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The digital divide leaves rural students behind, innovation can change that

Published by The Hill on September 3, 2019

By Allen Pratt

As students across the country head back to school this season, our policymakers in Washington need to remember that at least 6.5 million students will return to the classroom stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Today, 70 percent of teachers assign homework that requires a broadband connection, yet millions of American students do not have access to broadband service at home.

That creates a gap between those students with access at home and those without. As a former high school science teacher and coach, high school principal, Kids Computers 1 300x169assistant superintendent, a longtime advocate for rural development and executive director for the National Rural Education Association (NREA), I’ve seen firsthand the burden this homework gap places on both educators and families — and the impact on students who struggle to keep up.

Since its founding in 1907, NREA has advocated for policies to improve the quality of education in rural communities. There are few issues today that are more critical to that mission than expanding broadband connectivity in rural America.

Students living in rural communities without broadband connectivity are denied access to the same opportunities shared by their peers in well-connected suburban or urban areas. These students often struggle to keep up with assignments and are denied exposure to innovative teaching tools and platforms.

It is nearly a cliché in education policy, but educational outcomes should not be determined by a student’s ZIP code.

Broadband internet has become as critical in the classroom as a textbook and as indispensable at home as a calculator. Without broadband connectivity, kids living in rural areas are being prepared to compete in a 21st Century economy with 20th Century tools.

That is why it is so critical our policymakers in Washington act.

Fortunately, there are readily available solutions to expand broadband connectivity in rural communities and tackle the digital divide.

NREA is part of a coalition that works to raise awareness and build support behind a mixed-technology approach to eliminating the rural broadband gap.

Connect Americans Now (CAN) is a coalition as an actionable plan to close the digital divide over the next five years with an all-of-the-above approach, leveraging innovative solutions like TV white space (TVWS) technology.

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