STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

Online learning and the summer achievement gap

child at a computer

This is State of Opportunity's first piece on technology and opportunity, an issue I'll be exploring over the next couple of months as one of State of Opportunity's youth journalists.

If the “summer slide” can reverse the gains kids make during the school year, it's worth exploring if online classes can help slow the slide down.

Online classes may not be able to stop the slide where internet access is hard to come by, but a few online learning options exist for Michigan’s kids.

Michigan Virtual University (MIVU) is a service used by public schools in Michigan. MIVU has classes priced from $99 to $375 in standard subjects and foreign languages. Kids can earn credit for their summer classes if their schools allow it.

Khan Academy, a free service that has taken the education world by storm with its effectiveness, is another option. It offers over 4,000 videos spanning topics like world history, science and economics, but its real star is mathematics. The science and history classes might be a little advanced for younger students, but its math classes take you from basic arithmetic to calculus. There is something to learn at any skill level.

These seem like a great option for summer learning, but Khan Academy actually reports a decrease in users over the summer months-from 6 million per month to 4 million. MIVU has only 1575 students enrolled in their summer classes (though enrollment is still open into July).

And this is where we see internet access is an issue. A divide certainly exists when it comes to race, ethnicity and internet access. Non-hispanic white household internet use crept up to 76.2% as of 2011. Hispanic and black households did not reach even 60%.

Without home internet access, the array of online resources like Khan Academy and MIVU are simply unavailable. There may be places outside the home to get to these tools: namely, libraries.

A small amount, 31%, of non-hispanic black Americans accessed the internet at libraries in 2012, showing access issues are still standing in the way of online tools like Khan Academy and MIVU being fully weaponized against the “summer slide.”

If you know of any other innovative ways people are bringing technology to under-resourced communities, let me know.

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