State and local interventions to increase access to digital learning resources (DLR) and the Internet both inside and outside of the classroom are underway across the United States. This section describes a few examples of such interventions conducted in 2015 and 2016 (2015 being the most recent data year reported in the indicators and 2016 being the year before the report was in production). For this section, we had limited ability to address the Congressional mandate within the timeframe and scope of this report. We searched for relevant reports on technology, but did not identify any national data or evaluations addressing systematic efforts to address DLR access at home. We did identify some reports published by political organizations and advocacy groups, and provided some examples of state and local efforts from those reports. It is important to understand that these examples are not representative of all the types of efforts that are currently being made. It is likely that there are other examples of state and local initiatives that are not discussed here because reports were not produced about these efforts within the time frame that we used for our search procedures.
The nonprofit organization EducationSuperHighway aims to provide high-speed internet access to all U.S. public school students. In the 2015 State of the States report, EducationSuperHighway (2015) stated that an additional 20 million students were connected to high-speed internet over the past 2 years and that 38 governors had committed to the initiative of connecting their states' classrooms to high-speed broadband. For example, North Carolina launched the Wireless Networking Initiative, a statewide procurement effort that resulted in 95 percent of participating school districts having Wi-Fi access points in every classroom. New Jersey formed a statewide buying consortium for broadband services in schools that resulted in 16 percent savings on monthly costs and an average internet access bandwidth increase of 152 percent.
The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) works to ensure that students have equitable access to DLR, both inside and outside of the classroom. In the 2016 report The Broadband Imperative II: Equitable Access for Learning, SETDA identified three strategies that policymakers and educators can use to improve equity of access outside of school: reaching out to families about the necessity of out-of-school access, leveraging community partnerships, and sharing out-of-school access options (Fox and Jones 2016). These strategies rely on community buy-in, such as local businesses offering internet access on their premises to students. Similar local initiatives are described below.
At the local level, some stakeholders are using creative methods to try to help close the digital divide. Community outreach and education campaigns are often more effective than federal funding alone (LaRose et al. 2011). In 2015, the Executive Office of the President released the Community-Based Broadband Solutions report, encouraging the construction of broadband networks in unserved and underserved areas.
Some districts are putting wireless routers on buses or providing mobile Wi-Fi hotspots so that students can access the Internet outside of the classroom. In California, the Coachella Valley Unified School District helped low-income residents obtain access by outfitting school buses with high-speed internet for use by students on the way to and from school and in the evening hours for homes near the parked buses (U.S. Department of Education n.d.). The Vail School District in Arizona implemented a similar initiative (Fox and Jones 2016). When Cincinnati Public Schools decided to offer partially-online advanced placement (AP) courses, the school system provided mobile hotspots, called Kajeet SmartSpots, to students who did not have home broadband access (Meyer 2016). These hotspots not only allowed students to attend their AP classes, but also to complete homework. Forsyth County Schools in Georgia partnered with the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce to disseminate a list of organizations and businesses in the community that offered free Wi-Fi hotspots (Fox and Jones 2016).
Funding programs and providing devices for students are other common local-level strategies to increase student internet access to DLR outside the classroom. School District 87 of Bloomington, Illinois provided sixth- through eighth-graders with a digital learning device to use at both school and home (Fox and Jones 2016). Since over half of the students did not have at-home internet access, the district also decided to allocate funding to provide low-income households with access to the district's internet connection. Cincinnati's Kajeet SmartSpots program caught the interest of Green Bay Area Public Schools in Wisconsin. Instead of supplying mobile hotspots, however, the school district allowed students to "check-out" a SmartSpot laptop or other device, similar to borrowing a book from the library (Meyer 2016).
As a final example, the national nonprofit organization EveryoneOn works as a liaison between internet service providers and families that cannot afford broadband internet (Meyer 2016). The organization negotiates with internet service providers for more affordable prices for high-speed internet service and computers, and then helps inform families about these opportunities in their areas.