Closing the Digital Divide

Coronavirus, Education, Racial Justice


Tech Inequity Has Exacerbated Pandemic-Driven Lost Learning For Low-Income, Black and Latinx Students In Massachusetts

As the new school year begins, education advocates, youth-serving organizations, and civil rights lawyers sent an open letter to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) identifying urgent tech inequities that pervade the educational experience for low-income Black and Latinx students. The letter urges DESE to proactively work in close partnership with the diverse group of signatories and to leverage pandemic-related federal funding to close the digital divide.

The signatories include:

  • Bill Walczak, individually
  • Boston College Center for Optimized Student Support
  • Boston’s Higher Ground 
  • Boston Opportunity Agenda
  • Bunker Hill Community College 
  • The Care Institute
  • Dr. Chad d’Entremont, individually
  • Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSEBOC)
  • Community Teamwork
  • Education Resource Strategies 
  • Education Trust
  • Framingham State University
  • Dr. Hardin L.K. Coleman, Ph.D., individually
  • Latinos for Education
  • Lawrence Community Works, Inc.
  • Lawyers for Civil Rights
  • Lindsa McIntyre, individually
  • Paul Toner, individually
  • reDesign
  • Salem Public Schools 
  • Sociedad Latina
  • Turahn Dorsey, individually

The signatories are affiliated with Open Opportunity – Massachusetts (OOMA), a coalition working to build and advance community-centered solutions that create the resources and opportunities youth and families need to reach the ambitious goals they set for themselves. Together, OOMA’s coalition of 40 cross-sector organizations is working collectively to dismantle systemic and racial barriers, and advocate for policies that make transformation possible. OOMA’s public/private sector and non-profit members work collectively across education, health care, housing, and workforce development to eliminate structural barriers and dismantle siloes that too often keep these sectors separated and disconnected. These four sectors are critical to a family’s ability to be emotionally and financially well, which are fundamental to children’s ability to learn and thrive.

The open letter identifies five critical areas for improvement: 

1)    Ensuring internet accessibility by providing portable hotspots, negotiating long-term options with internet providers, or subsidizing internet for low-income households;

2)    Leveraging access to devices by providing a 1-to-1 student Chromebooks year-round for students to participate in STEM education and summer educational programming;

3)    Enhancing tech literacy by offering after-school time and tech literacy workshops, opportunities to attend STEM camps and learn digital platforms;

4)    Engaging community partners by providing grants and funding for tech literacy programs, devices, and education; and

5)    Hiring a Tech Equity Coordinator to ensure successful application and outcomes.

The recommendations are designed to support students who – without technology – tend to perform lower, have trouble transitioning to schools and colleges that heavily rely on technology, and work more hours to comprehend the same learning objectives. 

The open letter also highlights alarming data surrounding the digital divide in Massachusetts, including: 

45.6% of Massachusetts residents live in an area with only one internet provider;

34.2% of households in Massachusetts with an annual income of less than $20,000 do not have an internet subscription;

11.1% of Massachusetts households do not have an internet subscription; and

Low-income urban communities are also affected with areas like Springfield (31%), Lawrence (31%), Holyoke (29%), and Lowell (27%) demonstrating severe lack of internet access.

The open letter was delivered to DESE today.

Click here to download the full letter.