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Ed. Department Late on 'Homework Gap' Study, Advocacy Groups Say

handonmouse_560x292blog-Getty.jpgA coalition of 20 education-advocacy groups are upset that the federal Institute of Education Sciences hasn't produced a legally mandated report on students' access to digital learning outside of school.

The findings are urgently needed now, the groups wrote, because of the Federal Communications Commission's current efforts to remake the Lifeline program, which proponents say is key to closing the "homework gap" between students who do and do not have high-speed internet access at home. 

The study was supposed to be released by June. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, in which IES is housed, said the report is currently undergoing scientific review and will be released in March or April of this year.

"The longer we wait for the overdue report, the longer students without home access to high-quality broadband connectivity remain at a disadvantage," said Keith Krueger, the CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, a professional association representing school-technology officials, in a statement.

"We always ask of our students, no matter the circumstances, to turn in their assignments on time. IES should be held to the same standard," Krueger said.

CoSN joined groups representing teachers, principals, librarians, superintendents and others in sending a letter of inquiry to IES this week.

The study is needed, the groups said, because it "will help policymakers identify the best ways to ensure all students can connect with broadband services and be on a oath for success after graduation."

Future of 'Lifeline' Program in Question

At issue is a provision of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law in December 2015, that directs IES to produce a report on "student home access to digital learning" within 18 months.

The study was to include analyses of: 

  • How students use digital learning resources outside of school, including what types of devices they use, where, and for what purpose;
  • The barriers students face in accessing such technologies; and
  • The resulting challenges students face.

The report was to be presented to Congress and "widely disseminated."

For years, education-advocacy groups have lamented the "homework gap."

Most schools now regularly assign online homework, their argument goes, but many students still lack the home internet access they need to complete it. 

In 2016, the FCC, then controlled by Democrats, modified a universal-service program known as the Lifeline. Previously limited to phone service, the Lifeline was expanded to provide eligible low-income families with a $9.25 monthly subsidy that can also be used to pay for broadband service.

But under Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed FCC chairman last year by President Donald Trump, the commission has taken aim at the program, enacting a number of measures to scale back its scope and to change its rules. 

In November, the commission also issued a notice of proposed rulemaking, seeking feedback on a plan that would include adding a "self-enforcing budget cap" to the program and giving states greater say in determining eligible Lifeline provider

Last month, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a long-time proponent of Lifeline expansion, decried the moves.

"I'm really committed to improving digital equity," Rosenworcel told Education Week. "I'm worried that the current FCC is not."

When it is complete, the Institute of Education Sciences will announce the report's publication on its website, the department spokeswoman said. Until then, the department is unable to comment further.


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