Schools cut home internet help as remote learning fades

With students off of Zoom and back in classrooms, many schools have stopped helping students connect from home, according to new federal data.

Just 45% of public schools are providing home internet access to students who need it this school year, up from 70% earlier in the pandemic, according to August survey data released Tuesday by the National Center for Education Statistics. .

The sharp drop in the number of schools offering students Wi-Fi hotspots or covering the cost of home internet coincides with the end of widespread distance learning, first caused by school shutdowns. schools and then by the COVID quarantines. Yet even with schools fully reopening, students will likely still need home internet for homework, sick days, temporary school closures, virtual tutoring, and parent-teacher conferences.

And although access to the internet and home devices has expanded during the pandemic, 1 in 4 low-income families still did not have high-speed internet access at home a year after schools closed, according to a report. 2021 survey. Instead, many students had to endure frustrating internet speeds or work on their phones.

Just this spring, around a quarter of teens living in very low-income households said they sometimes couldn’t finish homework because they didn’t have a computer or reliable internet access.

“I think there’s an inaccurate belief that more students and families actually have connectivity than they actually do,” said D’Andre Weaver, director of digital equity at Digital Promise, an organization in non-profit organization focused on expanding student access to high-speed Internet.

Weaver suspects that schools’ withdrawal of home internet support also reflects a new distrust of online learning based on the negative experiences many families and educators have had during the pandemic. But he argues that schools should try to improve online learning and expand internet access rather than turn away.

“Now it’s like, ‘Let’s throw the baby out with the bathwater,'” he said. “And that’s the wrong point of view.”

Just over 900 public schools participated in the survey, which was conducted August 9-23.

While less than half of schools said students would benefit from the internet at home, 56% said students could connect in other places, such as public libraries. Laptops and tablets seem to be much more readily available, with 94% of schools saying students who need a digital device this school year will receive one.

Funding is another likely factor in reducing school support for home internet access. Federal stimulus money that school districts used to pay for free internet hotspots and plans was drying up, forcing schools to find other funding if they want to continue providing assistance.

Additionally, the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that Congress passed last year included $14.2 billion for the Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides a monthly subsidy to help low-income families. to pay for Internet service. Several major Internet service providers have agreed to lower their prices so that the subsidy – up to $30 per month for most eligible households – covers the full cost of a high-speed Internet plan.

In a sense, the federal program removes schools as middlemen by providing the internet subsidy directly to families. However, advocates say schools should still support families who have not enrolled in the program or who are not eligible.

New Jersey mother Nadirah Brown said she was earning too much to receive the new subsidy, but not enough to pay her monthly internet bill of more than $100 without cutting other expenses.

“For parents who don’t qualify, there is no program available for them,” said she, whose daughter is in eighth grade at a Newark public school.

The school lent her daughter a laptop and offered a Wi-Fi hotspot during remote learning, Brown said. But it offered no devices this school year, even though teachers continue to assign homework to be submitted online through Google Classroom, she added.

“There’s definitely a need for them to work virtually or not,” she said of home internet.

A Newark Public Schools spokesperson did not immediately respond to emailed questions Monday.

In Newark, as in many other cities, high-speed internet is widely available. The main problem is that many families can’t afford it, said Ronald Chaluisán, executive director of the Newark Trust for Education, a nonprofit whose mission includes promoting equitable access to the internet.

Although they may qualify for the new federal grant, Chaluisán said many families are unaware of it. (Across the country, less than 25% of eligible families signed up for a previous iteration, called Emergency Broadband Benefit.) Some families are also struggling to complete the multi-step registration process, said Chaluisán, whose l organization is partnering with the nonprofit Project Ready to spread knowledge of the grant program.

He added that one of the lessons of remote learning is that every student needs a computer and internet access at home.

“These are not luxury items,” he said. “These are just necessities.”

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