The National Assessment of Educational Progress states that the achievement gap occurs “when one group of students (such as students grouped by race/ethnicity, gender) outperforms another group and the difference in average scores for the two groups is statistically significant.”
A few contributing factors include school quality, access to preschool, and the environment a student lives in. The move to remote learning will also have a lasting impact on achievement gaps between groups because of the unequal access to the internet. A recent study by the Successful Practices Network and the Center for College & Career Readiness that used data from Access3000 Literacy, predicts that the achievement gap between low-income and high-income students could potentially widen up to 18% (this is the worst-case scenario).
In the wake of school closures due to COVID-19 and the shift to remote learning, there has been more discussion of the disparities in education, especially in connection to the digital divide. Without access to the internet and a computer it is nearly impossible for students to complete school work. This has been part of many students’ inability to do homework assignments for many years, resulting in the homework gap. Referring to when students are assigned homework that requires access to the internet, but don’t have access at home, the homework gap is explicitly tied to the digital divide. This divide is now not only impacting a student’s ability to complete their homework at home, but also their schoolwork.
A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2018 found that approximately 1 in 5 teenagers (ages 13 to 17) are often or sometimes unable to complete homework assignments due to unreliable access to a computer or the internet. Not all students are equally impacted. Lack of access to the internet and a computer is more common for black teenagers compared to white and Hispanic teenagers. This is also true for students in low-income households when compared to households with an income above $75,000.
The digital divide’s impact on education is not new, but has been brought to the forefront of everyone’s mind during this time and what we can do to address it. Schools, organizations, and local governments across the country have worked hard to make sure students have computers and internet access during this time, but there are finite resources and many students are still struggling to learn through distance education.