CONNECT ALLSTUDENTS:How States andSchool DistrictsCan Close theDigital Divide

This report was developed by Boston Consulting Group in partnershipwith Common Sense and EducationSuperHighway.Common Sense is the nation’s leading nonprofit organizationdedicated to improving the lives of all kids and families by providing thetrustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need tothrive in the 21st century.EducationSuperHighway is a nonprofit organization founded in 2012with the mission of upgrading the internet access in every publicschool classroom in America. The organization believes that digitallearning has the potential to provide all students with equal access toeducational opportunity and that every school requires high-speedbroadband to make that opportunity a reality.Boston Consulting Group partners with leaders in business and societyto tackle their most important challenges and capture their greatestopportunities in order to unlock the potential of those who advance theworld.This report was funded by the Walton Family Foundation and BostonConsulting Group.AUTHORSSumit Chandra, BCGLane McBride, BCGAmina Fazlullah, Common SenseDanny Weiss, Common SenseHannah Hill, BCGMatthew Wu, BCGJack Lynch, EducationSuperHighwayCOPY EDITORDESIGNERJenny Pritchett, Common SenseNatalia Marcantonio, EducationSuperHighwaySuggested citation: Chandra, S., Fazlullah, A., Hill, H., Lynch, J., McBride, L., Weiss, D., Wu, M. (2020). Connect all students: How states and school districtscan close the digital divide. San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media.

CLOSING THE K–12 DIGITAL DIVIDE IN THE AGE OF DISTANCE LEARNINGDue to pandemic-related school facility closures, 50 million K–12public school students had to learn remotely.15 MILLION TO16 MILLION (30%)of these students lack adequateinternet or devices to sustaineffective remote learning.9 MILLION50 MILLIONSTUDENTSof these students lack bothadequate internet andadequate devices.At least 36 STATES have allocated over 1.5B IN CARES FUNDING for K–12 digital access.ASSESSNEEDSKey Steps to Closingthe Digital DivideIdentifyAssess who needsconnectivity anddevices at home andwhere they live.PROCURESOLUTIONSResearchDetermine which devicesand connectivity optionsare desirable and availableand how to distributethem.ACCESSFUNDSFundraiseFind the money to payfor it all, usually througha combination of federal,state, local, private, and/or philanthropic dollars. 2020 COMMON SENSE MEDIA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.CONNECT ALL STUDENTS: HOW STATES AND SCHOOL DISTRICTS CAN CLOSE THE DIGITAL DIVIDE3

TABLE OF CONTENTS05 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY21 POLICY IMPLICATIONS06 INTRODUCTION22 CONCLUSION08 OBJECTIVE, SCOPE, ANDGUIDEBOOK23 SPOTLIGHTS10 THE GUIDEBOOK10 Step No. 1 - Who: Conduct needsassessment to determine whichstudents need connectivity anddevices and where they live.29 APPENDIX29 Publicly available resources29 List of interviews conducted30 State and district examples12 K-12 Bridge to BroadbandInitiative12 Step No. 2 - What: Establishprocess for procuring devices andconnectivity.12 Devices14 Connectivity19 Step No. 3 - How: Find the moneyto pay for devices, connectivity, andsupport.19 Emergency coronavirus funds19 Private and philanthropic funds20 Making the case for additionalpublic funding 2020 COMMON SENSE MEDIA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.CONNECT ALL STUDENTS: HOW STATES AND SCHOOL DISTRICTS CAN CLOSE THE DIGITAL DIVIDE4

EXECUTIVE SUMMARYAcross the United States, even before the onset of thecoronavirus pandemic, there was a significant digital dividebetween K–12 students with access to high-speed internetand computing devices at home, and those without. Withthe closure of school buildings for more than 50 millionstudents in March, the “homework gap,” as one part ofthe digital divide is known, threatened wholesale learningloss. School districts and states scrambled to providedevices and connectivity to their students at home, andCongress responded with limited financial aid through theCARES Act.More than six months later, there is much to be learnedfrom the largest and most unanticipated experimentin distance learning in U.S. history. Common Sense,EducationSuperHighway, and Boston Consulting Group,each with significant experience working to address digitaldivide issues, joined forces to understand how stakeholdersresponded to this emergency and what lessons can belearned from those efforts to close the digital divide goingforward.were able to pivot more quickly to respond to schoolclosures; and that states or districts with high-qualityneeds assessment were more efficient in procuring anddistributing devices and connectivity.We also learned, however, that even in the best cases,obstacles persist in closing the divide for all students,including insufficient funding, supply constraints, andlimited existing infrastructure. In addition, it became clearthat many efforts to date, of necessity, are short-termstop-gap measures that are not necessarily sustainable, norwould they be the optimal long-term solution. One caveatto this is that the needs assessment is a helpful step forlong-term digital divide efforts.Finally, while digital literacy is not a focus of thisparticular report, we found that another criticalcomponent to ensuring high-quality distance learningis a holistic digital inclusion1 approach, including digitalliteracy, parent and teacher training, and tech support—all of which requires additional planning, staff, andfunding.This report highlights case studies at the state, city, andschool district level and concludes that there are three keysteps in the still unfinished endeavor of closing the K–12digital divide during the pandemic.First: Assess who needs connectivity anddevices and where they live.Second: Determine which devices andconnectivity options are desirable andavailable and how to distribute them.Third: Find the money to pay for it all.We learned that the best solutions relied on high-levelcommunication and collaboration among all stakeholders;that states with a history of broadband investment1.Digital inclusion refers to the activities necessary to ensure that allindividuals and communities, including the most marginalized, haveaccess to and use of information and communication technologies(ICTs). These include five elements: 1). affordable, robust broadbandinternet service, 2). internet-enabled devices that meet the needs ofthe user, 3). access to digital literacy training, 4). quality technicalsupport, and 5). applications and online content designed to enableand encourage self-sufficiency, participation, and collaboration.Digital inclusion must evolve as technology advances. It requiresintentional strategies and investments to reduce and eliminatehistorical, institutional, and structural barriers to the access and useof technology. 2020 COMMON SENSE MEDIA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.CONNECT ALL STUDENTS: HOW STATES AND SCHOOL DISTRICTS CAN CLOSE THE DIGITAL DIVIDE55

INTRODUCTIONAcross the United States, even before the onset of thecoronavirus pandemic, there was a significant digital dividebetween K–12 students with access to high-speed internetand computing devices at home, and those without,historically known as the “homework gap.”2Before the pandemic, more than 40% of teachers inTitle I schools said they would not assign homework thatrequired digital access because students would have troublecompleting it3, and a 2017 Speak Up study found that themajority of school principals considered digital equity amajor challenge.4The coronavirus pandemic, which required most K–12students to attend school from home from March throughat least October, has transformed the homework gap intoan even more significant problem, leading to a learning gapand raising additional concerns about learning loss in adistance learning setting.5 And because the digital dividedisproportionately affects students from lower-incomefamilies and students of color, failure to close the digitaldivide risks further undermining key student groups thatalready face greater obstacles to educational success.A June 2020 analysis by Common Sense and BCG on thedigital divide among America’s public school students andteachers found that the divide was larger than previouslyestimated: About 15 million to 16 million students, or 30%of all K–12 public school students, live in households without either an internet connection or a device adequate fordistance learning, or both.6 (The same report also foundthat up to 400,000 K–12 teachers—roughly 10% of all public school teachers—live in households without adequateinternet connectivity, and 100,000 teachers lack adequatehome computing devices.)Closing the K–12 digital divide has multiple benefits: Itis essential to ensure all students have equal access todistance learning; it enables remote working and workforcedevelopment, offering a two-generation approach to helpbreak cycles of poverty; and it serves as a downpaymenttoward closing the broader digital divide.7The digital divide disproportionately impacts rural communities and Black, Latinx, and NativeAmerican households% of students without broadbandby race/ethnicityby 7%Research by the Greenlining Institute has shown that districts subject tofinancial redlining practices in the 1930s face a higher digital divide today.*Native American18%26%30%35%*On the Wrong Side of the Divide. Source: U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee. (2017, September). America’s Digital Divide. Perrin, A. (31 May, 2019). Digital gap betweenrural and nonrural America persists. Pew Research Center.Note: Asian race/ethnicity not included in bar chart.2. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel is credited with first using the term “homework gap,” which sheds light on this critical problem for K–12students. In this report, as in our previous report Connect all students: How states and school districts can close the digital divide we expand the definitionof “homework gap” to refer to students who cannot complete all schoolwork that requires adequate internet and computing devices at home.3. Infographic from The Homework Gap: Teacher Perspectives on Closing the Digital Divide4. How America’s Schools are Addressing the Homework Gap: Speak Up 2016 findings5. The COVID-19 slide, COVID-19 and student learning in the United States6. Note: Where discrepancies exist between the digital divide figures reported in the prior Common Sense/BCG report and the figures reported instate/district spotlights, this may be due to 1). limitations in data collection and assessment, 2). varying definitions of what constitutes adequateconnectivity, and/or 3). differences in methodology and scope, e.g., rural vs. state-wide, or student vs. household focus.7. The term “digital divide” refers to the gap between individuals, households, businesses, and geographic areas at different socioeconomic levels withregard both to their opportunities to access information and communication technologies (ICTs) and to their use of the internet for a wide variety ofactivities (Glossary of Statistical Terms: Digital Divide. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Accessed July 2020). 2020 COMMON SENSE MEDIA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.CONNECT ALL STUDENTS: HOW STATES AND SCHOOL DISTRICTS CAN CLOSE THE DIGITAL DIVIDE6

The report estimated the cost of closing the digital dividefor K–12 students to be between 6 billion and 11 billionin the first year, and it called on Congress to make a directinvestment in student connectivity and devices as part of anemergency coronavirus response package.In March, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief,and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which included 13.2billion for K–12 education (the Elementary and SecondarySchool Emergency Relief Fund, or ESSER) to be distributedby the U.S. Department of Education8 to the states to usefor a wide range of unmet educational needs, one of whichis distance learning.The CARES Act also included an additional 3 billion forthe Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER),designated for governors to use for either higher educationor K–12 education, and which also can be used for distancelearning and other purposes9. The ESSER and GEER funds,while helpful, did not offer a coherent approach to closingthe student digital divide and were insufficient to fully closethe K–12 digital divide in any single state.Greater direct federal investment andsupport is still needed to address the divideduring the pandemic and to sustainablyclose the digital divide once and for all.8. CARES Act Emergency Relief9. Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund 2020 COMMON SENSE MEDIA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.CONNECT ALL STUDENTS: HOW STATES AND SCHOOL DISTRICTS CAN CLOSE THE DIGITAL DIVIDE77

OBJECTIVE, SCOPE, AND GUIDEBOOKObjectiveScopeThis report provides a fact base of best practices to closethe K–12 digital divide during the pandemic to enhancedecision-making for all stakeholders. Without a robust andcodified set of approaches, states and districts are at risk ofrecreating suboptimal connectivity solutions and may evenend up competing against one another given supply chainconstraints.The report is based on 18 interviews with stakeholderssupporting state, city, and district efforts to close the digitaldivide, complemented by news media reports, existingresearch by education nonprofits, and previous work byCommon Sense, EducationSuperHighway, and BostonConsulting Group, among other sources. The bulk of theinformation for this report was collected in September of2020.This report is intended to serve as a guide for:States and districts: This report offers a broader view ofwhich approaches are possible and identifies where certainapproaches are best suited depending on stakeholderneeds, size, and capabilities.State and federal policymakers: This report is intended asa guidebook from which policymakers can develop moresustainable and permanent long-term solutions and fundingsources.Businesses, philanthropies, and nonprofits: This reportidentifies avenues where resources from these entitieswould be most useful and how they can support systemeffectiveness.Based on our review of state, city, and school districtmodels during the pandemic, the report concentrates onthree steps to closing the student digital divide duringthe pandemic:Who: Assess who needs connectivity and devices at homeand where they live.What: Determine which devices and connectivity optionsare desirable and available and how to distribute them.How: Find the money to pay for it all, usually througha combination of federal, state, local, private, and/orphilanthropic dollars.For a robust distance learning experience, students andteachers need four things:1. High-speed internet service at home (robust: 200/10Mbps; adequate: 25/3 Mbps10)2. Internet-enabled learning devices (excludingcellphones11)3. Distance learning instructional content4. Support, including digital literacy resources, teacher andparent training, and social/emotional resourcesThis report focuses primarily on the first two elements:ensuring that all students have home access to theinternet and access to devices capable of meeting thedemands of distance learning. These elements intersectand must be examined together rather than independentlyof one another, as a student with connectivity but no deviceis still on the wrong side of the digital divide, and the sameis true of a student with a device but no connectivity.This report offers best practices to bridge the digital dividein the context of the coronavirus pandemic and potentialapproaches within the confines of what is available today. Itoperates under the assumption that federal action is limited,states are the primary drivers of coordinated action, andwhile the exact dynamic between states and districts mayvary, execution is largely done at the local, district level.10. Pg. 23, Closing the Digital Divide in the Age of Distance Learning11. Given that many education platforms, and content, are not optimized for mobile phones and make it difficult to complete student assignments,individuals with only a mobile phone are not considered to have an adequate device for distance learning. 2020 COMMON SENSE MEDIA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.CONNECT ALL STUDENTS: HOW STATES AND SCHOOL DISTRICTS CAN CLOSE THE DIGITAL DIVIDE8

Finally, this report assumes states and districts can makeuse of the currently available pandemic funding, includingESSER and GEER funds as well as existing state, district, andcity budgets that can be deployed to close the digital divide,although a large portion of this funding has been fullycommitted or already spent. As stated above, it is clear thatadditional federal funding is needed to close the studentdigital divide fully.In the Appendix, we provide detailed “spotlights” fromour interviews with state, city, and district officials tohighlight effective existing models in the areas of needsassessment, procurement, and funding, representingpotential approaches to reducing the divide and establishinga path to meeting longer-term connectivity goals. Excerptsfrom the spotlights are used throughout the report.12 Maximizing speed of implementation, for example,requires streamlining negotiation processes andpurchasing easily accessible connectivity options (e.g.,handing out hot spots, choosing devices without supplychain constraints). Minimizing costs, for example, requires reducing lengthyrequest for proposal (RFP) processes, which may prolongthe time students are without access. Maximizing quality, for example, may require settingup service-level contracts, narrowing selectionoptions to those that meet stringent thresholds (e.g.,upload/download speeds), or investing in long-terminfrastructure.GuidebookThe guidebook is oriented around three key steps—Who,What, and How—and additional considerations towardclosing the K–12 digital divide during the pandemic.In addition, it is important to remember that there is no oneright approach to closing the divide. Efforts vary in boththeir context and objectives.Context: Every community will have a slightly different slateof stakeholders. Some states have built their educationsystem with a top-down approach, while others placemore power at the local level, in the hands of districts.Engagement by additional stakeholders in a communitycan boost resources and potentially help share the work ofclosing the digital divide (e.g., public-private partnerships,community broadband organizations). Furthermore, startingpoints and existing circumstances will also vary, including: Demographics of the target population (e.g., size, urbanrural mix, family income, language(s) spoken) State of existing infrastructure (e.g., availability, speed,providers) Degree of student connectivity (e.g., robust homeconnection, dedicated learning device) Unique community needs (e.g., accessibility, usability,other barriers to adoption)Objectives: It’s important to recognize that if a state ordistrict seeks to implement their digital divide programquickly, there are inherent trade-offs to be considered.When selecting an approach, it is important to clearlyidentify what constitutes adequate connectivity and thedevices necessary for a distance learning program.1312. The Appendix also includes a brief description of state and district examples beyond those covered in the spotlights.13. See, for example, pg. 16, Closing the Digital Divide in the Age of Distance Learning 2020 COMMON SENSE MEDIA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.CONNECT ALL STUDENTS: HOW STATES AND SCHOOL DISTRICTS CAN CLOSE THE DIGITAL DIVIDE9

THE GUIDEBOOKStep No. 1Who: Conduct needs assessment to determinewhich students need connectivity and devicesand where they live.Conducting a needs assessment is a critical component ofclosing the digital divide. State and local education officialsmust understand which students need support to ensurehome access to connectivity and devices that meet distancelearning requirements. If this data is granular (down tothe address level with specifics around available speedsand providers), it can ensure that state and district effortsefficiently provide resources in the short term.However, this data will also be valuable as states and schooldistricts seek to build long-term strategies. Assessmentsallow officials to gain insight into the broadband adoptionneeds specific to each family situation (e.g., familiarity withdigital literacy, number of people sharing access). It’s worthnoting that if districts and states invest in a robust andrecurring assessment program, the data will be valuable notonly for states but also for federal policymakers and otherpotential private and philanthropic partners seeking to closethe digital divide.Considerations when creating a student digital divideneeds assessment include: Crafting questions that will provide the appropriate levelof detail without being overly technical or burdensome inlength for the responders. Identifying a data repository for storing the informationonce it is collected, such as a student information system(SIS). Building an assessment program that allows robust use ofthe data, including the impact of digital access on learningoutcomes, solutions design, and state and federal policyadvocacy. Overlaying student digital divide data with other data setsto identify trends and possible solutions (e.g., overlayingwith internet service providers, or ISPs, on coveragemaps). Balancing timeliness of information collection with athoughtful investment in the assessment program torepeat data collection year over year. Protecting student data and ensuring compliance withstate and federal education privacy laws.Protecting student privacyMost school districts considering sharing studentinformation with ISPs or other third parties willhave to consider both federal student privacylaw and newer state laws. Generally, the federalFamily Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)requires written consent from parents in order torelease information held in education records. Inthe absence of consent, federal law does permiteducational institutions to disclose personalinformation if the disclosure fits into one of severalexceptions, including directory information, adisclosure to a school official, and information foran audit or evaluation. Educational officials areadvised to seek legal guidance on any transfer ofstudent information. Sharing address informationwith internet service providers for the purposeof identifying unconnected households could beconsidered directory information so long as noadditional data from education records is included.In the absence of a federal or state study orprogram, however, the best practice is likely to begetting written consent from parents.Furthermore, FERPA exceptions require contractualprotections. The Council of Chief State SchoolOfficers (CCSSO) has a list of best practicesthat districts and states should follow, includingestablishing a written agreement that includesrestrictions on use, retention and deletionschedules, and basic data security requirements.Commercial use beyond the provisioning ofinternet service should be prohibited.Following such best practices may also assisteducational agencies in over 30 states who mustadditionally contend with state-specific laws,though again school districts are advised to consultwith legal counsel.14. FERPA Exceptions Summary15. CCSSO Home Digital Access Data Collection Blueprint for State Leaders16. State Student Privacy Laws. As of 9/6/2020, 34 states had passed student privacy laws that applied to either local or state educational agencies. 2020 COMMON SENSE MEDIA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.CONNECT ALL STUDENTS: HOW STATES AND SCHOOL DISTRICTS CAN CLOSE THE DIGITAL DIVIDE10

There are a range of approaches for assessing the size ofthe student digital divide, each with trade-offs in termsof speed, ease of implementation, and ability to informlong-term solutions. While estimates and surveys quicklyprovide a means of assessing the size of the need, schoolleaders should work toward more robust and sustainableassessment methodologies that integrate digital dividequestions into standard processes (such as registrationand enrollment) and systems (e.g., student informationsystems).CCSSO has identified a set of six key questions17 relatedto student device and connectivity needs whose answersshould be collected in addition to key student demographicinformation (e.g., name, grade level, number of siblings inhousehold, home address).18 The student-level data willplay a key role in the procurement process for connectivityand devices, as discussed in Step No. 2.1. What device does the student most oftenuse to complete online learning at home?2. Is the primary learning device a personaldevice or school provided?3. Is that device shared with anyone else inthe household?4. Can the student access the internet ontheir primary device (non-cellphone) athome?5. What is the primary type of internetservice used at the residence?6. Can the student stream videos withoutconnectivity interruption?Implementation of survey-based needs assessment processPLANNING Leverage teachers and schooladministrators in design process tounderstand student context and needs.Set up necessary FERPA and dataprivacy protocols, including data sharingagreements, file transfer protocol, andsecure authentication.Communicate upcoming assessment tofamilies (via text, call, email).Pilot with select teachers and studentsto test process for technical glitches,completion time, mobile compatibility,and language translation.Set deadlines and incentives forcompletion, especially for populationswith lower expected response rates.Prepare to guide families throughprocess, explaining the purpose of theneeds assessment and emphasizingconfidentiality.FOLLOW-UPEXECUTION Focus on easing access burden forfamilies.Leverage online links shared via email,text, and auto-dialers that directfamilies to a mobile- and web-friendlysurvey.Implement non-digital alternatives tobetter reach unconnected families.Use in-person avenues for completionin line with social distancing guidelines.Conduct follow-up calls to nonrespondents midway through thewindow to provide reminders and offersupport.Leverage teachers, community-basedorganizations, and potentially ISPs tohelp support data completion andaccuracy.Track completion regularly and updateall stakeholders on key metrics. Analyze responses and implementrobustness checks (e.g., weightingresponses if not comprehensive, callingabout non-responses).Sense-check results to protect againstfaulty responses (e.g., requestingunneeded laptop) by comparingestimated results to existing data,asking schools to verify if needed.Supplement collected data with otheradministrative data (e.g., performance,graduation/dropout rates) if possibleto gain understanding of the digitallandscape.Be transparent and share results withall stakeholders, including next stepsand plans for immediate action.Reflect on the process, capturelearnings, and build infrastructure toreplicate the assessment and aggregatedata going forward.17. See, for example, the CCSSO’s Home Digital Access Data Collection: Blueprint for State Education Leaders.18. For School Districts: Registration Question Bank 2020 COMMON SENSE MEDIA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.CONNECT ALL STUDENTS: HOW STATES AND SCHOOL DISTRICTS CAN CLOSE THE DIGITAL DIVIDE11

K–12 Bridge to Broadband InitiativeISPs launch programs to enable school districts to identify and purchase residential broadband service forlower-income familiesIn partnership with EducationSuperHighway, regional and national internet service providers (ISPs) are creatingofferings tailored to meet the needs of schools looking to close the K–12 home digital divide.Built on the recent success of partnerships between school districts and ISPs in Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia,and Las Vegas, the initiative promotes five core principles for ISPs working with school districts or states toidentify students without broadband at home and to advance effective solutions.Create a sponsoredservice offering forschool districts topurchase internetservices for studentsat home.Provide the data schooldistricts need to identifystudents who lack at-homebroadband (i.e., provideaddresses of students whoare unserved and who couldbe provided with broadbandservice within 10 days).Agree to a baselineset of eligibilitystandards.Minimize the amountof information requiredto sign up to facilitateenrollment for familiesin need.Commit toprotectingparticipatingfamilies’ privacyby not using thesupplied informationfor target marketing.Participating providers offer broadband service to over 80% of U.S. homes. State and district leaders can visitK–12 Bridge to Broadband to find participating providers.Step No. 2What: Establish process for procuringdevices and connectivity.Efforts to ensure that every student has a dedicated learningdevice and home internet access have required stateand local education leaders to address new procurementchallenges in light of the pandemic. While some parallels inprocurement strategies exist between purchasing devicesand connectivity services, there are specific strategiesassociated with each that will be discussed separately in thefollowing sections of the report.DevicesThe vast majority of school districts had experiencepurchasing devices prior to the pandemic. However,the pandemic necessitated some school districts toquickly purchase additional devices if they were notalready at a 1-to-1 student-to-device ratio, and supplychain constraints for some learning devices have addedcomplexity to the purchasing process. Many schooldistricts have also had to navigate the challenges associatedwith sending devices home with students for the first time.19When it comes to selecting the appropriate devices topurchase, school leaders typically factor in grade-levelneeds, compatibility with existing software and IT systems,and cost. S

CONNECT ALL STUDENTS: HOW STATES AND SCHOOL DISTRICTS CAN CLOSE THE DIGITAL DIVIDE 5 Across the United States, even before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, there was a significant digital divide between K–12 students with access to high-speed intern