Today I am writing from the perspective of a parent of children in a small town school district. As an online learning professional I often find myself preaching to the choir. So you can imagine how shocked I am to find myself smack dab in the middle of the digital divide.
Recently, my daughter’s teacher did exactly what I would have hoped he would do. He introduced a blended approach to US History. I geeked out and was super excited, until I learned that only students who have cellular wireless access are permitted to use devices during the school day to access the content. Students like mine, whose parents find it more cost effective to provide devices with wifi capability, are not permitted to use the school’s existing wifi connection.
I was rather shocked by this, I mean why have wifi if no one is allowed to use it? I was told by the principal that visiting speakers were allowed to use it, but the bandwidth would not support widespread use.
Maroa-Forsyth School district is nearly 20% low income according to the ISBE School Report Card for 2013 And just under that % is ready for college according to the PSAE result. The students in this district are falling into a gap.
Moreover the school only permits online learning as a credit recovery option, and not as a primary alternative for students who find the curriculum or struggling district doesn’t support their learning needs for advancement, enrichment or opportunity. The credit recovery option they have chosen was vetted only for its hands off approach, meaning that the district would not have to do anything. And further does not meet Illinois’ much ignored IL Certified teacher of record requirement.
It seems that the district is simply undisrupted by what is going on in the world around them and unphased by their lack of preparation of my children. I applaud this teacher who is trying, and I want to support them. I also feel strongly about supporting my public school to do what is right. I don’t want to see a charter school pull money from an already strapped district.
In the past, I have called both the Superintendent, the High School Principal and the Guidance counselor and have been ignored because according to Mike Williams, Supt., “you work for Illinois Virtual School.” Rather than considering that an asset, he saw it as a bias for any criticism. Rather than partnering with me to find solutions, I have been sent away. I am reminded of the song from Wicked, “an unexamined life.”
Now my daughter is doing fine in her blended class, obviously I have internet at home. This is what I do. But I can’t help but have concern for that 50% of kids who would struggle to complete the daily work in this class because not only do their cell plans not include this type of unfettered access, but they have no home access either. In many cases, this group lives on the far fringe of the district meaning they cannot always simply stay after school for access. I do not presume they all have transportation if they don’t have internet access.
So, friends, neighbors? What should I do here? I’m asking. Really asking for your advice.