Technology has certainly created many more opportunities for many more students to learn more about the world around them. So why does the digital divide keep getting wider in many parts of the U.S.? I think this is more of an economic issue than a question of public policy or good legislation, intention. We now have federal initiatives and programs supporting educational technology and Internet connectivity in our classrooms as prerequisites for learning in the 21st Century. These programs began in the 1990s during the Clinton administration, and it seems that the students who may need them the most still have not benefitted to the degree intended.
The Federal Communications Commission’s eRate and Lifeline programs are often touted as two of the most enabling federal programs leveling the playing field for all American students wherever they may live, transcending zip codes and economic status. Unfortunately, in spite of all the good intentions and rhetoric, this now appears to be a case of the rich getting richer, and the poor poorer. Connectivity still seems to be a major issue contributing to this disparity, but it goes beyond the classroom. Students living in poorer districts do not have access to all the technological assets that their counterparts have in richer communities across the country. So the digital divide may have moved more dramatically to the home environment where poorer students will always be more disadvantaged than their more affluent peers.
This was not intended to be part of the plan created at the end of the last century. Where is Al Gore when we need him? Perhaps the real issue is the structure of our public school financing and its dependence on property taxes as its base. “New wine in old wineskins.”