Photo used by permission from ELAC Libraries / Flickr.

Homework, like nearly every other facet of American life, is moving online. For students living at or near the poverty line, this is a problem.

Seventy percent of teachers nationwide now assign at least some school work to be completed online. According to recent census figures, more than 20 percent of Pittsburgh households have no access to the internet, leaving the city’s most underserved student populations in danger of falling behind their peers.

Education experts around the country are already warning that this “homework gap” could contribute to an already massive disparity in achievement between low-income, mostly minority students and their peers in more affluent districts.

In an effort to close this gap, the 1Million Project has come to Pittsburgh.

Founded in August of 2017 by Marcelo Claure, executive chairman of the board of Sprint Corporation, the 1Million Project aims to spread internet access to low-income students to allow them to learn at the same rate as their online peers.

In its first year, the program brought 113,000 students online, and plans on connecting 260,000 students in 33 states by the end of the 2018-19 school year.

After choosing The Heinz Endowments as their local partner, the 1Million Project has distributed new phones, tablets and other internet-enabling devices to 630 students since the start of the school year. Altogether, Pittsburgh schools received $250,000 in support.

“Today’s students need equitable access to essential digital tools and connectivity to succeed in high school,” said Doug Michelman, president of the 1Million Project Foundation. “Those students who are disconnected when they leave school every afternoon should not be at a disadvantage just because their families cannot provide them connectivity at home. With the support of Sprint, a national wireless company, and The Heinz Endowments here in Pittsburgh, we are in a powerful position to do something about this problem by arming eligible students with the critical tools they need to succeed and to believe that they can succeed.”

Speaking at an event last week celebrating the initiative at Westinghouse Academy, Congressman Mike Doyle (D-14) said, “I believe that when students have the access and the tools they need to learn, the entire community benefits.”

The partner schools for the initiative are Brashear High School, Creative and Performing Arts High School, Carrick High School, Milliones University Prep School, Obama Academy of International Studies, Pittsburgh Online Academy, Perry Traditional Academy, Pittsburgh Science & Technology Academy, Taylor Allderdice High School and Westinghouse Academy.

“The digitalization of our society means that access to technology is critical if we are going to ensure all students graduate prepared for college, career and life,” said Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet. “We are grateful to The Heinz Endowments and Sprint 1Million Project Foundation for supporting this step forward in closing the digital divide we know contributes to widening disparities in student achievement.”

In a move that may disappoint some students but please their parents, all the devices come with a Free Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) compliant filter to block adult content.

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.