Personalized learning. One-to-one implementation. Bring your own device initiatives. All of these, when combined with high-quality instructional practice, can systemically change a classroom learning environment. However, these instructional practices and tools are essentially useless without an infrastructure that can properly support them.
Although the topic of E-Rate has come to the forefront in recent months, in the not-too-distant future the program will turn 20 years old. Section 254 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, expanded the traditional goal of universal service to include increased access to both telecommunications and advanced services, such as high-speed Internet, at “just, reasonable and affordable rates.”
The act also had specific provisions for rural areas and low-income consumers. As a specific part of Section 254, telecommunications companies were ordered to provide schools and libraries services at reduced costs and at rates determined by the Federal Communications Commission. As part of these provisions, the FCC was charged with evaluating which services qualify for reimbursement. “E-Rate modernization” — recent changes to these regulations — occurred in July of this year, as the FCC recognized the incredible disconnect between the technology needs of 1996 and those of today, thus necessitating the need for an update.
Yet, with the latest round of changes, our schools remain largely disconnected. Simply put, our students lack the 21st century resources needed to prepare them for their future.
Although some schools, typically suburban and wealthy, have adequate resources for implementation of initiatives such blended learning and one-to-one initiatives, a recent survey indicates that our schools as a whole lack the connectivity needed to prepare our kids for their future.
Access to high quality broadband isn’t optional. It’s the lifeline for today’s learning environment.
The Consortium for School Networking recently released the results of their second annual E-Rate and Connectivity Study. Some of the outcomes of this report are listed below:
- According to the survey, more than 80% of districts indicated that the E-rate program’s current funding levels are not meeting their need.
- Only nine percent of districts have adequate bandwidth to fully meet the demand for the online assessments and digital content anticipated over the next 18 months.
- 60 % of districts reported that funding is the biggest obstacle to meeting the FCC’s short-term goal of 100Mbps / 1,000 students.
- 45% of school districts indicated they do not have the capacity to deploy a one-to-one initiative.
- 25% of districts reported that not a single school in their district could meet the FCC’s short-term goal of 100Mbps / 1,000 students.
- The cost of connectivity is higher in rural districts than in urban/suburban. In some cases, connectivity can be 25-80 times more expensive than in suburban locations.
Need more proof that our nation’s schools need greater connectivity?
- The typical K-12 public school has the same internet access as the average home, but with 200 times more users.
- At a 300-student school in New Hampshire, the broadband speed is so slow that a teacher trying to supplement her lessons with a 2:30 minute video, has to wait almost 45 minutes for it to load.
- In some Arkansas schools, bandwidth speeds are so bad that some teachers must schedule time to check their school email because there is not enough bandwidth for them to all be online at the same time.
- Internet speeds are so slow in Albuquerque, N.M., that more than 100 K-12 students wrote to Sal Khan asking him to come help teach them in person because their Internet access was so slow they couldn’t consistently access Khan Academy videos.
- Montana has 20 schools that have no broadband at all.
- Two-thirds of students do not have access to high speed internet at school higher than 100 mbps.
There isn’t a business in our nation that could succeed without proper connectivity and access. Yet it’s an issue that the majority of our schools face. How as a nation are we okay with this? How do we rationalize not fully connecting our nation’s schools with the access that can help level the playing field for all kids? In an era of higher levels of accountability, raised standards and a flattened world, our students need access to all the resources and tools that will keep them competitive in a global environment.
When surveyed, “an overwhelming majority of teachers (86%) and administrators (93%) say it’s ‘important’ or ‘absolutely essential’ to use products (such as apps, computer games, websites, digital planning tools or digitally delivered curricula) designed to help students or teachers. Almost all teachers (between 87% and 96%) agree the use of educational technologies increases student engagement in learning, enables personalized learning, improves student outcomes and helps students collaborate. Nine out of 10 teachers agree they would like to use more EdTech in the classroom.”
As stated, our own instructional experts — our teachers and administrators — are looking to use the proper tools to invest in our nation’s future. However, in a majority of our nation’s schools, it’s simply not feasible. It has been said that “getting on wifi in some schools is a lot like sucking peanut butter out of a straw.” An analogy that’s sad, but true.
I call on the FCC to increase E-Rate funding as an investment in our nation’s future. It’s not simply an educational issue. It’s one that will have a long term economic impact.
Let’s connect our schools and support our nation’s children. It’s time.
Educators looking to support this effort, are invited to join an initiative lead by the Alliance for Excellent Education and create a 15-second video to share on social media by tagging the @FCC, @all4ed, #internet4schools, and show why Internet in our schools matters!
Thomas C. Murray serves as the state and district digital learning director for tthe Alliance for Excellent Education. He has testified before the United States Congress and works alongside that body, the US Department of Education and state departments of education, corporations, and school districts throughout the country to implement digital learning. Murray’s served as the director of technology and cyber education for the Quakertown Community School District in Bucks County, Pa. Connect with him on Twitter @thomascmurray or at www.thomascmurray.com.
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