How Schools and Districts are Supporting Digital Equity – Digital Promise

How Schools and Districts are Supporting Digital Equity

Colorful images of human figures using devices

October 5, 2022 | By , and

For more than 11 years, Digital Promise has been at the forefront of conversations and efforts around the importance of closing the Digital Learning Gap—caused by differences in how learners in and out of school access and use technology to improve learning opportunities and outcomes—by supporting school systems in addressing accessibility, affordability, and adoption of technology tools and skills.

In 2011, the League of Innovative Schools was launched as a national alliance of school districts committed to advancing breakthroughs in education with technology, as part of a broader nonpartisan agenda to spur innovation in education and prepare students—and the country—for the challenges of a 21st century economy. Established with 24 public school district leaders, the League network recently welcomed their newest cohort and now supports more than 150 public school districts across 38 states.

Since 2014, Digital Promise has partnered with Verizon to bring devices and internet access to students and teachers at Title I schools across the country through the Verizon Innovation Learning Schools program. An initiative that started with eight schools in four districts in its first year, Verizon Innovative Learning Schools has grown to include more than 500 impacted schools.

A decade later, our digital equity efforts have moved beyond access to devices and greater broadband connectivity to tackle the communication and capacity barriers that prevent communities from accessing and powerfully using learning technology, and fully participating in society. As part of our evolving approach, Digital Promise recently supported the development of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology (OET)’s Advancing Digital Equity All, intended to provide guidance for leaders in designing effective digital equity plans to support all learners

Gleaning insights from conversations with leaders from community-based organizations, as well as families and learners furthest from digital opportunities, the resource highlights the barriers faced by various communities as well as promising solutions for increasing access to technology for learning. Additionally, it identifies three components that are necessary for achieving digital equity:

  • Availability – Ensuring sufficient infrastructure and coverage to deliver reliable, high-speed wired or wireless broadband service and technology tools for learning
  • Affordability – Providing learners and families/caregivers support to cover the total cost of maintaining reliable, high-speed broadband service and technology tools for learning
  • Adoption – Providing learners and families/caregivers the information, support, and skills to obtain regular, adequate access to reliable, high-speed broadband service and technology tools for learning

Below are a collection of examples from Digital Promise’s networks that demonstrate what it may look like to equitably address availability, affordability, and adoption in school and district contexts.

Availability: Is there sufficient infrastructure and coverage to deliver reliable, high-speed wired or wireless broadband service and technology tools for learning that meets the needs and abilities of each learner?

Castleberry Independent School District (Texas)
In 2017, Castleberry Independent School District began to look at solutions to bridge the digital divide in their district by offering home internet connection to all students. Castleberry ISD’s Digital Equity 4 All initiative included the construction of three WiFi towers to expand the district’s internet services to students in their homes.

Greenfield Union School District (California)
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Greenfield Union School District worked with their city leaders and WiFi providers to ensure all families in the district had internet access. The district secured grants and directed money to purchase hotspot devices that families could check out. Additionally, Greenfield USD mapped out locations within the city to park Smart Buses equipped with access points to allow students and families to log on and access classes.

Polk County Schools (Tennessee)
WiFi access is a challenge for families in Polk County, Tennessee, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the southeastern corner of the state. But Polk County Schools has helped to bridge that gap, especially thanks to its participation in the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools program. Both of the district’s high schools receive hotspots for every student who lacks reliable internet access at home, and Chilhowee Middle School received new LTE-enable devices as a Verizon Innovative Learning Demonstration School after four successful years in the program. This allowed the district to send even more hotspots received through another funding source to the elementary schools to serve students in need of connectivity there.

Affordability: Can learners and families/caregivers pay for the total cost of maintaining reliable, high-speed broadband service and technology tools for learning?

Lynwood Unified School District (California)
Lynwood Unified School District worked with the city to obtain a contract that will get fiber lines into the streets of their community over the next five years and provide connectivity to students and their families at a free or reduced cost. This continues to be a priority for the district, as access to devices and hotspots has allowed more students to participate in dual enrollment programs with local community colleges as well as universities in other states.

Linden Public Schools (New Jersey)
Linden Public Schools implemented the Project 10Million initiative, which closed the homework gap in the district by delivering internet connectivity and hotspot devices to the households of students who have been historically and systematically excluded. During the pandemic, the district held virtual parent/caregiver events in various languages to assist with the transition to remote learning and the technology associated with it. In addition, the district created a website with videos, previous presentations, and troubleshooting tips.

Los Angeles Unified School District (California)
In an effort to sustain access even after students returned to classrooms following COVID-19 school closures, LAUSD has negotiated home internet access for families and provides free internet access and mobile devices to any student who requests it through their All Families Connected program.

Adoption: Do learners and families/caregivers have the information, support, and skills to obtain regular, adequate access to reliable, high-speed broadband service and technology tools for learning?

Pajaro Valley Unified School District (California)
To support families during the pandemic, Pajaro Valley Unified School District provided materials in multiple languages, including a non-written language. The district also created a multilingual hotline for parents and a drive-through that parents could go through daily to get in-the-moment technology support.

New Brunswick Public Schools (New Jersey)
New Brunswick Public Schools invites parents/guardians to attend Parent University workshops to learn how to utilize district platforms and help support instruction at home. Provided in both English and Spanish, sessions provide technology training, and during the pandemic, allowed attendees to ask questions about remote instruction.

Compton Unified School District (California)
At Bunche and Davis middle schools in Compton Unified School District, the Verizon Innovative Learning coach, Jose Gonzalez, held Zoom cooking classes for parents/guardians during the pandemic, with participants choosing dishes to cook that represented their culture. The classes allowed the adults to become more familiar with Zoom (the platform their students were using for remote learning), demystifying the technology and engaging them in the school community.

Fonville Middle School (Texas)
Fonville Middle School in Houston Independent School District created a monthly digital literacy workshop for parents and caregivers to allow them to be more connected to their students through technology. The bilingual workshop covers the basics of using a Chromebook, including setting up the device, using Google docs, and more.

Read OET’s recommendations for developing effective digital equity plans and take a look at some resources to advance digital equity for all learners.

Learn more about the League of Innovative Schools and get to know the newest cohort, and learn how your school can become a Verizon Innovative Learning School.

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