How San José plans to close the digital divide

Educators are playing a pivotal role

By Dr. Lisa Andrew & Sunne Wright McPeak | January | February 2020
Meet Jazmin. Just one year ago, she was a shy San José middle-school student when a wonderful teacher, Mrs. Madril, suggested that she join the School Tech Team. Every student at Fischer Middle School gets an iPad for school and home use, and it’s a family affair. With help from the non profit School2Home program sponsored by the California Emerging Technology Fund, her parents also took iPad training through the school and got information on how to apply for discount Internet service at home.  Today, Jazmin is one of the leaders of the Student Tech Team. She helps students and teachers master the iPad, and she and team members even do minor repairs on the devices. Her teachers say that the 7th-grader’s confidence has blossomed. She recently gave a speech to Silicon Valley leaders at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, including San José Mayor Sam Liccardo.  Jazmin’s story is an example of why Mayor Liccardo says he is launching the San José Digital Inclusion Partnership, the largest city-led public-private initiative in the nation aimed at closing the digital divide.  A digital divide persists in Silicon Valley Despite being the largest city in Silicon Valley, San José has a persistent digital divide that excludes many residents from the opportunities offered by technologies developed in our backyard. In fact, a city-sponsored survey found that 95,000 San José residents (50,000 households) lack access to broadband. Statewide, the number of unconnected residents is 5 million.  The goal is ambitious: To connect 50,000 San José low-income, disadvantaged and unconnected households to the Internet in the next 10 years with universal device access and affordable universal connectivity, and ensure that those households achieve and sustain the appropriate digital skills proficiency level to stay ahead of technology and increase quality of life outcomes.  The city is using fees collected from companies rolling out 5G and leveraging them with privately-raised funds. The program expects to distribute up to $24 million in grants over the next decade to local non profits, public agencies and educational institutions that can deliver services in-language and in-culture.  The city has designed the Partnership to be a collaborative, outcomes-driven effort by a wide range of community institutions, nonprofits, corporations and civic leaders. CETF, a statewide non profit established in 2005 by the California Public Utilities Commission to close the digital divide by accelerating the deployment of broadband, has been appointed by the San José City Council to manage the grants from the Digital Inclusion Fund.  Educators link digital iInclusion to opportunity  The Partnership is not happening in a vacuum. The groundbreaking initiative is being launched as Google and other tech companies have announced plans to bring tens of thousands of new jobs to San José and prominent companies are stepping up with civic-minded solutions around workforce training and housing, including Cisco Systems, which has pledged millions to tackle homelessness.  Recognizing the need is an important step. Franklin McKinley School District Superintendent Juan Cruz, who hosted a community forum to introduce the Partnership, says, “We assume because every one carries a cellphone that they have adequate Internet access. But it’s not enough. We are starting a conversation in Silicon Valley that we have a Digital Divide here.” 

More than 60 percent of low-income families in San José don’t have broadband access at home—nor do 36 percent of Latinx families and 47 percent of African American families.
Research and on-the-ground experience show that schools are the integral link to connect students to future opportunities. “For low-income students to be able to fully take advantage of digital opportunities we must recognize that the same factors that limit their access to health, life opportunities, and wealth also obstruct their access to education. This is why building up schools to have the capacity to support greater digital inclusion is vital for our most disadvantaged communities,” says Dr. Pedro Noguera, Distinguished Professor of Education in the Graduate School of Education and Information Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles. San José civic and school leaders step up To put perspective on the opportunity and challenge, consider this: Google alone plans to add 20,000 jobs. San José elementary districts and the East Side Union High School District together serve 85,000 students. More than 60 percent of low-income families in San José don’t have broadband access at home — nor do 36 percent of Latinx families and 47 percent of African American families, according to a study conducted by the City of San José along with the Stanford School of Education and Community Connect Labs. In early 2020, the first Digital Inclusion Grants will be made based in part on recommendations of a community-wide Board of Advisors that, in addition to Lisa Andrew of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, includes Santa Clara County Superintendent of Schools Mary Ann Dewan and East Side Unified High School Superintendent Chris Funk. Others on board represent Internet Service Providers and representatives of youth, seniors and the disabled community, as well as charitable foundations and community-based service providers. Mayor Liccardo serves as chair.  Identifying solutions that work From collective experience, including the work of CETF, SVEF, and researchers on the digital divide in California, we know that technology alone is not enough to close the digital divide and achievement gap, and to help Jazmin and her San José generation thrive. Here’s what we know: UC Berkeley surveys underscore school link  Statewide surveys on broadband adoption by the University of California, Berkeley Institute for Governmental Studies regularly find that in California households with children under age 18, those without broadband are more likely than those with broadband to be Latino, foreign-born and non-English-speaking, and with a family income of less than $40,000. But increasingly, educators and parents understand how digital skills and home Internet pay great dividends for students and their families. Not only does emphasizing academics and digital literacy help students succeed in the classroom, it also helps other family members understand the value of gaining new skills. The most recent IGS Statewide Survey found that between 2017 and 2019, households with a child under age 18 saw the most pronounced increase in Internet access through computing devices. The increase in disadvantaged households acquiring computing devices in addition to smartphones appears to be related to families with children who are assigned computing devices at school: Half of households reported their children received a computing device from school.  What’s more, unconnected and under-connected Californians recognize the disadvantages they face: 45 percent with a child at home said that they feel most disadvantaged when trying to help a child with homework. Additionally, 24 percent of all unconnected and under-connected households cited the inability to gain new skills or take online classes.  10 Core Components of a school-based program  In 2009, CETF established School2Home, an education initiative that has been implemented in 39 California schools and 13 districts, reaching more than 20,000 students and their parents and involving more than 1,000 teachers. The 10 Core Components are rooted in research and focus on closing both the achievement gap and digital divide in low-performing California middle schools by supporting the integration of technology into the teaching and learning process, with a deep focus on parent engagement. Survey data shows that the cost of home Internet remains a barrier for many families. Integrating technology at home and helping qualified families apply for discount high-speed home Internet – as low as $10-$14.99 a month depending on the provider – are a key part of the program.  School2Home has 10 Core Components: 1. School Leadership, Assessment, and Planning: A School Leadership Team is formed to assess needs, analyze data, set goals, develop a work plan, and oversee implementation. 2. Technology Bundles for Students and Teachers: All students receive a computing device to use in the classroom and at home following parent training. Teachers receive powerful devices. 3. Teacher Professional Learning: Teachers receive professional learning about integrating technology into classroom instruction, homework assignments, and engagement of parents. 4. Coaching and Mentoring: School personnel are designated as technology coaches and content champions to support teachers and embed professional learning. 5. Parent Engagement and Education: Parents receive basic digital literacy training to use the device, ensure online safety, communicate with the school, and support their child’s education.  6. Student Tech Expert Development: Students are recruited and trained to help provide basic technical support to other students, teachers, and families. 7. Online Resources: The website provides support for teachers to prepare lessons and assistance for parents to acquire digital skills and engage with schools and teachers. 8. Learning Academies: Principals and teachers participate in workshops and online sessions as learning communities to share best practices and learn from one another. 9. Affordable Home Internet Access: Parents receive information about affordable high-speed Internet service offers and the availability of public broadband access centers. 10. Evaluation: A comprehensive annual evaluation process provides feedback to schools for accountability and input to program managers for continuous improvement to achieve goals. Summer school with a purpose SVEF works with Santa Clara County school districts and local colleges and universities to help students gain a pathway to higher education, with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math skills through extended learning programs. Research underscores the differences in how young people spend their time outside the regular school day as one of the biggest challenges – and most promising opportunities – for California’s educational system. Unequal access to high-quality learning experiences and technology has resulted in a wider opportunity gap. By increasing the amount of time students spend learning and using technology, we can begin to mitigate summer learning loss and create a more equitable education system.  Elevate [Math] and Computer Science Institute are designed to extend learning time through purpose-driven summer school programs. These programs provide 3,500 students in 29 districts in Silicon Valley with mathematics and computer science content coupled with technology and Internet training. Many of the students attending these programs may not have computer access at home. For them, being on the Internet and having a device are tied to being at school. The summer math and computer science classes are held in the very schools students attend during the school year, with the very same equipment they are familiar with, maximizing the learning experience and the investment by the school.  Creating a workforce for the future Ninety percent of students in the SVEF summer programs say they gain more confidence in their math skills and are more motivated to go to college. Yolanda, a middle-school student who attended a SVEF summer class, was reluctant to be there. She told the teacher that she could use a computer and wasn’t interested in learning more. Being in the class wasn’t something that excited Yolanda and she felt she had little influence in making a difference. As the class drew to an end, Yolanda wrote that now that she understood more about computers and the Internet, she wanted to be a computer scientist.  Working together, we will put San José’s next generation first in line for a better future. There is much opportunity right now to make a difference.  Resources San José Launches Digital Inclusion Fund to Close the Digital Divide Broadband Survey: Digital Divide Persists in California but School Are Helping to Improve Access for Students Internet Connectivity and the “Digital Divide” in California – 2019 School2Home: Case for Support, School2Home: Affordable Internet Offers, Silicon Valley Education Foundation: Impact, Extended Time: No Longer Optional,

Dr. Lisa Andrew is CEO of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation and is a member of the Board of Advisors of the San José Digital Inclusion Partnership. Sunne Wright McPeak is President and CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund.

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Association of California School Administrators