Tech Leadership

Digital Equity in School Communities
By Keith R. Krueger/School Administrator, April 2016

Four years ago, Valerie Truesdale, chief of technology for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, arrived in the 145,000-student district with a reputation. She was known as someone who would advocate forcefully for digital equity and viewed technology use as a catalyst for transforming student learning.

Since then, the state’s biggest school district has grown 3 percent annually, with over half of the total enrollment qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches. The majority-minority district consists of 168 schools.

When Truesdale initially assessed Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s technology infrastructure, she was struck by the extent to which it did not support the school district’s teaching and learning goals. Most classrooms were equipped with only three desktop computers, and those were used primarily for remediation. More than 40,000 district computers were running -Windows XP. Teachers did not have laptops. Wi-Fi was the exception rather than the rule.

With support of then-deputy superintendent (now superintendent) Ann Clark, they built the infrastructure to support 21st-century leaning. Their Digital Learning Conversion initiative focused initially on providing one device per student for grades 6-8, with a long-term goal of becoming a districtwide one-to-one environment.

Yet Truesdale and Clark knew only addressing at-school access might actually widen achievement gaps by children from low-income and minority families who lacked broadband and devices to do homework when they went home. Access outside of school needed to be addressed.

Access Beyond School
Charlotte-Mecklenburg decided do something about digital equity — they call it digital inclusion. Other districts can learn from the methodical way this district has undertaken its comprehensive digital inclusion strategy. (Read more at

The school district joined with representatives from the city, county, library and philanthropic communities. Their goal was making Charlotte a connected city where every child has access in the classroom and beyond. More than 80 community partners are now focused on addressing the lack of broadband and devices in low-income homes, as well as closing community Wi-Fi deserts.

Unfortunately, the 2015 CoSN/AASA Infrastructure Survey found three of four school districts are doing nothing to address digital inequities.

Part of the reluctance by school administrators to focus on digital equity in out-of-school learning environments revolves around money, or the lack thereof. With insufficient technology funding, the focus has remained on the classroom. Yet the new 60 percent increase in E-rate funding for at-school broadband and Wi-Fi makes it time to think beyond the school.

Some educators believe it is not their responsibility to solve the digital equity challenge. Yet without the central involvement of school leaders, we cannot address equal educational opportunity in a digital era.

Partnership Needs
Digital equity is a community problem, not solely an education issue. An important new effort funded by the Ford Foundation, Next Century Cities ( focuses on getting mayors to commit to making gigabit broadband a reality in their communities. More than 130 mayors already have signed up.

Some cities are leveraging home broadband investments by Google Fiber and other telecommunications firms to ensure all neighborhoods, especially underserved populations, benefit from these efforts.

Closing the homework gap is a conversation starting to happen nationally. A provision in the new Every Student Succeeds Act directs the U.S. Department of Education to do a new study of this problem. And a new, free digital equity toolkit from CoSN: the Consortium for School Networking highlights how some leading districts are taking action.

While digital equity is not easy to address, it can be solved by working with local and business leaders, as well as the community at large.

Keith Krueger is CEO of CoSN: the Consortium for School Networking in Washington, D.C. E-mail: Twitter: @keithkrueger