eSchool News

How shared spectrum connectivity benefits distance learning

Today, more than 9 million students lack proper access to reliable broadband internet at home, which creates obstacles for both the students and teachers.

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.

Is Trump Education Secretary Pick Betsy DeVos good or bad for edtech?

School choice, support of teachers unions, and her record in Michigan have been the leading controversial talking points in education when it comes to Donald Trump’s pick for Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos. But with a background in technology investment, could DeVos be a leader in the support of successfully-implemented edtech?

According to Philanthropy magazine in spring 2013, DeVos serves as chairman of the Windquest Group—a privately held, multi-company operating group that invests in technology, manufacturing, and clean energy—which she founded with her husband in 1989. In 2013, DeVos said when it comes to education reform strategies, she is most focused on educational choice. “But, thinking more broadly, what we are trying to do is tear down the mindset that assigns students to a school based solely on the zip code of their family’s home. We advocate instead for as much freedom as possible,” she said. “One long-term trend that’s working in our favor is technology. It seems to me that, in the internet age, the tendency to equate ‘education’ with ‘specific school buildings’ is going to be greatly diminished. Within the right framework of legislation, that freedom will ultimately be healthy for the education of our kids.”

Innovative district expands access like never before using E-rate

Thanks to a major funding refresh, one district found that it’s now possible to support its one-to-one initiative without scaling back access for other services or devices. Could your district do the same? The Federal Communication Commission’s historic E-rate modernization in 2014 paved the way for districts to expand their high-speed broadband and Wi-Fi and increase digital learning opportunities for students. Before the modernization, Category 2 services were called Priority 2 services and were funded only after all requests for Priority 1 services (telecommunications services and Internet access) were funded–but that meant most schools had no leftover E-rate funding for Wi-Fi equipment and other internal connections. And now, school districts across the nation are able to improve digital learning opportunities and expand Wi-Fi for teachers and students.

In Louisiana’s Lafayette Parish Schools, LaShona Dickerson, the district’s director of technology, has leveraged Category 2 funding to update her district’s infrastructure to support a one-to-one rollout. Working with Funds for Learning regarding E-rate processes, Dickerson and her team have updated the district’s phone system, implemented a student information system, improved financial payroll processes, and incorporated tools and resources that empower teaching and learning. “We were able to do a lot of this because of E-rate funding,” Dickerson said. “We work on a limited budget–everything we do has to be planned and strategic, and always has to be a collaborative effort.”

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.”