As the Madison Metropolitan School District embarks on plans to provide every student with a technology device when needed, one of the pervasive questions has been: What if students don’t have Internet access?
The district has not decided if students will be allowed to take devices home, so home access could be a moot point. But some argue those who don’t have Internet access at home likely need the technology the most.
To see how many kids have access to the Internet and devices, the school district conducted a survey of more than 27,450 students, finding that about 88 percent of students do have Internet access.
When it comes to race, income and different school attendance areas, however, significant disparities emerge.
In elementary through high school, 97 percent of white students and 93 percent of Asian students reported having access to the Internet. In contrast, only 74 percent of African American students and 79 percent of Hispanic students have access.
A similar disparity emerges when looking at income, with 98 percent of non-low-income students having Internet access and only 78 percent of low-income students with Internet.
Cindy Green, executive director of curriculum and instruction for the district, said the data offers a baseline to inform decisions about the district’s technology plan and ways to work with the city to close the digital divide.
“We’re just thinking about where we can go with that but have not made any decisions yet,” said district instructional technology director Beth Clarke.
Since it was baseline data, Green said, they didn’t have expectations for what the results would be.
“We didn’t have other information to go on, so this is a great opportunity for us to begin to think about where to go from here,” Green said.
The access disparities in income and race play out across the district’s elementary schools, with some student bodies almost entirely wired and others lagging significantly.
In elementary schools, south Madison’s Leopold Elementary emerges as having the fewest students with Internet access, at 75 percent. The school is primarily non-white, with Black or African-American students making up about a third of the school’s population and Hispanic or Latino students comprising another third, according to MMSD data. Three quarters of the school’s students are also low-income.
Lincoln and Mendota also fall on the low end, with 77 and 79 percent of students with Internet access, respectively. Both also have majorities of non-white students and high percentages of low-income students.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, west side elementary schools Van Hise and Shorewood have the most access, at 97 percent. At both schools, more than three quarters of students are white or Asian and there are relatively low numbers of low-income students.
The survey also looked at Wi-Fi access, computer device access and phone access, with similar disparities emerging along economic and racial lines.
The city’s Digital Technology Committee reviewed the report at its meeting on Thursday and could take it into account as it moves forward with an Internet pilot project and studies. Using the data as a starting point, Green said the district and the city will have a conversation about how they could coordinate at some point.
“From that point we’ll have to see where it goes, but we’re hoping that in some way we can help the equity of all kids having access,” Clarke said. “That’s our goal from this.”