Digital Divide and 2020 NJDOE Technology Surveys
On July 16, 2020, Governor Murphy unveiled his Administration’s plan to address unmet pre-K-to-12 student technological needs in New Jersey schools, commonly referred to as “the digital divide.” To equip students with the learning devices and internet connectivity needed to close the digital divide in areas of highest need, the plan leverages innovation and support from private partners; $10 million in CARES Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, plus up to $44 million in Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) funds, for a total of $54 million to support public schools; and an additional $6 million in CRF funds available for nonpublic schools.
The State’s plan for reopening schools makes clear that remote learning will continue to play a significant role in students’ education throughout the 2020-2021 school year. Many districts will open with hybrid schedules that include both in-person and remote learning components, while others will begin the year entirely remotely as they plan to implement in-person health and safety standards. Additionally, families in every district around the State will have the option to select a fulltime remote learning option for their student according to local district policy. The prominence of remote learning in 2020-2021 education models underscores the importance of prioritizing students who otherwise would lack access to a learning device and/or internet connectivity.
Spring Survey Data
To structure the digital divide initiative in this way, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) relied upon district-reported information regarding student access to technology and connectivity. Since Governor Murphy’s declaration of a state of emergency on March 9, 2020, the NJDOE has surveyed school districts four times regarding the technology needs of their students. The first survey was conducted in mid-March. As districts prepared to transition to remote instruction, this survey asked “how many devices do you have that can be used for remote instruction by students (Chromebooks, laptops, iPads)?” The state received over 700 responses from public school districts, charter schools, receiving schools, and nonpublic schools, which reported a total supply of 1,090,878 devices available for students. In the last week of March, the NJDOE conducted the second survey to determine how many students statewide were able to connect to the internet at home and how many devices were still needed. That survey received 551 responses, which reported that 109,882 students could not access internet at home and a need for 153,521 devices. Two weeks later (mid-April), the NJDOE issued a third survey to school districts to obtain updates. At that time, 565 respondents reported that 89,088 students lacked internet access while 135,705 students were in need of a learning device. Finally, to ensure that all districts’ needs were represented in NJDOE data, in June the NJDOE issued a mandatory survey to gather information from all districts before they began preparing for school year 2020-2021.
June Survey Data: Results and Context
The combined survey responses provide a review of technology needs, as well as districts’ recent efforts to bridge the digital divide. In the June survey, 510 districts reported having helped students connect to the internet via hotspots and other methods. Despite these efforts, the June survey identified the highest level of need of any survey. By June, the total number of devices needed (among only the same districts that completed the April survey) was 270,488, which represents a 199% increase from what was reported in the spring. Statewide, the total number of devices needed for students among all districts was 358,212.
It is important to note that part of this increase is due to the number of responses received in June compared to April: approximately 18% more districts responded to the final survey conducted in June. The Department also understands that between April and June, districts began to shift their focus from filling short-term access gaps for the 2019-20 school year to carrying out long-term remote learning programs throughout the 2020-2021 school year. In April, for example, some districts relied upon loaned devices to bridge device gaps for the remainder of the school year, while in June some districts reported device need on the goal of issuing a device to every student in the district, regardless of a student’s household income or level of access to a device at home. Some districts may have also included end-of-cycle replacement devices in their overall need in their responses. Below is an overview of June survey responses.
The NJDOE understands there are numerous technology initiatives occurring simultaneously, such as districts transitioning to a model of 1:1 devices for every student or maintaining a reliable reserve of replacement devices, in addition to resolving the issue of students who simply lack access to a reliable device or connectivity at home. By June, survey responses reflected these various initiatives and priorities as districts planned for reopening according to their unique instruction and technology models.
Digital Divide Grant
Because districts’ survey responses likely reflected all of these concurrent initiatives, to ensure that the State’s limited resources are directed to areas of highest need, the NJDOE based each district’s estimated device need on a combination of the district’s low-income student population and its June survey responses. Specifically, each district’s device need was defined as its actual reported number of devices need OR its number of economically disadvantaged students, whichever was lower. This process ensured that NJDOE’s estimate provided each district with a device for each low-income student, unless the district reported that those students already had access to a device and connectivity. This process resulted in an estimate of 231,176 devices needed statewide to address hardware and connectivity needs. The NJDOE then took into account the availability of CARES Act Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds and Title I-A carryover funds (unspent Title I dollars from the prior year) to determine the cost of the district’s remaining need.
Overview of June Survey Data (Based on 623 Responses)
|Devices and Connectivity|
|358,212||District-Reported Number of Devices needed for students (includes requests for computer hardware or connectivity devices)|
|43,853||Devices needed for staff|
|276||Districts that indicated device needs for staff|
|276,238||Students in grades K-2 participated in virtual instruction|
|12||Districts serving grades K-2 reported 0 students in those grades participating in virtual instruction|
|967,994||Students in grades 3-12 participated in virtual instruction|
|2||District serving grades 3-12 reported 0 students in those grades participating in virtual instruction|
|136,959||Staff delivered remote instruction|
|548||Districts helped families connect to the internet at home|
|409||Districts intend to use CARES Act funds to purchase devices or provide internet connectivity|
|185||Districts intend to use Title I or other federal funds to purchase devices or provide internet connections|
|374||Districts serve students who do not otherwise have access to a hardware or connectivity device at home|
|570,835||Students in grades 3-12 have been issued devices by their district|
|137,678||Devices are currently deployed to staff members for remote instruction|
|421||Districts serve students who cannot access the internet at home*|
|*Does not include cell phone service|
|Estimated Need to Address Digital Divide|
|358,212||District-Reported Number of Devices needed for students (includes requests for hardware or connectivity devices)|
|127,036||Devices Needed Reported in Excess of Number of Low-Income Students|
|=231,176||Estimated Devices Needed to Address the Digital Divide|