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Equity

The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights recently released a Dear Colleague Letter on Resource Equity. Excerpts from the letter related to technology are provided below.

OCR Dear Colleague Letter: Resource Equity

This letter calls attention to disparities that persist in access to educational resources so that districts may address disparities and comply with the legal obligation to provide students with equal access to these resources without regard to race, color, or national origin.

The Problem of Unequal Access to Educational Resources

Research confirms what we know intuitively — high-quality schools can make a dramatic difference in children’s lives, closing achievement gaps and providing students with the opportunity to succeed in college and their chosen careers. The allocation of school resources,however, too often exacerbates rather than remedies achievement and opportunity gaps.

In addition to facilities, access to instructional materials and technology for students and teachers can impact the quality of education as well as students’ ability to engage with digital resources outside the classroom. Technology and other instructional tools and materials support teachersin properly delivering, enhancing and personalizing the curriculum. Access to these important instructional resources varies between high-poverty schools that are heavily populated with students of color and more affluent schools serving fewer students of color. While gaps by raceand income in student access to technology are narrowing at a national level, disparities persist regarding the number and quality of computers or mobile devices in the classroom, speed of internet access, and the extent to which teachers and staff are adequately prepared to teach students using these technologies. High-quality instructional materials for students andteachers, including digital learning materials, textbooks, library resources, and other materials, promote rigorous engagement with the curriculum, and so when school districts provide these resources they must ensure that students have comparable access to them without regard to race, color, or national origin.

Technology and Instructional Materials

When investigating resource comparability, OCR may evaluate the availability of digital and other instructional materials that enhance instruction, including library resources, computer programs, mobile applications, and textbooks. As discussed below, OCR considers how instructional materials vary between schools in number, quality, and accessibility and whether they are equally available to students without regard to race, color, or national origin.

Technology, when aligned with the curriculum and used appropriately, contributes to improved educational outcomes58 and promotes technological literacy. OCR evaluates whether all students, regardless of race, have comparable access to the technological tools given to teachers and students, along with how those tools are supported and implemented. OCR generally considers the number, type, and age of educational technology devices available in a school, such as laptops, tablets, and audio-visual equipment, among other resources. This assessment includes the availability and speed of internet access.

Additional important factors when considering comparable access to technology include its use to support the school’s curriculum, its availability for teachers and students, the use of appropriate technology to support the accessibility of instruction for students with disabilities, and the provision of professional development for teachers on how to use technology to increase student engagement and achievement. OCR may consider the amount and type of professional development available to teachers, in addition to other services for teachers such as technical support. Key considerations in evaluating whether districts provide comparable access to technology include whether the technology is located within the classroom and how many hours a week students have access to the technology during and after school. For those districts or schools where access to the internet or to other technology outside of school hours is a necessary or presumed aspect of what is expected from students, OCR also examines the extent to which students have access to necessary technology outside of school and how school districts support students who do not have internet access at home, such as through providing wireless access via a Wi-Fi hotspot at school that is available outside of school hours.*

*Disparities in such support, or inattention to the disparities in internet access at home, may be cause for concern if students need internet access outside of school hours to be successful in the classroom.

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