State Ed report: Many students began year without access to a device, internet

May 6, 2021

New survey results show about 8% of New York's public school students, or about 215,00 students, did not have a laptop or other device to use for remote learning in the first months of the school year. About 6%, or 165,000 students, lacked adequate internet access despite districts' efforts to equip students as the pandemic closed schools.

The preliminary results from the state Education Department's fall Digital Equity Survey were released Wednesday by the New York Civil Liberties Union following a FOIL records request.

“This information underscores just how vulnerable our public schools are after decades of under-funding and racial segregation,” said Johanna Miller, director of the Education Policy Center at the NYCLU. “Education leaders at every level need to examine this issue with their communities and construct solutions that will heal, restore, and compensate for the failure to reach so many kids during the pandemic. The pool of resources to support schools in the budget is finally deep enough to support this. We hope NYSED will help target relief to areas where existing inequities were exacerbated by social isolation, emotional devastation, and loss of instruction.”

Credit New York Civil Liberties Union

The results show the greatest deficiencies in higher needs urban and suburban schools.

  • In New York City, 14% of students had no access to a device and 31% were using a device provided by family or a guardian.
  • In Buffalo schools, the percentage without access was only 3% and 1% used a device provided by family or a guardian.
  • In charter schools statewide, 1% had no access and 11% used a device provided by family or a guardian.

The NYCLU said the data reveals a student in a majority Black or Brown school district was four times more likely to have inadequate or no internet than a student at a majority white school district. The main reason for no internet access was cost, except in rural and BOCES classes, where availability was the "top barrier."

More than 2.6 million students were represented in the survey results. It also looked at teacher access to devices and the internet at home. See those results here.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.