It has happened already, and it is only going to get worse.
When it comes to using digital texts and tools for meaningful, purposeful, and connected learning students born whiter and wealthier are afforded more opportunities than their peers. This disparity will become another reaffirming gap in the quality of education between the have and have nots.
If you read the trends in the Pew Internet and The American Life project you will notice that access barriers have greatly leveled off (with broadband access still an issue). In fact minority students now spend more hours with screen time when compared to their white peers.
So what's is the problem?
It is quality screen time not quantity of screen time that will matter most in education.
I already see this problem in full swing in the state of Connecticut. When I walk into high SES schools students are using computers to complete Voicethread projects, discussing literature on blogs or Edmodo doing multimodal compositions in music, creating wikis in social studies. In other words they are using computers to redefine what it means to be literate in today's digital society.
I wish I could say the same about students in low SES school district. It reminds my of a maxim my advisor was always fond of, "Those who need are help the most will get it the least."
In many schools in poor urban and rural districts the computers are used for assessment and remediation. Instead of focusing on new comprehension and composition skills students are tethered to a machine doing self-paced reading classes or looking up a book they read to see if they earned a few meager points for a free pencil. Whoo-hoo.
Once again the rich are getting richer.
A Deficit of Skills is Emerging
The lack of quality of screen time is already reeling its ugly head. In fact in a recent study with conducted by my peers and I at the New Literacies Research Lab found that even after adjusting for CMT reading scores, there was a significant difference bon the mean scores of a measure of online reading comprehension between students in a high SES schools and students in a low SES ORCA score, F(1,203) =12.763, p = .000; partial eta squared = .052). This simply means even after accounting for the known gap in reading ability the wealthier and the whiter kids are better at locating, evaluating, synthesizing, and communicating information in online spaces.
The Common Core and SB 458 Could Make this Worse
Assessment is THE major focus of recent reform efforts in Connecticut. Much of this reform will center on the use of technology to provide faster and more responsive computer adaptive questions (computers picks your next question based on how well you do). There is also the potential to rethink assessment sand embed data mining procedures in computerized activities. I applaud these efforts.
Yet I worry about screen time. Quality screen time
There simply are nowhere near enough desktops, laptops, or tablets in Connecticut's 165 school districts to provide this level of computerized assessment. Even if there were enough machines every Internet accessible device would have to be monopolized for most of the year to ensure a short enough teting time frame for the results to have any chance to mean anything.
This push to test the Common Core online will exacerbate the screen equity. So could recent changes in SB 458. The law requires two week and six week assessments to be completed in every school identified as needing improvement. Chances are the state or schools will purchase some software package. Say goodbye to your last chance of signing out the computer lab.
Fight for Quality Technology Access
It is one of the major education equity issues of our time. How will schools be able to claim students are graduating college and career ready when all they can do on a computing device is select a multiple choice answer? I fear teachers everywhere are going to need to stand their ground. We need to ensure our computers are not relegated to simply tools for analyzing data. We need to ensure digital texts and tools are used to open dreams.