“Plugged in, Tuned Out” Shows Problem is Worst in Large Urban School Districts

IDRA News Release • San Antonio • May 19, 2021

Since the transition to remote learning during the pandemic, schools struggle to reconnect with hundreds of thousands of students. A new IDRA study found that the problem is bigger than any school strategy. IDRA’s report, Plugged in, Tuned Out – A First Examination of Student Engagement Patterns in Texas Public Schools During COVID-19, makes clear that, in many parts of Texas, student disengagement during the pandemic was a direct result of limited broadband access.

“Remote learning during the pandemic exposed long-standing inequities that interfere with quality education,” said Celina Moreno, J.D., IDRA President & CEO. “Students can’t connect with their schools if they can’t connect to the Internet. Texas needs to solve this.”

TEA reported that more than 600,000 Texas public school students – over one in 10 students – did not complete assignments or respond to teacher outreach in spring 2020. Schools lost touch with Black students and Latino students at over twice the rate of white students.

Lawmakers are considering proposals to establish a state broadband office, set up a federal grant program for broadband funds, and create a mapping system to identify where to focus resources. To keep pace with digital needs, the state of Texas must prioritize education and ensure all students, regardless of their zip code, have access to broadband. IDRA calls for key actions to address the digital divide:

  • Adopt a state broadband plan that addresses equity concerns in schools;
  • Collect data equitably to accurately assess the digital divide;
  • Increase financial support and training resources for digital literacy programs;
  • Institute student and family engagement plans across all school districts;
  • Offer training and support to educators, students and families in digital literacy and digital citizenship; and
  • Invest in robust community engagement programs, such as ongoing community-led digital equity studies and resources for school district capacity to support students and families.

Authored by Christina Muñoz, an IDRA Education Policy Fellow, the report includes data on how student engagement patterns differed across school district sizes showing that broadband Internet access was a significant predictor of full student engagement for larger, more urban school districts.

Media contact: Christie L. Goodman, APR, IDRA Director of Communications, christie.goodman@idra.org, 210-444-1710