Ed-Tech Inequities Abound. A New Data Dashboard Seeks to Bring Them Into the Open

Staff Writer

A new online dashboard allows educators, researchers, and advocates to analyze internet access, demographics, and public health data community by community, with the goal of getting a clear picture of where inequities exist.

The Digital Equity Dashboard, created by the Consortium for School Networking, consolidates national data sets into one resource, providing detailed information on tech access and other characteristics of communities, anonymized and broken down by county, school district, and zip code.  

“Many students who have a device at home and are connected are still having challenges,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of the consortium, a professional association for K-12 ed-tech leaders.

“There are a lot of factors that school districts need to think about when it comes to students connecting outside of school for doing homework and collaboration and the work of being a student.” 

The platform was developed in partnership between the Consortium for School Networking and Innive, an analytics provider to K-12 organizations, with support from Dell Technologies and Google.

Data provided allows school leaders to view statistics, like the number of households without internet access within a district’s attendance area. Platform users can also compare internet upload and download data speeds to examine the extent to which families have equitable access to high-quality broadband. 

The equity dashboard also includes information related to health – from obesity rates to how often people in an area visit the dentist. Other data sets include educational attainment, income, and general demographics, allowing school leaders to correlate outcomes to levels of internet access. 

Beyond Hotspots

The inception of the project grew out of discussions that began more than two years ago, during the pandemic, when leaders at CoSN began looking at data on students’ connectivity outside of school. 

Data showed that poverty-related inequities were significant, and that some students coming from Black, Hispanic, and other minority households had little, if any, reliable internet connectivity, Krueger said. 

“The solution at the time [of the pandemic] was just to buy everybody a hotspot,” said Tom Ryan, past CoSN chair and former chief information officer for Santa Fe Public Schools in New Mexico. “But we found out there were so many other factors that prevent children from participating — such as if they have to provide daycare for the other children of the family.”

When Ryan had access to the national data sets, he said it gave him “a much more complete understanding of what the need was and how to help get the kids connected to the instructional resources and the content.” 

Dashboard Usage Across Education 

Besides giving districts access to data to make equitable decisions in their schools and communities, Krueger and Ryan said they hope the site will also be used to inform decisions by school boards and state legislatures, related to educational equity and tech access. 

The site offers the kind of data that advocates need to make the case for more resources, or for different ones, they said.

Education companies working in the K-12 market can use the tool to get a better understanding of school communities’ needs and make the case for how their product can improve equity, Krueger said. 

Organizations like education nonprofit Digital Promise are looking at how they can integrate the new platform’s data into their work. 

“Once we’ve identified the challenges for access, we can start thinking about, how do we start developing for people to be digitally competent?” said D’Andre Weaver, chief digital equity officer for the organization. “How do we start creating opportunities where people can advance their learning and their capacity to exist in a new economy and gather new workforce-based skills.” 

Weaver predicts the tool will help school leaders and state officials anticipate and respond to problems with connectivity and tech sustainability, an issue that has become more important in the wake of inequities exposed during the pandemic. 

CoSN plans to release case studies in the next few months highlighting partner school districts that have integrated their district data into the dashboard and that have used that information to make decisions and maximize state and federal funding opportunities. 

The dashboard’s data will continue to be updated periodically as new national datasets are released by the U.S. Census Bureau, or by other organizations that collect these sorts of information. 

“Access to broadband and internet should not be an afterthought or something that occurs haphazardly,” Weaver said. The dashboard will help ensure that districts are “better equipped to proactively pivot and respond to crises, rather than needing to deploy rapid-response solutions like we did during COVID-19.” 

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Image by Liz Yap/Education Week; iStock/Getty

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