CEO calls for expanding Internet access
CEO Eric Gordon used a City Club forum to call for rethinking the way America views Internet access while also re-evaluating the nation’s approach to education in general.
The forum, which took place May 8, was titled “Coronavirus Challenge: Bridging Cleveland Education’s Digital Divide.” It was held online, just like many other activities, including education, in the COVID-19 era.
(To watch the forum, go to cityclub.org/archives.)
Gordon said getting students and families access to virtual studies is tough everywhere, but especially in Cleveland, which he said is one of the most poorly connected cities in the country. Up to 40 percent of households lack reliable high-speed Internet and two-thirds are without a laptop or tablet suitable for education.
The sudden closure of buildings forced CMSD to scramble to supply thousands of devices and hotspots. But the District also is mailing packets of material, staffing homework hotlines and partnering with CW43 WUAB to televise some lessons.
“My peers across the country are dealing with the same thing,” he said. “But Cleveland is really ground zero.”
The Council of the Great City Schools, a nationwide urban coalition that Gordon currently chairs, has called on Congress to pass a coronavirus relief package that, among other concerns, cites problems with Internet access. Gordon said he and community leaders are also discussing the need for a local Internet strategy.
The CEO repeated his belief that in the digital age, Internet access should be treated like a public utility, not a luxury, and that a long-term solution is necessary.
“This is not a school problem,” he said. “This is about tele-health. This is about filing for unemployment.”
City Club CEO Dan Moulthrop, the forum host, asked what public education in the city would look like next school year. Gordon said that social distancing and other health guidance will drive decisions but that solutions such as online learning and sending children to school at staggered times or on different days may be required.
“What we do know is it’s not going to look like what we left,” he said. “It’s going to be different for the foreseeable future. We have to be prepared for that.”
Gordon said that amid the upheaval, he sees a chance for reform in how U.S. and Ohio schools operate.
He said possibilities include grouping students by grade bands and letting them advance when they master concepts, not necessarily cutting off the timeline at summer break.
Gordon also proposed going to a narrower, deeper curriculum and inquiry-based approaches that let students explore what stirs their curiosity and passion. He said CMSD might have an advantage because it has already initiated some of those changes.
Policymakers should not rush to “put things back” to the way they were, Gordon said.
“I’m worried that the opportunity to create something new and better for students and families is going to be lost,” he said.