We started out as two moms meeting for the first time at a local bakery in 2018, to talk about the technology challenges at our schools. Students were using outdated, unreliable computers to complete high stakes tests and online math and reading programs. With the help of the ward education councils, we were able to connect with parents from other wards and formed a city-wide coalition. We were surprised to discover that all of our schools, across the city, faced the same challenges caused by insufficient technology planning and funding.
From the beginning, we recognized that lack of access to technology is a key factor in the opportunity gap that disproportionately impacts many of our communities and student populations in DC. During the last three years we have tried to impress on our city officials that to ensure digital equity, DC government must guarantee reliable technology access for all students in all DC Public Schools. And that in addition to providing computers to students, DC government must equip students with digital literacy skills, provide more robust tech support to schools, and ensure that every family has reliable, high-speed Internet.
In February 2019, after we had spent months meeting with school officials and DC councilmembers to talk about improving the outdated and insufficient technology in DCPS, Mayor Bowser announced a $4.6 million investment in DCPS technology as part of her FY 2020 budget. This investment launched the DCPS Empowered Learners initiative (ELi), a three-year plan to update technology in DCPS and provide a computer for every student in grades 3-12 by 2022.
The digital divide in DC is highly correlated with income levels of residents.
18.5% households in DC lack high-speed home Internet. Over 40% of households with annual income below $25,000 lack high-speed home Internet.
7.8% households do not have a computer.
Wards 7 and 8 have lower percentages of high-speed Internet home adoption compared to other wards (around 60% compared to over 90% for Wards 2 and 3).
In March 2020, when the pandemic forced DCPS to quickly shift to distance learning, the school system had more than 16,000 new computers on hand due to the technology investment. The pandemic demonstrated just how critical technology has become for teaching and learning. It is the tool that students use to connect with teachers and fellow students, access curriculum content, conduct research, and demonstrate what they are learning through assignments and tests (both school-level and high-stakes tests).