Establishing a Baseline Measurement of the Digital Divide in Durham Public Schools

During school closures related to COVID-19, the impact of the digital divide was magnified. Families without a device or a reliable internet subscription in their home were unable to access digital learning opportunities and communication methods available to other students and parents. In some cases, families were limited to using paper packets provided by the school system as their only instructional materials. As a result, many school systems provided devices and connectivity to students for use at home during remote learning. Durham Public Schools is one of the school systems implementing a 1:1 device program as a direct result of the move to remote learning. School leaders believe the initiative will facilitate improved learning outcomes, especially in the context of remote learning.

This project is funded by a Catalyst Grant from the Friday Institute and NC State College of Education.The grant is providing funding to conduct a baseline analysis of the digital divide among Durham Public Schools families prior to the implementation of the 1:1 initiative. The team will collect data directly from families regarding their access to devices and the internet, in addition to data from teachers regarding their perceptions of the digital divide among their students. Through a data sharing agreement with Durham Public Schools, results from a phone survey and previous surveys of teachers will be incorporated into the analysis to provide additional context on households without the internet or devices. The data will be analyzed using a mixed methods approach, consolidating data from a number of different sources to develop a comprehensive understanding of the digital divide in Durham Public Schools.

Durham Public Schools staff will use the results of the analysis to plan their 1:1 device implementation, including connectivity plans for households without the internet. Hot spots are one option being considered, and they incur significant ongoing cost for the school system, about $2.5 million for nine months according to preliminary estimates. Data on the connectivity needs of families will help the school system more accurately determine the number of hot spots needed and target expenditures where they can have the greatest impact on student achievement.

While the current data collection and analysis will help Durham Public Schools plan implementation of the 1:1 project, the baseline data provides a unique opportunity to document the effects of the initiative in a comprehensive way. The team is currently seeking additional funding to conduct an impact study on the 1:1 initiative to analyze changes in the digital divide, student success and teachers’ instruction.

The causes of the digital divide in a community are complex, including affordability of the internet, access to infrastructure and training, and availability of devices. The current grant also supports the development of a logic model for the digital inclusion collaborative, Digital Durham, operating in Durham, North Carolina.The collaborative supports the work of nine organizations in Durham, including Durham Public Schools, and their work in understanding and eliminating the digital divide. The collaborative has expanded their membership significantly in the past year and is initiating a coordinated city and county digital inclusion plan, which will be connected to the Durham Public Schools 1:1 initiative. The development of a logic model will support both the collaborative and its member organizations in articulating their impact on the digital divide in Durham and working more effectively across the community.