Colorado’s Hispanic/Latino students disproportionately lack internet access—how will schools reach them now?
A child’s access to public education in Colorado has two new prerequisites: a laptop and a reliable home internet connection. At a time when districts must move to remote learning in the face of COVID-19, the digital divide between Coloradans becomes a central concern to the delivery of public education. Which students in our state have lost access to an education entirely, and how will that loss impact them in the long term?
This week, the Colorado Futures Center at CSU released a study analyzing internet access for households with school-aged children across the state, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey (ACS). Findings show that 5 percent of Colorado’s school-aged children (more than 54,000 children) lack internet access, making remote learning impossible without district or school intervention; the overwhelming majority of these children—more than 41,000 of them—are Hispanic/Latino.
In every region of the state except the Central Mountains, the percentage of Hispanic/Latino students without internet access is disproportionately high when compared to their population size. The disparity is particularly severe on the Front Range, where Hispanic children make up over 70 percent of the students without internet access, but just over 30 percent of the student population; parts of Denver, Adams, Jefferson, Boulder and Weld counties see some of the highest shares of Hispanic children without internet.
Overall, the study finds that Colorado’s children who lack home internet access are predominantly in the elementary grades, a time when foundational academic skills are taught, and have parents working in essential industries, likely making it difficult for them to receive instructional support from an adult at home. Most of these households also have lower incomes, earning $50,000 per year or less.
How are Colorado’s children without internet access currently learning? How many of them have received supportive technology from their school districts? Our state’s students of color already face limited access to educational opportunity and resources as a result of inequitable policies and practices. At a time when public education can only be delivered online, large disparities in internet access will exacerbate achievement gaps between Hispanic students and their peers, unless we invest in thoughtful and equitable solutions. According to the Colorado Futures Center, these solutions may go beyond technology delivery to families, and potentially include instruction combined with child care for essential workers and creative plans for instruction occurring over the summer months.
More than one third of our public school students are Hispanic/Latino. In addition to being more likely to lack internet access, Hispanic children are also more likely to face poverty, which research shows can significantly impede academic performance. If their parents are immigrants, Hispanic/Latino children are also likely to have been further impacted by the economic disruptions due to COVID-19, because of industry-specific unemployment, narrow eligibility requirements for public programs, and the threat of the public charge rule.
Achievement gaps between groups of students do not emerge by chance—they are built when we fail to recognize the inequitable impacts of our policies and practices, as well as the diverse settings of all children. Without intervention, Colorado’s children who lack home internet may return to classrooms in the fall or later having missed many months of critical instruction. The disruptions of COVID-19 present us with a unique opportunity to confront the digital divide in Colorado, for the sake of one of the most basic and essential services we provide to our children—an education.