The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn more attention to disparities in internet access across the country.
Now, researchers from Rice University have analyzed the benefits of schools investing more money into providing internet access to their students. Based on a survey of Texas public schools, the team found that expanding internet access was associated with improved classroom performance.
“We are proud that Texas public schools can serve as a live learning case for understanding education policy,” said Vikas Mittal, one of the study’s authors. “Investments in internet access provide clear and meaningful academic benefits. Yet, schools need to implement policies to address increased disciplinary issues such as cyberbullying.”
Kids are doing better in school
For the study, the researchers looked at data from more than 9,000 public schools throughout Texas. The team was interested in looking at how each school’s spending on internet access affected their students’ learning and behavioral outcomes between 2000 and 2014.
From an academic standpoint, increasing internet access among student populations was a positive investment. Greater internet access was associated with higher SAT scores, better in-class performance, and higher graduation rates.
The researchers also found that having greater internet access benefited students beyond their schooling years. They found that making the investment to provide more students with internet access led to a greater economic return long-term.
Though the academic outcomes were beneficial, the researchers also found that when more students had internet access, it negatively impacted their social dynamics. The study showed that disciplinary problems, including cyberbullying, increased as more students gained access to the internet.
Though these findings are important, this study was conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the researchers don’t believe these results will translate to virtual learning scenarios.
“K-12 education has transformed into virtual learning due to COVID-19,” Mittal said. “Our research conclusions apply to a setting where physical learning is supplemented by internet access."