2014 CNN article, “Is Homework Making Your Child Sick?” , covered the issue of extreme pressure placed on children of the affluent. The article looked at the results of a study surveying more than 4,300 students from 10 high-performing public and private high schools in upper-middle-class California communities.

“Their findings were troubling: Research showed that excessive homework is associated with high stress levels, physical health problems and lack of balance in children’s lives; 56% of the students in the study cited homework as a primary stressor in their lives,” according to the CNN story. “That children growing up in poverty are at-risk for a number of ailments is both intuitive and well-supported by research. More difficult to believe is the growing consensus that children on the other end of the spectrum, children raised in affluence, may also be at risk.”

When it comes to health and stress it is clear that excessive homework, for children at both ends of the spectrum, can be damaging. Which begs the question, how much homework is too much?

The National Education Association and the National Parent Teacher Association recommend that students spend 10 minutes per grade level per night on homework . That means that first graders should spend 10 minutes on homework, second graders 20 minutes and so on. But a study published by The American Journal of Family Therapy found that students are getting much more than that.

While 10 minutes per day doesn’t sound like much, that quickly adds up to an hour per night by sixth grade. The National Center for Education Statistics found that high school students get an average of 6.8 hours of homework per week, a figure that is much too high according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It is also to be noted that this figure does not take into consideration the needs of underprivileged student populations.

In a study conducted by the OECD it was found that “after around four hours of homework per week, the additional time invested in homework has a negligible impact on performance .” That means that by asking our children to put in an hour or more per day of dedicated homework time, we are not only not helping them, but — according to the aforementioned studies — we are hurting them, both physically and emotionally.

What’s more is that homework is, as the name implies, to be completed at home, after a full day of learning that is typically six to seven hours long with breaks and lunch included. However, a study by the APA on how people develop expertise found that elite musicians, scientists and athletes do their most productive work for about only four hours per day. Similarly, companies like Tower Paddle Boards are experimenting with a five-hour workday, under the assumption that people are not able to be truly productive for much longer than that. CEO Stephan Aarstol told CNBC that he believes most Americans only get about two to three hours of work done in an eight-hour day.

In the scope of world history, homework is a fairly new construct in the U.S. Students of all ages have been receiving work to complete at home for centuries, but it was educational reformer Horace Mann who first brought the concept to America from Prussia. 

Since then, homework’s popularity has ebbed and flowed in the court of public opinion. In the 1930s, it was considered child labor (as, ironically, it compromised children’s ability to do chores at home). Then, in the 1950s, implementing mandatory homework was hailed as a way to ensure America’s youth were always one step ahead of Soviet children during the Cold War. Homework was formally mandated as a tool for boosting educational quality in 1986 by the U.S. Department of Education, and has remained in common practice ever since.  

School work assigned and completed outside of school hours is not without its benefits. Numerous studies have shown that regular homework has a hand in improving student performance and connecting students to their learning. When reviewing these studies, take them with a grain of salt; there are strong arguments for both sides, and only you will know which solution is best for your students or school. 

Homework improves student achievement.

Homework helps reinforce classroom learning.

Homework helps students develop good study habits and life skills.

Homework allows parents to be involved with their children’s learning.

While some amount of homework may help students connect to their learning and enhance their in-class performance, too much homework can have damaging effects. 

Students with too much homework have elevated stress levels. 

Students with too much homework may be tempted to cheat. 

Homework highlights digital inequity. 

Homework does not help younger students.

To help students find the right balance and succeed, teachers and educators must start the homework conversation, both internally at their school and with parents. But in order to successfully advocate on behalf of students, teachers must be well educated on the subject, fully understanding the research and the outcomes that can be achieved by eliminating or reducing the homework burden. There is a plethora of research and writing on the subject for those interested in self-study.

For teachers looking for a more in-depth approach or for educators with a keen interest in educational equity, formal education may be the best route. If this latter option sounds appealing, there are now many reputable schools offering online master of education degree programs to help educators balance the demands of work and family life while furthering their education in the quest to help others.

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This One Change From Teachers Can Make Homework More Equitable

low income students and homework

Homework can deepen inequities for low-income students at school if teachers judge students’ effort by their families’ involvement.

That’s according to a new study in the journal Educational Researcher, which found teachers were more likely to attribute missed homework to irresponsibility or parent disinterest with low-income students and students of color than with wealthier or white students.

The study was part of a broader longitudinal study of more than 4,000 middle school students and their teachers. Researchers observed 80 students and their teachers and conducted in-depth interviews with both, as well as with the students’ families.

Across both elementary and middle schools, “teachers were interpreting homework through this meritocratic lens, seeing it as the product of motivation and competence and effort, and not as the product of the kinds of circumstances that students or their families might be facing at home,” said Jessica McCrory Calarco, an associate professor of sociology at Indiana University and the lead author of the study.

“When teachers use that cultural framework to interpret what’s going on in their classrooms, it can lead them to judge and punish students and treat students in potentially harmful ways,” Calarco said.

As one teacher in the study noted, “I’ve had a few students this year who have been reluctant to do homework. It’s been mainly the [lower-level students]. Probably math isn’t their favorite subject, so they wouldn’t want to do their math homework, even when it’s easy. And when it’s not easy, they especially don’t want to do it.”

The findings are “unfortunate but not surprising,” said Joyce Epstein, a homework researcher and the director of the Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships, at Johns Hopkins University, who was not involved in Calarco’s study.

“Parents are in fact interested in their children’s work and success. What they’re not interested in is being told they’re supposed to know how to teach every subject at every grade level, just because somebody said it was a good idea,” Epstein said.

Teachers who took a meritocratic approach to homework were more likely to adopt punitive homework policies: giving extra credit on tests for students who turned in homework, or keeping students back from recess for not completing it, for example. Meritocratic teachers also were more likely to assign homework that students could not complete independently, either because it was too difficult or required input from parents.

One mother of a 5th grader in the study said she barely passed her GED high school equivalency exam, and often struggled to help her son with math. “I still can’t really figure out division. . . . [Jesse will] ask me a question, and I’ll go look at it, and it’s like algebra, in 5th grade,” the mother told researchers. “Sometimes you just feel stupid because he’s in 5th grade, and I’m like—I should be able to help my son with his homework in 5th grade.”

In an earlier related study using the same students, Calarco and her colleagues also found teachers felt significant pressure from affluent and white parents to excuse their children when they failed to complete homework. Existing homework policies tended to be applied in favor of students of parents who were highly involved in the school.

“It wasn’t a consistent application of rules,” Calarco said. “It was much more rooted in the status and the power of families ... not only in terms of who actually was able to provide more hands-on help at home, but also in the extent to which teachers felt that they had to grant exemptions to students from more privileged backgrounds.”

Designing better homework

Prior research suggests the majority of parent homework help ends up being counterproductive, including doing work for a student or providing confusing or inaccurate explanations for a concept.

“Homework is important, proven to be useful for children’s learning, but we can all do better in designing good homework as opposed to just more of it,” Epstein said.

She argued that teachers should be given more time to work with each other and parents to design homework policies and assignments.

“We should never ask parents to teach a school subject. They don’t want to do it, they can’t do it, they shouldn’t be asked to do it,” Epstein said. “What we’ve learned is that to increase the family connection with their child on homework, ... you design homework to help the student become the leader in this work.”

Among the recommendations:

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Andrew Houlihan, left, is the superintendent in Union County and developed a high-dosage tutoring strategy to combat student learning loss. Pictured here on Dec. 16, 2021 as he talks with Porter Ridge High School students Eriana Tucker and Lillie Curtis following lunch in the cafeteria.

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Homework Gap Research: More Lower Income Students Rely on Cellphones for Schoolwork

Home » Homework Gap Research: More Lower Income Students Rely on Cellphones for Schoolwork

The vast majority of parents with K-12 children (93%) say their children had some online instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new homework gap research from Pew Research. And while 70% of those parents said it has been very or somewhat easy to help their children use technology for online instruction, lower-income families were more likely to experience tech-related issues.

For example, 37% of lower-income parents said their children had to do at least some schoolwork on a cellphone during the pandemic, compared with 24% of middle-income parents and 16% of upper income parents.

One quarter of lower-income parents said their children were not able to complete at least some schoolwork because they did not have access to a computer at home, compared with 15% of middle-income parents and 2% of upper income parents.

And while 23% of lower-income parents said children at least sometimes had to use public Wi-Fi to finish their homework, only 11% of middle-income and 4% of upper income parents experienced that.

Homework Gap Research

The increased importance of connectivity in education has impacted attitudes toward digital policy as well, the Pew homework gap research found.

Nearly half of U.S. adults (49%) say K-12 schools have a responsibility to provide all students with laptop or tablet computers to help them complete their schoolwork during the Coronavirus outbreak, compared with 37% who said that in a 2020 Pew survey.

Another 37% of respondents in the 2021 homework gap research say schools have this responsibility, but only for students whose families cannot afford the devices. Only 13% of respondents said schools do not have this responsibility.

low income students and homework

Attitude changes were observed among Republican and Republican-leaning adults, as well as Democratic and Democratic-leaning adults.

While 28% of Republican and Republican-leaning adults in 2020 said that schools have the responsibility to provide computers or tablets, that number rose to 43% in 2021. Among Democratic and Democratic-leaning respondents, that percentage rose from 45% in 2020 to 54% in 2021.

The government already has taken steps to make computers available to schoolchildren during the pandemic. The Emergency Connectivity Fund has a budget of $7.17 billion that can go toward computing devices and broadband connectivity for schoolchildren and library patrons. Local schools and libraries will administer the program.

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low income students and homework

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ERIC - Institute of Education Sciences

‘Homework gap’ hurts poor, rural students

Earlier this fall, kids in New Mexico and across the country headed back to school. This has meant a return to the routine of waking up early each morning, juggling extracurricular activities and sports after school and, of course, the nightly ritual of homework.

But for students in 5 million American households, homework represents an especially difficult challenge because they fall into the “Homework Gap” – they receive assignments that require the internet, but do not have broadband access at home.

This is a problem because just as access to broadband has become essential for finding a job or shopping online, it has also become necessary to complete basic school assignments. In fact, 1 in 5 students say they cannot do homework because they lack internet outside of school. Additionally, in another survey, 42 percent of students said that they received a lower grade on an assignment because they did not have access to the internet. The Homework Gap hurts low-income and highly rural students hardest.

These numbers are startling, but they aren’t surprising. Kids have always required access to learning tools to have a fair shot at success. In today’s digital age, that means access to the internet. Old, dusty chalkboards have been replaced by digital projectors and computing devices in the hands of every student. Without the internet, students are at a disadvantage. We must get creative as a nation and find a way to bridge this growing digital divide that is leaving behind students in low-income and rural America.

Our recent visit to rural Hatch confirmed this reality. Against a beautiful agricultural landscape known for producing hot green chile, we witnessed how technology and the internet play a central role in today’s educational experience. At Hatch Valley High School, we saw teachers use technology to measure their students’ performance and better target their lessons as the class unfolded in real-time. We observed the benefits of digital learning first-hand as students were literally connected to an entire world of information via Wi-Fi inside the confines of their classroom.

But we also learned that for many students, that interactive experience is one they only have at school. Once the final bell has rung and school is done for the day, kids and their parents face a nightly challenge of coordinating visits to the houses of friends and relatives with broadband, just so they can do their homework. Some rely on cellphone data, but parents on a budget can’t afford expensive data plans, and these kids are out of luck when they reach the monthly limit. We listened to one student-athlete, Jonah Madrid, describe his odyssey of hourslong travel to play varsity football games only to return to the pitch-black school parking lot late at night so that he can catch an internet signal to do his homework.

These students deserve an A for their efforts. Their tenacity and willingness to help each other is what makes up the best in our country. But it should not be this hard to get homework done.

The good news is that there are local programs afoot across the country designed to narrow the Homework Gap. One great example is that some school districts are beginning to put Wi-Fi on school buses. This innovation can turn ride time into connected time, especially for students and student-athletes with long commutes on the school bus. For a student without the internet at home, access to Wi-Fi can be a game-changer. In fact, over half of us have used Wi-Fi to access the internet. And talk to any student and you will quickly learn it is their preferred way to get online. We should explore how federal efforts like those run by the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Education can help pave the way for more Wi-Fi on wheels.

With the start of the school year, it’s time to get to work and close the Homework Gap. After all, our collective future begins with the work that our students are doing each day in and out of school.

Tom Udall, D-Santa Fe, represents New Mexico in the U.S. Senate. Jessica Rosenworcel is commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission.

Open Technology Institute

The homework gap leaves students further behind during a public health crisis. policymakers should act immediately., policymakers must act swiftly to address the gap that has left millions of american students at home for school without internet access using the fcc’s universal service fund and e-rate program..

low income students and homework


March 24, 2020.

Schools in a majority of states across the country have closed in an effort to quell the spread of the novel coronavirus. As these schools move to online or other remote learning strategies, it has exposed the gravity of the “homework gap” that leaves millions of U.S. students without broadband access at home and at a consistent disadvantage in testing and learning.

The closure of schools, libraries and—in an increasing number of localities—even retail outlets such as Starbucks and McDonald’s where students might have otherwise sought free Wi-Fi has brought the harsh nature of the homework gap front and center for millions of American students.

As Congress considers relief funding packages and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) considers regulatory actions, both entities must act immediately to address this inequity before it leaves millions of lower-income and rural students further behind.

The divide between students who have broadband and those who do not, known as the homework gap, has long been a problem— an estimated 12 million children do not have internet access at home . That divide disproportionately harms historically marginalized communities and rural and tribal areas. The Pew Research Center reported that 17 percent of U.S. teenagers surveyed said they are either often or sometimes unable to complete homework due to a lack of a reliable internet connection or computer. That number is even worse for low-income students, as 24 percent of teenagers living in a household with less than $30,000 of annual income reported the same.

The FCC’s E-Rate program, administered through the Universal Service Fund (USF), provides funding to help schools and libraries obtain affordable broadband and Wi-Fi networks. The purpose of the E-Rate program is to provide telecommunications services (today defined as broadband in the context of E-Rate) to “elementary schools, secondary schools, and libraries for educational purposes at rates less than the amounts charged for similar services to other parties,” according to the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

Historically, these funds have helped schools pay for high-speed broadband connections, as well as for Wi-Fi networks to spread that connectivity throughout school buildings. However, the funds for this program can and should be used to provide broadband services for educational purposes beyond the walls of a school as well. The FCC should tap the Universal Service Fund and E-Rate to fund emergency relief for the millions of students across the country who do not have broadband access at their homes.

The FCC should dedicate a special allocation of USF funds to reimburse schools and libraries that purchase and loan out Wi-Fi hotspots to students who live in homes that lack adequate broadband access, as FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and 16 U.S. senators recently recommended. Although there is currently a shortage of Wi-Fi hotspots, if schools and libraries know they will be reimbursed by the USF for costs, they can immediately place orders, giving manufacturers the certainty they need to ramp up production.

FCC Chairman Pai, who has already secured promises from broadband providers not to terminate service for non-payment during the crisis, should ask AT&T, Verizon, and other mobile carriers to provide service to these hotspots on at least a temporary basis. This service should provision “unlimited” bandwidth. To the extent the mobile carrier assistance falls short, the actual broadband service (up to a set amount per month) should also be a reimbursable USF expense.

Schools, libraries, and other community efforts can also use other strategies to extend broadband to the homes of unconnected students. For example, two school districts in southern Virginia use TV White Space technology —long-range Wi-Fi that uses the vacant television channels available in rural and small town areas—to extend the school’s internet connection with students at home. Another option would be supporting and funding the use of school buses as Wi-Fi hotspots , as one district in Illinois has already adopted for the COVID-19 outbreak.

Although Congress should include funding in emergency relief legislation to address the home connectivity crunch that targets households without adequate internet access, the FCC has existing authority to redirect USF revenues. In addition to an emergency USF fund for this purpose, the FCC has up to $2 billion in the E-Rate budget that has yet to be allocated that could go toward this effort, and thanks to the program’s adjusting scale for funding, schools with higher rates of students requiring free or reduced cost lunches receive more E-Rate monies. The Government Accountability Office recommended the FCC review making E-Rate funding applicable for off-school premises connectivity in a 2019 report.

OTI has long advocated for schools and libraries’ ability to use E-Rate funding to provision broadband networks for educational purposes to students and faculty off-campus. The FCC should grant the 2016 petition filed by a coalition of school districts, telecommunications carriers, broadband advocates, and Microsoft to allow schools to use E-Rate funds for the provisioning of broadband services to be used for educational purposes off-campus, as OTI argued in 2016. For rural and tribal areas in particular, empowering schools and libraries to open up their broadband networks to share with their communities for educational purposes would provide near-immediate relief in areas across the country.

Allocating E-Rate funding to reimburse the cost of lending Wi-Fi hotspots to unconnected students—and clarifying that schools and libraries can share their Wi-Fi networks with their communities without risking the loss of E-rate funding, as the Schools, Health, & Libraries Broadband Coalition has urged the FCC to do—would advance the universal service goals of both the USF and E-Rate programs, respectively. The FCC has issued clarification that the community can use E-Rate networks while on campuses or school and library properties without the institutions losing funding, but this would still require students to venture out to these places—that are closed—to access the internet required for their education. The FCC should ensure that these networks can be leveraged to extend E-Rate connectivity directly to students that are self-isolating or sheltering in place engaging in remote learning off-campus as well. Schools and libraries nationwide have high-speed fiber networks thanks to E-Rate that they could spread to their communities with Wi-Fi hotspots and other methods, and the FCC should allow them to do so during the COVID-19 crisis. If not, Congress should clarify that schools and libraries are able to do so.

As millions of students are left at a disadvantage for an indefinite period of time in their education, the FCC should take action and allocate USF funding for schools to loan Wi-Fi hotspots to students lacking home broadband. As Congress seeks solutions to assisting Americans amid this tumultuous time, legislators should appropriate additional funds that the FCC can target to minimize the home connectivity crunch while prioritizing families afflicted by the homework gap.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has worked to ensure commitments from telecommunications providers such as the removal of data caps to assist as more families are forced to stay home in this public health crisis, and has removed E-Rate gift rules that restricted what schools and libraries can accept during the pandemic. Pai’s moves marked a crucial and important first step. However, an important next step will be ensuring that the households that do not already have access to broadband get the assistance they need—and the students that cannot fully participate or complete classwork while their schools are closed are granted the access they require.

The FCC has acted swiftly in the past to dedicate USF programs to address an emergency—in 2005, the agency deployed four programs under the USF to allocate $211 million to help consumers, schools, libraries, healthcare providers, and telecommunications providers following Hurricane Katrina. The Commission must do so again, especially since nobody knows how long school closures will last. Students of every age—from elementary school to high schoolers preparing to apply to or attend colleges—cannot afford to miss large chunks of a semester of education. The E-Rate program has been a success in improving broadband access to schools and libraries since the FCC modernized the program in 2014. It is imperative that policymakers make sure that the funds from the program go to students who need the help right now.

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