Who Falls Behind When Homework Goes Online?

by Ava L. Parker on October 26, 2011

“Do your homework,” my mom used to say, and she meant it. My parents insisted that school assignments were a priority for my brothers, sister and me. In our house, homework was serious business.

It is serious business for students today, too.

Though studies have shown that American schoolchildren in the past have done less homework than students in other nations, that trend is changing fast. As America grows concerned about falling behind other nations in learning, especially in math and the sciences, teachers are responding with more, and tougher, homework.

I have no problem with children spending more time doing schoolwork at home. As my father might say, homework is good for you. It teaches discipline, and it reinforces and expands lessons learned in the classroom.

What concerns me is the potential for some students, particularly those from poor families, to be left behind.

That’s because the Internet is playing a larger role in homework assignments. And why not? The Web provides access to worldwide sources of information, far more than the tattered books on science and social studies that cluttered our kitchen table each school night.


Although the Internet is triggering a revolution in education, access is not yet universal. As reported previously on BBSJ, a study by the National Telecommunications and Information Agency shows great disparity in Internet access.

While almost every household earning over $100,000 per year has broadband access at home, it is a different story at the other end of the income scale. Among families making less than $25,000 a year, only a third have a broadband Internet connection.

For teachers, this disparity poses a problem. They can refrain from making assignments requiring Internet access, but that holds back the many students who enjoy broadband at home. Or they can make such assignments and hope the poor kids have Internet access — unlikely, but possible — or can rely upon family, friends or the public library to fill the breach.

Of course, two-thirds of poor families do not have Internet access, and few poor families have rich relatives or rich friends. As reported earlier, public libraries are reducing their hours, locking out students and others who use computers to do homework, search for jobs, or conduct other research.

To me, this is the strongest argument for government policies and industry practices that expand broadband to every U.S. household. Without such universal access, children in poor families fall behind, every evening with every homework assignment, in the competition for educational excellence.

As these children fall behind, so does our nation as a whole. This is a tragedy, and one our country can avoid. The Minority Media and Telecommunications Council and the One Economy campaign are committed to extending broadband Internet access and are developing good policy guidelines that can help.

Building universal access to broadband is not a crazy dream. We’ve done it before. In the 20th century, we brought the telephone to every home, thanks to dedicated policymakers and the Universal Service Fund.

Our nation’s success building a universal telephone network serves as a powerful model for extending Internet access in the 21st century, if only we muster the will and the resources to match it.

  • Ava L. Parker of Jacksonville, Florida, is the president of Linking Solutions Inc., a business-development and community-outreach firm, and a partner in the law firm of Lawrence & Parker, PA., and the voice of The AvaView, a blog on digital action and consumer protection.

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  • Sprig

    You wouldn’t believe how many resources and tools there are online for teachers and students alike. Just imagine being able to email your teacher with a question when you don’t understand the homework Students without access are truly at a disadvantage.

  • Left Behind

    A childhood friend JUST got dial-up in her house. Not broadband, but dial-up. She tried to build a website to promote her cleaning service and had to give up because every page took 5 minutes to load. Later on, I spoke to one of her children on the phone and told them I lived in Washington, DC, the nation’s capital. She did not know DC was the capital. Our school system is JACKED, and I’m certain many children would learn a lot more if they had access to online learning tools.

  • 10120

    Funny, I had a friend Facebook today who’s babysitting her niece write:  “….my niece is asking me for help with science, social studies, and reading #thankgodforinternet.”  I know how she feels!  Homework is rough without a resource like the internet, even for grown ups just trying to help their kids.  So I agree, the families that can’t afford it have to be helped or we will have a segment of people that are hopelessly digitally illiterate.

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