District leaders discuss the training, partnerships and tools that are helping them improve digital equity
For IT staff and administrators, the work of ensuring all students have equal access to the internet, and to technology that is now standard for modern classrooms, is complex. First, they lead the effort to distribute digital devices such as notebooks and tablets. With those device deployments, district leaders also must ensure every school has strong Wi-Fi, software and other applicable resources to support effective learning. But district leaders have also discovered that digital equity goes beyond devices and on-premises infrastructure. It includes training teachers on best practices for incorporating technology into instruction and offering students a consistent digital learning experience. Districts also need to address factors that prevent students from completing assignments outside of school — namely, poor internet access. That disparity, known as the homework gap, is increasingly a concern for districts, according to 95 percent of IT leaders who responded to the Consortium for School Networking’s 2019 K-12 IT Leadership Survey Report.
Three district leaders recently spoke with EdTech: Focus on K–12 about their strategies and lessons learned on how best to tackle digital equity. Those leaders are Kim Buryanek, associate superintendent of Sioux City Community School District in Sioux City, Iowa; Steve Langford, CIO of Beaverton School District in Beaverton, Ore.; and Tracy Smith, assistant to the superintendent for operations at Parkland School District in Allentown, Pa.
When asked “What challenges related to digital equity are you facing in your District?” Dr. Buryanek said asking the right questions was the first hurdle. We asked, “Do you have connectivity at home?” Over 80 percent of students said yes. But when we drilled down and asked what that meant, some homes have Wi-Fi and others have internet access on their phones. We asked better questions to understand what connectivity looked like at home. We suspect the percentage who have robust access is below 70 percent.