Contending with the Homework Gap - Community Broadband Bits Podcast, Bonus Episode Six

This is episode number six of the special podcast project we're working on with NC Broadband Matters to share North Carolina news, challenges, and innovations about broadband in their state. 

Christopher went on a trip in February to attend the Institute for Emerging Issues Forum at North Carolina State University. The event addressed a wide range of topics, including digital equity, legislative efforts, and the homework gap, which is the focus of this week's conversation with Dr. LaTricia Townsend and Amy Huffman. Dr. Townsend and Christopher discuss her work and the research at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, especially their findings related to the homework gap. Amy, who is the Digital Inclusion and Policy Manager at the Broadband Infrastructure Office at the North Carolina Department of Information Technology, describes more state specific data and some of the efforts happening at the local and state level.

We learn more about how, as schools embrace technology to ready students for adulthood, they must also grapple with the problem of ensuring those students have the technological tools they need to make use of that innovation. Dr. Townsend describes some of the challenges that local schools face in both urban and rural regions and the creative methods they're using to overcome those challenges. Amy explains some of the reasons North Carolina's children can only move forward on bringing technology into their schoolwork and presents state-level policy recommendations aimed at expanding broadband access at home.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 35 minutes long and can be played on this page or via Apple Podcasts or the tool of your choice using this feed, at the Community Broadband Bits page, or at the NC Broadband Matters page. We encourage you to check out other "Why NC Broadband Matters" content at the podcast feed so you don't miss future bonus content that may not appear in the Community Broadband Bits Podcast feed.

 Transcript below. 

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.

Thanks to Shane Ivers for the Music: What's The Angle? by Shane Ivers - Creative Commons Attribution (4.0) license.


Dr. LaTricia Townsend: It's everywhere. If you're not able to do your homework because you lack access or a device, you are in that homework gap.

Lisa Gonzalez: We're bringing you another episode in our special Community Broadband Bits podcast series, Why NC Broadband Matters? I'm Lisa Gonzalez with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Lisa Gonzalez: NC Broadband Matters is a North Carolina nonprofit. Their mission is to attract, support and champion the universal availability of affordable, reliable, high-capacity Internet access, which is necessary for thriving local communities, including local businesses and a local workforce so each can compete in the global economy. The group has created the North Carolina chapter of CLIC, the Coalition for Local Internet Choice. We are working with NC Broadband Matters to produce this series focusing on issues affecting people in North Carolina that also impact people in other regions.

Lisa Gonzalez: Christopher recently went to North Carolina for the Reconnect Forum, organized by the Institute for Emerging Issues at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. While he was there, he had the chance to interview Dr. LaTricia Townsend of the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation and Amy Huffman from the State Department of Information Technology.

Lisa Gonzalez: Dr. Townsend and Christopher discussed the homework gap not only in North Carolina but in communities all across the United States. Dr. Townsend describes the characteristics of the homework gap and explains how it affects students in all types of communities, both urban and rural. Then he talks with Amy, who provides some interesting details about the data that her office has collected about the homework gap and its pervasiveness across the State of North Carolina. She talks about efforts the state is taking to try to bridge that gap, and what local communities are doing.

Lisa Gonzalez: Now here's Christopher with Dr. LaTricia Townsend from the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation and Amy Huffman from the North Carolina Department of Information Technologies Broadband Office.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to another episode of the Community Broadband Bits podcast. I'm Chris Mitchell at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.


Christopher Mitchell: I'm here still at the North Carolina State University where I'm at the Institute for Emerging Issues where we're doing the Reconnect for Technological Opportunities program, a part of a wonderful series of programs that the university is doing. I'm speaking with Dr. LaTricia Townsend, who's the director of evaluation programs at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, which is housed here at NC State. Welcome to the show.

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: Thank you.

Christopher Mitchell: I really appreciate you taking time today to talk with us. When I started researching you a little bit, I didn't even notice that you are here at the state university. Why don't you tell me a little bit about what the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation does?

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: Sure. The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation is a research arm of the College of Education. We aim to impact educational research, educational practice and educational policy in the State of North Carolina.

Christopher Mitchell: What does that mean right now? In 2020 what does that mean?

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: Okay. We actually work in a number of ways. We have one group that looks at providing professional learning opportunities for teachers, administrators, and others across the state. And then my group, the Friday Institute Research and Evaluation team, better known as the fire team, we actually conduct educational research on a number of issues. And one of the issues near and dear to us is the digital divide or the homework gap.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. What does Friday? Where does that come from?

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: It actually is named after William Friday, so it's a person's name.

Christopher Mitchell: I thought that would be it, yeah. I was just reading some history books totally unrelated to this interview, and it was talking about people named Buick, Chevrolet, and I always wondered where those names come from. They're all named after people. We all knew about Ford, but most of us don't know about Olds or the other folks, so not too surprised to hear that.

Christopher Mitchell: Let's talk about the homework gap. What is the homework gap?


Dr. LaTricia Townsend: The homework gap is a tale of two stories. 70% of teachers actually assign homework that requires the Internet to complete it. The homework gap exists when there is a student who does not have access to either the Internet, reliable service to the Internet, or they do not have access to a device to actually complete that homework.

Christopher Mitchell: And this is rural, urban, it's everywhere.

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: It's everywhere. If you're not able to do your homework because you lack access or a device, you are in that homework gap.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I think maybe the only place that may not have it is Davidson, North Carolina where the group, E2D, the eliminate the digital divide group said that they did get devices and low income programs to everyone in the school. So maybe there's a place, but probably not.

Christopher Mitchell: It is remarkably amazing. Actually I think this is one of those things that it's really an indictment of all of us that we've allowed us to get to 2020 while I'm not having broadband in every child's home where they can use these devices. And what you and I were going to talk about is I think why that's so important for people who might think of it more as a convenience or a nicety. Even if people believe that we all need high quality Internet access, they may not understand what a disadvantage it really is in today's climate to not have that as a student.

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: When we think about school, we often harken back to our own memories of what school was like for us. I can remember myself being in an algebra 1 class, having my own textbook and my teacher assigning problems for me to go home and do. So I would take my own textbook, which was wrapped in a brown paper bag. I had to make sure that I wrapped my book to really protect it from damage.

Christopher Mitchell: I remember that too.

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: I would take my book home and often I'd be assigned questions one through 54 odd. I would do my assignment on notebook paper. I would then go back to class and we would review those problems and then continue moving forward. Those days are really gone.


Dr. LaTricia Townsend: And so often within schools, textbooks are very limited. The way things have moved now, most content is available on these learning management systems, so Canvas, Blackboard, Moodle and so forth. And so teachers put all the content that students need on these particular platforms. They put assignments there. And it's the expectation that students will be able to access those both in school and outside of school. They'd complete their assignments and then they would upload their assignments to these learning management platforms.

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: And so if students don't have access to the Internet or to devices, it puts them at a grave disadvantage compared to others.

Christopher Mitchell: Now I want to ask you a question that started as a snarky response to the 70% stat, that 70% of teachers are assigning homework that requires the Internet access in the home to do. What are the other 30% doing? Are these mostly school districts that are in very low income areas or do you have a sense of what the 30% is that aren't doing it?

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: I think sometimes it's content specific. So if you're thinking about some of your elective courses, although art could be done online, a lot of things, it just would not require homework in that fashion, and so I would say that would be it. I will say in terms of solutions, there are some districts that are moving into technologies that allow you to really cash or put into memory information so that students still have access to material once they leave.

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: And so I think many are aware of some of the issues that are really pervasive around this issue and they're trying to come up with solutions. It's just not enough, fast enough.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. And so one of the implications of that then is that probably almost all school districts have teachers that are assigning homework that requires an Internet connection or assumes an Internet connection at home.


Dr. LaTricia Townsend: I would say that would be correct.

Christopher Mitchell: Yes. How are schools dealing with the device issue? You mentioned is not just a matter of having home Internet access, or potentially access outside of the school more specifically, but also a device. How are schools dealing with the devices?

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: I think depending on the district, many of them are accessing their textbook funds, they are accessing federal, local, and foundational grants to actually purchase devices for their students. In some cases, districts have moved to one-to-one, so they are able to assign a device to students, either an iPad or some type of tablet or an actual laptop. And so in those cases, students have access to those devices round the clock. In cases where school districts can't necessarily afford that, there are community partners that at times will provide devices.

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: So I would say there's a mixture of how they're really approaching that.

Christopher Mitchell: One of the things I didn't mention about your biography is that you're particularly focused on STEM, the science, technology, engineering and math. Is that right?

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: Yes.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. What is it like in these subjects? You mentioned ... I did the same experience with the math, the book covered in the paper bag and doing the assignments at home, although more often on the school bus or something like that. Is there a greater impact do you think in terms of ... doing science for instance, I think our goal is not just that they do their problem sets but that they're inspired to learn on their own. And it seems like it's a major loss of the creativity and the fact that most engineers I know who are really good, they're driven to just really figure things out on their own and without that connection in the home it seems like it would be losing something.

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: Right. I definitely think you lose something and I think we've also moved ... so within classrooms, if you think about science ... I'm actually a former science teacher myself. I taught chemistry for a number of years. Initially we think about doing experiments in the classroom, but now there is a lot of opportunity for students to actually do online simulations. And so we do lose something if there is an online simulation that a student isn't able to access.


Dr. LaTricia Townsend: So I can think for myself, thinking about gas laws in chemistry, if you're thinking about gases and you think about how is a gas impacted if I change its volume as well as its temperature? I'm able to really access these modules or these simulations that actually allow me to see that in a way that I necessarily wouldn't be able to see in a face to face classroom. So I think when you think about science in particular, it does put students at a disadvantage if they're not able to access content such as that.

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: And so kind of circling back and we think about these courses that teachers develop, these online platforms for students, and so rather than this having this flat static textbook where students just have a discrete amount of text, they're able to add content from anywhere in the world, anywhere that exist on the Internet, put it in their course, and some of what they put in their course would be some of these demos that would not come to life if you just had that flat text book.

Christopher Mitchell: Sure, yeah. I was thinking about also biology. I would love to learn biology again with innovations.

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: They have several online disection programs that would be available.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Were you a teacher when this transition was happening?

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: I would say somewhat at the tail end. I actually left the classroom in 2006 but the school that I was at, we actually had quite a bit of technology. We had I guess an online lab system. We had a series of probes that we could use and be able to upload that data. So it was just on the cusp of that becoming something that was important and it's only grown since then.


Christopher Mitchell: One of the things that I've heard occasionally and I actually feel like I'm more sensitive to generally and wondering if people are thinking this is this idea that everything was better when we use books anyway. I mean I own 2,500 books. I'm a huge book fan. I also read a ton on a reading device now because I can highlight it and have it in the cloud, which is lovely. But there's this reaction and I think of it sometimes it's a Grumpy Gary reaction of like old guy who's just like, "Why do we even need this new tech stuff? Why wasn't the old way good enough?" We covered a little bit of that but I wonder if there's more there.

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: I think the old way is good and it was good. There are many techniques that you still would utilize today, but I think we're training students to be able to go into the world of work, and when students go into the world of work, I promise you a lot of what they're using really depends on their digital skills. So if we don't make school something that mirrors what they're going to experience when they go in the workforce, we're putting them at a disadvantage. And our students in North Carolina are not going to be ready within North Carolina, across the nation, or if we think about globally.

Christopher Mitchell: Speaking about North Carolina, I'm curious, do you have a sense, how is rural North Carolina in particular impacted by this? Are the teachers having to just work extra to try and figure out alternatives to the online or are we just leaving kids behind? What's happening?

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: I would say it varies. And I will say when we think rural, one of the things that we need to think about is also access. So there are people who want to have access to the Internet, but no matter how hard they try, they cannot because they're not providers or the terrain in their area doesn't allow them to have access, and so we do need to make sure that we remember that.


Dr. LaTricia Townsend: I would say those teachers are being creative. Some of them, as I said, are using technologies that allow them to store things so that students can access them once they're offline. Others are using a mixture of new tech and low tech just to make sure that they're meeting student needs.

Christopher Mitchell: When did you join the Friday Institute?

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: I've been there since September of 2008.

Christopher Mitchell: It was roughly around the time I get into this field myself. I just have to ask you, when you think back, what were you thinking of in 2012? Were you thinking like "Wow, in 2020 we'll have solved a lot of these problems? Probably we won't have so many people unable to access the technology."

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: I think you bring an important point. When I first joined the Friday Institute, the project that I worked on was called Impact. Impact was a project that looked at closing the digital divide. It looked at providing devices as well as Internet to schools so that they would be able to really meet the needs of students. These schools that were participating received funding to purchase laptops. The big thing then was to purchase Smart Boards for the classroom. They also worked with their school district to get additional access points to really amplify the Internet within their buildings.

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: At that point I really thought things were looking up. I guess for me, thinking about the schools that were engaged in that project, when I think about where some of them are now, we give people money, but the thing about technology is that it ages so quickly, and so when you once were flush with materials and resources, just wait a few years and then now it's dated. And without continual funding to be able to really move things along, you still are back where you are.


Dr. LaTricia Townsend: So thinking about when I first came 12 years ago, I really thought that things would be much further than

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Well, last thing I want to ask you is again a question that I feel like some people deal with, which is the schools have to figure out how to get these devices into kids' hands. When I was that age, I wasn't as responsible as I am now, in part because I've broken so many things and I've learned about it. How do kids react when they get these devices? Is it something that they value or is it something that they're frequently breaking and the school district has to deal with that?

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: Overall, I've seen students value it. Students have access to devices. Most of them have phones or their parents have phones. There was a phone in the house. In a survey that we did for the Broadband Infrastructure Office, 98% of the respondents said that they had access to a mobile device and it was the preferred way to access the Internet.

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: So I think if you provide a device for many students, they're digital natives and so the first thing they do is they expect it to be touchscreen and so you start seeing their little fingers flick. They could be as young as three years old going through. So I think there's a sense of, I know what a device is, I'm excited to have it. I think it's doing some digital literacy training to get students to move from using technology just for entertainment purposes, but then to start using technology to really be productive and help them in their work.

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: I would say with schools when they have these devices, there's always an insurance program that's available and often one of the cost that is passed along to participants in these programs is the insurance cost. And so for students to buy in and get the device, they do pay a nominal fee for that insurance cost and that allows districts to do replacements if necessary.


Christopher Mitchell: I have to think, and this is the last question I just want to ask you about, because you mentioned the caching and I think it's good to hear because I just imagine some of the kids particularly that are on DSL where it's less reliable, I can imagine situations in which they may do their homework and then lose it before it gets saved. When I do that through my own fault and not saving a document that I'm working on, there's few things more infuriating than having to rewrite your own work.

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: Right. I would say there are actual technologies that are out there that allow caching on these devices. They also encourage students to work offline. And so creating a Microsoft Word document rather than using Google Docs and then pasting that material in once they get to school, and so teaching students to do work-arounds so that they're able to continue to move their process forward.

Christopher Mitchell: Great. Thank you so much for your time.

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: You're welcome.

Christopher Mitchell: It's amazing. It feels like a whole new world learning. I have a four year old so I'll be seeing this soon, but it's fascinating.

Dr. LaTricia Townsend: Thank you for having me today.

Christopher Mitchell: Here I am talking with Amy Huffman. Amy is the Digital Inclusion and Policy Manager at the Broadband Infrastructure Office in North Carolina's Department of Information Technology.

Christopher Mitchell: Welcome to the show.

Amy Huffman: Thank you so much for having me.

Christopher Mitchell: I'll ask you to use your line then. What do you do?

Amy Huffman: I work to close the digital divide in North Carolina.

Christopher Mitchell: That's great. I think it's worth noting North Carolina is getting a lot of praise I think from other states in terms of the many different ways it's approaching the digital divide.

Amy Huffman: Well, thank you. I think that that's because we've had a lot of wonderful people that have come before us and done a lot of great work and we've had continued sustained leadership and we have great leadership now.


Christopher Mitchell: Tell me, what is your specific focus within the Broadband Infrastructure Office.

Amy Huffman: Sure. I work mostly on digital inclusion and policy.

Christopher Mitchell: Okay. We're going to talk about the homework gap. So for people who haven't come across that term before, what is that?

Amy Huffman: The homework gap was a term that was coined by FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. And she calls it the cruelest part of the digital divide. But it's basically when kids are assigned homework that requires Internet access and they go home and they don't have Internet access.

Christopher Mitchell: What kind of patterns do you see in the homework gap as you're looking at it in North Carolina?

Amy Huffman: A few years ago we did a pilot study with the Friday Institute at NC State University to survey North Carolina's K-12 households to find out who is affected by the homework gap. Our survey, about 10% of our respondents responded that they didn't have access at home. The cause for most of them was cost. About 63ish% said it was cost and it had some interesting impacts on their daily lives. So for instance, parents that didn't have access at home felt less comfortable helping students at home.

Amy Huffman: What we found in our survey and what we know to be true in terms of the digital divide in North Carolina is that this cuts across rural, urban communities. It cuts across the whole state. Frankly, no county is safe from the homework gap. No city is. It affects all communities in North Carolina. We estimate probably based on our survey response and national data, we'd love to have a great robust data set that we don't have that right now, but we estimate that anywhere between 10 and 20% of students across the state are affected by the homework gap.

Christopher Mitchell: I'm really struck by the results of that study because if you look at Pew Research or others, there's a significant doubt as to how much cost is the main issue, and you found that it was a main issue. Which reflects the experience of just about everyone that does work in this but doesn't really reflect the experience of the surveys. And so I'm curious, did that strike you as odd at all or did you make sense of why that's happening?


Amy Huffman: I actually think it confirmed what I assumed would be the case. Based on what we had heard from across the state and from people dealing with the homework gap in their communities that a lot of the folks that didn't have access might actually have access at home but can't afford it or don't have a meaningful device or don't have the skills. So it wasn't that shocking. The second biggest reason why folks didn't have access at home was availability. So there is still a significant need in our state to make sure that everyone has the access itself, but cost out-trumped that by almost three to one.

Christopher Mitchell: Are you familiar with what they're doing in Michigan around the curriculum that they've been developed?

Amy Huffman: I am. I think it's really, really exciting and I love seeing that Merit's taking the lead. I think that's great. The survey they put out is really, really great. We've looked at that and the speed test tool that they used to collect data I think is really interesting, and we're looking at doing something similar here

Christopher Mitchell: It is really terrific. I wanted to say that because I feel like those are the only two states I know that have really taken action around the homework gap to try to get some of this data; you and Michigan. Others recognize that it's a problem but I feel like we don't really have a sense of the broad contours of it.

Amy Huffman: We don't and the reason we're interested in the data itself is data's only so good as what it leads to. We want to make smart data-driven policy decisions. We want to make decisions that are precise and actually help the people on the ground, and we don't feel like we can do that if we don't have a robust understanding of where the homework gap is, who it affects and why.


Christopher Mitchell: What are you doing? What can the state of North Carolina do to try to close the homework gap?

Amy Huffman: Governor Cooper included in his budget, $5 million that would be dedicated to closing the homework gap in the state. That hasn't gone through, but something like that, creating a dedicated fund that could help communities, schools, libraries, what have you, close the homework gap in their communities would be really great.

Christopher Mitchell: Do you have a sense of how that would be spent?

Amy Huffman: Yes. We'd give the communities opportunities to decide on what they need in their communities. They'd need to do a survey and see who doesn't have access and does. Then they'd get the opportunity to decide what tools need to be implemented to close the homework gap in their communities. We'd have a couple of different options for them.

Amy Huffman: Another thing we're working on, we received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services two years ago now in collaboration with the state library here in North Carolina and through that grant we're working to equip local librarians become leaders in closing the homework gap in their communities. We see libraries, schools, healthcare organizations as trusted resources in their communities, particularly libraries. We know lots of folks go to them anyways looking for help with homework or a place to do their homework and so it seemed a natural fit to equip them to actually have the tools to close the homework gap in their communities.

Amy Huffman: So through that pilot program, we're working with four communities, Robison County, Caswell County, Hyde County, and Mitchell County. The libraries there are partnering with a local middle school and delivering digital literacy training to parents and their children for eight workshops. The students get to take home a Hotspot for the school year with which they can do their homework. And we specifically partnered with schools that already had a one to one program so that they'd have a computer in the home. But if they complete six out of the eight trainings, they also get to take home a refurbished device from one of our device re-furbisher partners, Kramden.


Christopher Mitchell: Wonderful. There's two components that you've been mentioning. I think one is the access in the home and the other is the device. If we ignore the device for a second and just pretend that's not a problem, which your program may be helping already, for those people who would say, "We have libraries, we have McDonald's that has free wifi, why is there a homework gap that we should be worried about?" How do you respond to that?

Amy Huffman: Sure. First libraries aren't open 24 hours a day. We actually have heard several stories of children and parents sitting outside libraries after hours when it's closed, and yeah, you can imagine the safety issues or how cold it might be if there's weather. We also know that many folks in our state have transportation challenges and so they may not have a car or be able to drive to McDonald's or the library. And then many folks in our state don't have to do those things, so I don't know that we have to be telling people that do have to do those things to get the access that that's what they should have to do.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I've heard the stories of the frustration of someone having driven 30 miles and returned home only to find that there was another part of the assignment and they have to go back to that location again. I have it pretty good living in the city. This stress, we don't need to introduce into these families.

Amy Huffman: Absolutely. There's so many barriers and challenges that children face day to day anyways to complete their homework or to thrive within their school system, this doesn't need to be one of them.

Christopher Mitchell: What are the next steps then that can be done beyond what's already been happening?


Amy Huffman: Sure. Well, here in the state we want to continue to encourage local communities to implement programs that address the homework gap in their communities, but we also think we as a state should be leading this as well. Funding is needed in order to close the homework gap, but also smart policy is as well. The federal government could also dedicate more research or time or funding to closing the homework gap. There's many things that they could do as well.

Christopher Mitchell: I was really disappointed that Angela [Seafer 00:28:35] had to leave the event early today because of the discussion at the very end of the state would like to see that every community has its own digital inclusion plan and the Institute on Emerging Issues is working with the electric cooperatives and your state agency, as I understand it then, to help communities develop these digital inclusion plans. That seems quite exciting frankly in terms of I think putting the responsibility on the local units to plan, but also having a plan for developing all of these plans.

Amy Huffman: Absolutely. We think it's really exciting. In our work, we know that communities know what they need best. They know their citizens, they know what's needed, and so for them to create their own plan and then to have some potential resources to begin implementing those plans, we think is really, really exciting.

Christopher Mitchell: A question that I like to think about, we did this video series, this crude animation with badly voiced-over characters about a rural scenario, and in it a former colleague of mine, Nick, brought life to this guy Grumpy Gary. And I think about Grumpy Gary a lot. He's an older guy who just is a very curmudgeonly. He would say things like, "Why do we even need to have kids doing homework on the Internet? Shouldn't we just give them books and call it a day? That's the way I was raised. Why is it important that they be on the Internet at all anyway?"


Amy Huffman: Well in North Carolina the General Assembly in 2015, I need to check me on that, passed a law-

Christopher Mitchell: That's the neighborhood certainly.

Amy Huffman: ... passed a law that moved all funding that went to paying for textbooks to pay for digital learning. In North Carolina there aren't printed textbooks being purchased anymore. If there are some in schools, it's because they were purchased before the law was fully implemented. So we already have moved to the point where it's become a requirement for students to have Internet access to do their homework or to do their schoolwork within the walls of the school.

Amy Huffman: It's no longer a question of should they or should they not? It's already happening. And so the question now is do we want to make it equitable? Do we want to make sure that all students can access the same resources in and outside of the four walls of the school? And we think that the answer is yes. And so we want to make sure that all students have the same access to resources.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. I think that's one of the things that really resonates with me is that not only is there a homework gap, but it's perversely growing in the sense that we would hope that these tools, these new technologies would enable us to get rid of the old inequities to make sure that people had a fair shot.

Amy Huffman: Absolutely. In some ways we almost think it should be called the opportunity gap. This opportunity gap, these tools that really have someone referred to them as they're the ultimate bootstrapping tools. Anyone can build a business now from anywhere. I could build a business right here from my computer if I have the tools. And to make sure for millions of kids to not have those same tools that their peers have increases the already existing divide.

Christopher Mitchell: I was in high school when the Internet became commercialized, I guess I was almost in high school, whatever. Who knows how old I was. I remember in 10th grade in particular doing a homework assignment, which I did these independent research on the Internet to do this thing. If I had thought then, and even going through college, and again still not many people were using the Internet, it was really starting to catch on then, looking ahead I would have assumed that this would have been this great leveling influence, and instead it just seems that the kids who have the most opportunity are able to speed ahead. And I know that we can do better. I guess one of the things that I'd be curious about is I felt like we would not be having this conversation in 2020.


Amy Huffman: I agree. I agree.

Christopher Mitchell: There's a part of me that just sort of wonders in 2025 will we be done with it? I hope.

Amy Huffman: I sure hope so. I sure hope so. Yeah. Hopefully at least here in North Carolina, but really I have that hope for the whole country.

Christopher Mitchell: Right. Well, I have to say that when you see a room like this, this is the room that was filled with people, I'm sure there's many more people probably were streaming in online, many more people will be watching in incoming days, there's a lot of attention that's being paid to this. And I feel like the work of people to highlight this over the many years, people like Angela Seafer, I hope that we're going to take it seriously now.

Amy Huffman: I hope so too and I do feel that we're at a tipping point. I think that there's more attention paid to these issues now because they're so in your face, we can't avoid them anymore.

Christopher Mitchell: Thank you so much for coming on talking about the homework gap. And I think also making sure that these states are taking these things seriously. I think the research that you're doing, I hope we see a lot of other states copy that and adopt that approach.

Amy Huffman: I hope so too. And I will just say for any state that would like to do research around this, we're happy to share a survey with them. We're happy to walk them through what we did if they'd like any help with that.

Christopher Mitchell: All right. Thank you so much.

Amy Huffman: Thank you.

Lisa Gonzalez: Thanks for tuning into this episode in our Why NC Broadband Matters podcast series and for listening to the Community Broadband Bits podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Remember to follow Christopher on Twitter. His handle is @communitynets. And if you follow @ncheartsgb on Twitter, you'll tap into all the NC Broadband Matters material. We want to thank Shane Ivers of for the series music, What's the Angle, licensed through Creative Commons. And we want to thank you for listening. Until next time.