KENT, Wash.—As students stream off the school buses here, the typical end-of-day scene unfolds with a twist.
Thrown over the kids' shoulders are sleek black laptop bags with the name of their district emblazoned on them.
As part of an effort to bridge the so-called digital divide—the gap between rich and poor when it comes to access to technology—the Kent School District has for six years given every student a laptop, beginning in seventh grade.
But some of these students don’t need to carry the bags home—because they can’t get online there. It’s a problem that districts are increasingly facing as they turn to technology to revolutionize their teaching.
In Kent, about 9 percent of students, or roughly 2,500 kids, can’t access the Internet once they go home, district surveys show. Many of them are the poorest students, the very ones district officials believe would benefit from more exposure to technology to help them catch up to their more advantaged peers.
“If you do this well, in the process what you’re going to do is widen that gap, not close it,” said Thuan Nguyen, Kent School District’s assistant superintendent.
With the laptops, the district has shifted its instruction away from standard approaches to homework, such as reading textbooks or completing worksheets, Nguyen said. “Once you’ve converted the curriculum, the material, it’s more project-based learning. You kind of need the Internet for all those pieces to work well. If you’re not able to provide that last level of connectivity, you’ve now widened the gap in terms of what kids can do, not to mention the expectation around that.”