Dennis Pierce

How to ensure home broadband access for every student

How will students from low-income families connect to the internet to learn from home if they can’t attend school physically this fall? What role can school systems play in ensuring home broadband access for all students, given the budget crisis many districts will be facing next year? The simplest solution would be for the Federal Communications Commission to lift the restrictions barring E-rate recipients from using their networks to extend broadband service into students’ homes.

Broadband pilots could serve as models for other states

Arkansas and Virginia have teamed up with EducationSuperHighway to design a cost-effective plan for meeting President Barack Obama’s goal of ensuring broadband access for every student.

EducationSuperHighwayis surveying the available bandwidth in Arkansas and Virginia classrooms. The group then will assess what broadband technologies are available in each state.

To take an inventory of the current state of Internet access in Arkansas and Virginia classrooms, EducationSuperHighway is analyzing E-rate requests for each of these states’ schools, among other data.

E-rate changes prompt new voice options for schools

If the Federal Communications Commission has its way, the E-rate no longer will support voice services within the next five years, including plain old telephone service, toll-free service, and even voice over IP (VoIP).

Beginning with the 2015 funding year, schools will see their discount percentage on eligible voice services reduced by 20 percentage points each year, until they no longer receive any voice-related support.

The FCC says it will evaluate the effects of this change after two years and will decide at that time whether to continue. In making this change, the FCC aims to transform the E-rate from a telecommunications program to a broadband program.

The agency acknowledges that schools will have to pay more for voice-related services, but the savings they’ll realize on broadband services could help offset this cost, officials say.

New E-rate rules invite a new approach: Managed Wi-Fi

In the Report and Order that rewrites the rules governing the $2.4 billion-a-year E-rate program, the Federal Communications Commission refers to a new category of service that is eligible for E-rate support: managed Wi-Fi, or “managed internal broadband services” as the agency refers to it.

Using the agency’s newly created funding cap of $150 per student on the pre-discount cost of Category 2 services over a five-year period, schools would be eligible to apply for E-rate discounts on managed Wi-Fi services costing up to $30 per student, per year.

While managed Wi-Fi offers many potential benefits, it might not be the best option for all schools. “The biggest problem with outsourcing [IT functions] … is an inexplicable faith in service providers,” said Geoff Tritsch of Vantage Technology Consulting Group. “Too many [schools] give critical functions over to outsourcers without doing their due process.”

A $5 billion bounty: How to use E-rate support for Wi-Fi

The E-rate program will provide $5 billion over the next five years to help schools and libraries install Wi-Fi and other technologies needed to deliver broadband within their buildings; here’s how:

The Federal Communications Commission’s Seventh Order changes the description of these services from “Priority 2” to “Category 2.” To spread the Category 2 funding to the broadest number of applicants possible, the FCC has taken two key steps: (1) It has limited the maximum discount on these services at 85 percent, and (2) it has capped the amount of funding that applicants can receive on these services within a five-year period. To ensure that smaller schools can buy the minimum amount of Wi-Fi gear they need, the FCC created a “funding floor” of $9,200 per building.

The FCC’s Seventh Order transforms the E-rate from a telecommunications program into a broadband program that supports the delivery of high-speed Internet service to and within school buildings. Funding for all voice-related services -- including plain old telephone service, toll-free service, and even voice over IP (VoIP) -- will be phased out over five years. Because of this five-year cap, K-12 technology leaders will have to think strategically about their Wi-Fi needs -- and they should look at purchasing equipment with a five-year life cycle in mind.

Five new ed-tech innovations for schools

[Commentary] Products that make it easier for teachers to control students’ tablet computers and leave notes within the margins of online lessons are among the latest ed-tech innovations we’re highlighting.

  1. Classroom-based control of tablets. TabPilot sells a program, called Tablet Manager, that offers many of these same features for monitoring, controlling, and provisioning Android-based tablets at the classroom level. It’s a cloud-based management system that “puts teachers in control of classroom tablets,” the company says -- allowing teachers to turn specific apps on or off for individual student devices or groups of devices.
  2. An identity-based alternative to managing devices. Centrify offers schools an identity-based approach to managing who has access to what resources, rather than a device-based approach. The company says its cloud-based identity management system serves as both a platform for single sign-on functionality and an alternative to mobile device management (MDM) software.
  3. Enhanced ‘Notes’ feature helps personalize online/blended learning. A few months after unveiling a new user interface that let teachers leave notes in the margins of online lessons and other course content, Odysseyware has refined this feature based on user feedback to make it more useful for both educators and students.
  4. Self-paced online curriculum for middle school students. Fuel Education has introduced a self-paced online curriculum designed for middle school students as they transition through the challenging “make or break” years in their education, according to the company.
  5. Another cloud hosting option for schools. Cloud server provider Infinitely Virtual has introduced a few cloud-based hosting plans aimed at schools and colleges.

New education technology services aim to stop the ‘summer slide’

Research suggests that students lose two to three months of grade-level equivalency in math skills over the summer, which affects their readiness for the new school year -- and this problem is more pronounced for students from low-income families.

This summer, students will have at least two new education technology services to offset summer learning loss -- and both will be offered to students at no cost.

AASA, the nation’s largest association for school superintendents, has partnered with TenMarks (an Amazon company) to reverse summer learning loss through an initiative called the TenMarks Summer Math Program. And EverFi, which offers online instruction on topics such as financial literacy and civic engagement to fill gaps in students’ education, has announced a new program called Verano Summer Learning. The program will deliver “bit-sized booster shots” of content to students during the summer months.

The low-income students who stand to benefit the most from online summer enrichment programs from companies such as EverFi and TenMarks are also the students who are least likely to have computers and Internet access at home -- a fact that Davidson readily acknowledges.

“We understand this issue and know that it [could] be an impediment to our success,” he said. “It is one of the reasons we are focusing on deploying low-bandwidth solutions for mobile phones, where the penetration is deeper for families in high-need communities. We are also building out our network of public facilities -- libraries, community-based organizations, and others that have the infrastructure [to serve these students].”