Access to online learning amid coronavirus is far from universal, and children who are poor suffer from a digital divide

by nyljaouadi1
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In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers, parents, school districts, and communities are doing their best to replace in-person with online learning. But as a recent Washington Post article notes, the move to e-learning prompted by school closures has “exposed the technology divides”—with K–12 students who lack the resources they now need to learn at home facing long-term academic disadvantages.

Although the Post article focused on the digital divide in the District of Columbia, this is a national problem.

EPI analysis of data from the most comprehensive study of primary and secondary education in the country illustrates a widespread digital divide based on family income. The data, from the National Center for Education Statistics’ National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for eighth-graders, show that full access to online learning is far from universal and that students who are poor are less likely to have access to the key tools and experiences they need to attend school online. For example, nearly 16% of eighth-graders overall, and almost a quarter of eighth-graders who are poor, don’t have a desktop or laptop computer at home on which to follow their classes. About 8% of eighth-graders who are not poor lack access to these essential devices. The data also show that low shares of students have teachers with full technological proficiency to teach online. (Poor students are defined as students who are eligible for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program.)

Not all students are set up for online learning and students who are poor have less access to key tools: Share of eighth-graders with access to tool for online learning, by income level, 2017

All students 95.8%
Non-poor 98.4%
Poor 93.0%
All students 84.4%
Non-poor 92.3%
Poor 76.3%
All students 76.3%
Non-poor 81.8%
Poor 70.6%
All students 51.3%
Non-poor 56.1%
Poor 46.4%
All students 43.4%
Non-poor 45.0%
Poor 41.7%
All students 69.2%
Non-poor 71.4%
Poor 66.8%
All students 32.5%
Non-poor 32.5%
Poor 32.6%
All students 19.3%
Non-poor 18.3%
Poor 20.3%
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The data below can be saved or copied directly into Excel.