America’s traditional education system has a huge equity problem, and the inequalities between low-income and middle-income and wealthy students became even more apparent when schools shifted their lessons online this spring.
When traditional schools moved online, many school districts simply didn’t have the resources to provide students in need with the technology and Internet access necessary to complete their lessons.
This is something we recently wrote about in California, but the digital divide is much greater than one state — it’s a national problem.
In a recent piece for the 74 million, Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights, called for more state and federal aid for public schools. She also called on philanthropy groups to provide schools with the resources they need to address the digital divide. She wrote:
“As school districts across the country grapple with how to use limited emergency funds to address technology gaps and develop online lesson plans, philanthropic groups must step up to ensure that children don’t fall through the cracks because of the color of their skin or their income level. Together, we must develop a comprehensive plan to keep our nation’s most vulnerable students from facing yet another barrier to education — and the path to future opportunity it offers.”
We certainly agree with Kennedy that we must close the digital divide, but she’s overlooking one key way to do this: expanding access to public school options.
By design, online public schools provide an equal playing field for students. Like public schools, they are free to attend. Most online programs provide low-income students with technology resources and Internet access, and all students receive more individualized and one-on-one attention, along with the ability to work at their own pace.
While an online public school may not be the right fit for every student, parents must be empowered to make the right educational choice for their child. If wealthy families don’t like their neighborhood school, they have many more options at their fingertips. For low-income students, they are often stuck with what the system thinks they need, not necessarily what’s best for them.
Closing the equity gap requires more than just ensuring students have access to a computer. It’s about ensuring students have access to the education that works best for their needs.