Michigan's Digital Divide

The following excerpt is from a recent blog on quality virtual instruction and access. Read the full post here.
By Ayat AL-Tamimi, Policy Fellow

Ayat AL-Tamimi, Policy Fellow

For hundreds of thousands of children in the state of Michigan, participating in online virtual instruction could be a significant challenge due to a lack of digital access in their household, according to new analyses from The Education Trust-Midwest. And it is the most vulnerable groups of students that are most likely to lack digital access, putting them at a major disadvantage as many districts across the state anticipate distance learning to be at least a component of their instructional plan this school year.

While it’s clear that virtual learning is not a substitute for high-quality, in-person instruction, all Michigan students should have the technology and resources they need to access this form of instruction should it be necessary due to public health concerns.

The digital divide is just one of the many long-standing equity issues that have been magnified during the pandemic, which has disproportionately impacted many children in the United States, especially Black and brown children, children from low-income backgrounds and children from rural communities.

Before the pandemic, the millions of American children without digital access already faced challenges in accessing online resources to complete homework assignments, build digital literacy skills and continue or accelerate their learning at home. Data demonstrates that the children already facing these barriers were disproportionately students of color, students from low-income backgrounds and students in rural communities.

With the abrupt end to in-person learning during the 2019-2020 school year and rapid shift to distance learning, the impact of the digital divide on vulnerable students was heightened. Students who lacked strong internet connections and devices were unable to participate in online lessons or log on to complete their assignments, often relying on paper packets to continue their learning in the spring. According to a national survey, nearly half of high-poverty districts said they used paper packets as a primary part of remote instruction for elementary school students this spring, compared to only 18 percent of wealthy districts. For middle and high school students, 42 percent of high-poverty districts reported relying on paper packets, compared to only 9 percent of wealthy districts.

With many school districts incorporating some degree of online learning into their curriculum for the 2020-2021 school year, identifying and closing the digital divide is imperative, as is ensuring that when virtual instruction is required, it is high-quality and rigorous.

Earlier this year, The Education Trust-Midwest released an interactive map to shed light on gaps in digital access in districts across the state of Michigan. The latest analyses shed further light on the impact of the digital divide by examining digital access according to income, race and geography. Findings demonstrate that vulnerable student groups and students in Michigan’s rural and urban districts are more likely to be without digital access.

Read more on Michigan’s Digital Divide.

High Expectations for Every Learning Environment

The following excerpt is from a recent blog on supporting students through high expectations and well-supported educators. Read the full post here.
By Joann Riemersma, Assistant Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

Joann Riemersma, Assistant Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

Schools across the nation are poised to adopt either full- or partial-distance learning environments this fall, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and safety precautions. But a virtual environment doesn’t mean we should lessen our expectations for children – or lower the bar for students in need. 

Ensuring educators have professional development and support is essential to ensuring all students have access to the highest quality instruction possible during this unprecedented and uncertain time.  

A recent effort in Kent County brought together over 100 educators from across the region to build capacity around instruction and equity.  Specifically, participants attended the UnboundEd Virtual Summit to examine the intersection of standards, content, instruction and equity 

In an effort to help educators translate this important learning to the unique context of their district and school, The Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, which is the practice team of The Education Trust-Midwest, led a follow-up session for educators about how to support literacy instruction, regardless of where the learning takes place in the fall, be it in person or through distance learning. The session was one of three follow-ups held in partnership with Leading Educators and West Michigan Leadership Academy (WMLA) to help teachers further their learning and identify the most promising strategies for supporting students to accelerate learning after months of missed learning opportunities. 

This effort is part of the ongoing work that our practice team does each day — working shoulder to shoulder with teachers throughout the area with a focus on teacher leadership, equity and sustainable school improvement.  We are a passionate group of educators committed to the high academic achievement of all students – particularly those of color or living in poverty. 

One of the goals of the Summit and follow-up sessions was to support participating educators to create actionable plans for what awaits us this year – an unprecedented time of unfinished learning for our students.  Our work together aimed to set a foundation of learning expectations that produce more equitable results which, for many, requires a shift in thinking away from the old adage of meeting students where they are. For too long, that strategy meant lessening the rigor of assignments. By doing that, we cause kids to miss out on mastering the standards and opportunities for rigorous and advanced coursework. 

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