There exists in America a gap, widening gap between inner-city and rural education. The trend across the United States is consistent: urban youth do not achieve as much in school as kids in rural or suburban areas. But why does that gap exist? Could a lack of technology be the blame for it? What can be done to begin to close the gap and raise education for these inner-city schools? These are three key questions I will address in this report.

What's the problem?

It may be difficult to believe with technology seemingly everywhere these days that there could be a deficiency in inner-city schools’ technology. But studies show, every child may not have the same access to technology. In 1996, a national study was conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress aimed at analyzing the relationship between different cases of educational technology and its various uses in schools. They observed a group of 6,627 fourth graders and 7,146 eighth graders. It is important to note that the study was not just focused on the how many computers were available to each demographic of student, but rather four factors of computer use: (Wenglinsky)

  1. Student access to computers at school for mathematical tasks.
  2. Access to, and frequency of use of computers at home.
  3. Preparedness of mathematical teachers for using computers.
  4. Ways both students and teachers use the computers.

The study showed was that ethnicity and community status had a vast impact on the usage and access to a computer. Though urban school and schools with a high population of black students tended to have lower test scores and a higher dropout rate among other separating factors, their computer usage was consistently higher than suburban white students, at least at school. Among fourth graders, the gap was about ten percent (42%, black students reported using a computer at least once a week at school while only 32% of white students had). The eighth graders followed a similar trend. (Wenglinsky)

However when it came to domestic use of computers, the results were much different. Usage of computers among Asian and White students at home was at about 68 and 64 percent respectively, while among Black and Latino students it was 45 and 44 percent. Sixty-three percent of those students living in rural or suburban areas had access to computers at home while only 53 percent of urban students had home computers. (Wenglinsky)

But what about actual usage? Despite the lack of having an actual computer in the home of many urban and black students, this demographic had the highest use of computers among their peers by almost 30 percent. And teachers? There were seven percent less teachers of urban schools who had training on how to use the computers in their school within five years of the study.

But what does it matter? So evidence shows that computer usage among urban youth especially black is on par with others but access to computer usage is much less. Is that really important in determining why there is an education gap? According to a 2002 University of Illinois study, plenty of good can come from IT or information technology. They found similar results to their study which examined a little more than 1,000 14 year olds about their computer usage at home. The two groups they looked at were the highest and lowest income families in the area. (The study found more than 97 percent of the upper class kids had and used computers at home, while only 85 percent of lower class kids did the same.) (Eamon)

Mary Keegan, a professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Illinois says that IT is vital in developing a child’s chances of succeeding in life. She cites four reasons why this is so important. (Eamon)

  • Future employment and earnings
    • Seventy-four percent of youth surveyed about jobs said that IT was a crucial factor in helping them find and get a job.
  • Opportunities for civic and social involvement
  • Educational advantages
    • Helps provide teachers with a wide body of info to teach kids.
    • Creates new opportunities to help kids retain meta level knowledge and make it interesting to them
    • Motivates kids to keep learning
  • Brings greater awareness of equity and civil rights issues

Others authors will blame the apparent gap in education standards not on statistics, but rather on factors that cannot per se be traced back to any evidence. These conclusions are based on qualitative evidence rather than quantitative.

Yolanda Sealy-Ruiz puts emphasis on the teacher’s prejudice against urban kids. She says that teachers feel urban youth aren’t able to handle educationally what suburban youth are and don’t give them the same opportunities. The best environment for these kids is one that embraces their cultural diversity and meets the kids where they are to help them learn on an equal playing field with other youth. (Sealy-Ruiz)

Susan Goslee and Chris Conte, Authors of Losing Ground Bit by Bit: Low-Income Communities in the Information Age, say community issues are to blame. They say there’s not just a lack of technology in schools and in homes of urban youth, but in their whole community. And that can most directly be contributed to the lack of funds in these areas. Most funding for projects that insert technology centers and such into local communities is provided by private donors, a luxury not often afforded to low-income communities. The lack of technology can really set a community behind especially for the kids that grow up in it. (Gosslee and Conte)

So What's Being Done?

Despite these disparaging facts for urban neighborhoods, the good news is there are people out there looking to help bring technology aid to those areas that really need it.
University of Massachusetts-Amhearst Professor K.C. Nat Turner recognized that certain poor areas in California were lacking in educational standards. He began a study on what he referred to as Fannon Middle School (not the actualy name). The school was located in a very poor neighborhood and test scores were below the state average. The study would see how well these kids could analyze, critique and create their own media, a concept that was almost completely foreign to them. (Turner)

The results were very successful. After 10 weeks of meeting with the kids about three hours per week in a computer lab teaching them these skills, the final product was remarkable. In addition to learning basic computer skills, kids in the program were able to further develop their media literacies to interpret and articulate their findings and use them across a number of different contexts. The skills they learned helped them do other homework they were given as well. (Turner)

The Science Leadership Academy located in Philadelphia is a college preparatory program that teaches its kids a little differently from the traditional institution. Instead of focusing on regular teaching methods, the school uses a technological approach to learning that focuses on engaging the kids in an acquisition style of learning. The class periods last much longer than normal schools allowing the kids to have additional time with teachers to participate in labs, giving them hands-on experiences. The learning process is one that is interesting and motivational to the kids and they can use their skills outside their school as well to help create knowledge at home and in their communities. Here is the PBS documentary: which features SLA in one of it's segments.

Here's what I think...

It’s a real shame that there is such a gap in education between inner-city school and suburban areas. Being given fair opportunities to learn however is only half the battle. The evidence has told me that urban kids have been given the short end of the stick in terms of opportunities to gain access to technology. But based on the fact that studies have shown usage among this group is more than their peers, one can see that what you do with the technology given is just as important as providing the actual technology itself.
The study conducted by K.C. Nat Turner was instrumental in proving this theory. I feel that on top of providing programs that teach and provide technology to kids, there should be further instruction on how to properly use technology to help enhance their futures. The study conducted in the Winglinsky article did not investigate what the kids used the computers to do, but one can come to the conclusion that not as much time was spent on the computers for urban and Black youth enhancing their media education than their fellow peers. That is what has to change.

In terms of funding such projects, the truth is what it is: these neighborhoods do not have the money to support such projects on their own. There are some programs out there to help them out some but the problem is bigger than that. There are many external factors that have a great impact on how much money is in these communities that reaches beyond anything technology can begin to solve. Until these bigger economic issues are resolved, there will continue to be a struggle in lower-income, urban communities to gain funding for such programs.

Schools like the Science Leadership Academy are fantastic for education not just within poor neighborhoods, but communities everywhere. I feel it’s extremely important to give these kids a voice. In order for that to happen, they need to be able to understand media literacy. Traditional learning will continue to set urban school children behind. School details Here...

Works Cited:

Eamon, Mary. (2004). Digital Divide in Computer Access and Use Between Youth and Non-Youth. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare.

Goslee, Susan, Conte, Chris. (1998). Losing Ground Bit by Bit: Low-Income Communities in the Information Age.

Sealey-Ruiz, Yolanda and Greene, Perry. (2011). Embracing Urban Youth Culture in the Context of Education. Urban Review. 43 (3), 339-357.

Tuner, KC Nat. (2011). “Rap Universal”: Using Multimodal Media Production to develop ICT Literacies. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy.

Wenglinsky, Harold. (2000). Does It Compute? The Relationship between Educational Technology and Student Achievement in Mathematics. 1-41.