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CSBA Survey Finds Many Students Lack Access to Technology When They Need It Most

Equity concerns abound as schools report alarming percentages of students without home access to broadband internet and computers


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (May 08, 2020) – Results from a new California School Boards Association (CSBA) survey illustrate the technology barriers students face as their schools transition to distance learning. Students in low-income and rural districts frequently lack access to computers and broadband internet, making it difficult for schools to provide instruction in an equitable manner. At a time of statewide school closures, this digital divide exacerbates opportunity and achievement gaps, slows academic progress and prevents many students from receiving critical socioemotional support. 

“The unprecedented instructional shift forced by the COVID-19 pandemic is now shining the brightest spotlight yet on California’s long-standing digital divide, which undermines the academic, career and life prospects of students as well as the state’s economic potential,” said CSBA President Xilonin Cruz-Gonzalez. “Our state’s leaders must take comprehensive action to address these gaps and ensure that not one of California’s 6.2 million students is left behind during this crisis.”

  • One‐third (33%) of the survey’s respondents indicated that “less than half” or “a small minority/none” of their students have broadband home internet access or similar. 
  • Fifty percent of respondents reported that “less than half” or “a small minority/none” of their students have access to multiple internet-capable devices at home — a major issue in households with multiple children undertaking distance learning or where parents also study or work from home.
  • Just under one‐fifth (19%) of respondents described cell phone service in their community as “poor or nonexistent.”
  • A slight minority of respondents (45%) indicated that “less than half” or a “small minority/none” of their student body has smartphones, with 55% stating that most or all of their students have smartphones.

The survey results also show that a lack of access to technology that supports instruction and learning is especially prevalent in schools in rural areas and schools with high populations of low‐income students, exacerbating existing inequities and contributing to generational poverty. More than one-quarter (270) of all local educational agencies in the state responded to CSBA’s survey.

Click here to view a summary of the results on student access to technology required for distance learning. 

The survey responses are informing CSBA’s work with the State of California and other public and private sector partners to increase access to infrastructure, hardware, training and professional development that helps bridge the digital divide, close opportunity and achievement gaps and facilitate distance learning for schools struggling to connect with students.

CSBA will discuss the survey results and explore the subject of equitable access to technology in its Going the Distance to Bridge the Digital Divide webinar at 1:00 p.m. on Friday, May 8 (Learn more here). School board members Karen Rosenkilde-Bayne of the Woodland Joint Unified School District and George Neely of the Lodi Unified School District will present the work their respective districts have done to give students access to computers and broadband internet both on campus and in the home — and highlight the challenges that remain. The school board trustees will be joined by Sunne McPeak, President and CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund, a statewide nonprofit dedicated to closing the digital divide by accelerating the deployment and adoption of broadband to underserved communities and populations.

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CSBA is a nonprofit association representing nearly 1,000 PreK-12 school districts
and county offices of education throughout California.