Forced adaptation is a concept in biology that describes the modification of an organism’s properties by imposing drastic changes to its environment. This may be done purposefully, to bring out characteristics deemed beneficial, such as improving the drought-resistance of a plant, but it can also result from extreme, sudden and lasting environmental changes. Only the most adaptable survive. Our schools are experiencing this right now, and we cannot allow the COVID-19 pandemic to wreak forced adaptation among our students. All must have the resources to thrive.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that the system’s current adaptations are leaving the most vulnerable students behind. While many Texas school districts have done great work to make at-home, computer-based learning a viable option, millions of Texas households still lack access to high-speed Internet.

Map of Lack of Access to Online Learning for Harris County, CHILDREN AT RISK (2020). Lack of access is defined as the percentage of children with no access to a computer or no internet subscription, including broadband, dial up, or wifi. The black dashed areas are the areas with the lowest level of access to online learning. The yellow points show the presence of low-performing schools based on the 2018-19 C@R School Rankings.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides schools with funds to ease the transition to at-home learning, but the multi-stage application process is still under development. It may be months before schools receive this money. The CARES Act does offer more immediate support by granting flexibility to use existing funds to expand access to technology but without additional, specific relief funding, however, educators must be more innovative than ever with existing resources.

Students also face a forced adaptation to online learning, which puts students without reliable internet access at risk of falling behind. Rural and low-income students are especially vulnerable.

Nearly one-third of rural Texans and 35% of American households earning less than $30,000 a year with school-aged children lack high-speed Internet access. Texas is home to almost one million rural students and over three million economically disadvantaged students. If these students’ opportunities wither, the resulting disparity will impact millions. The fate of our state depends on ensuring that all students flourish during this difficult time, not just those whose economic circumstances allow them to adapt more easily.

Where are offline learners concentrated? View our analysis of online learning access in Texas counties below.