Facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources
As students across the country head back to school this week, you might imagine their school leaders consumed by last-minute hiring decisions, meetings with principals and other school leaders, and ongoing management of the district’s finances and facilities. But for Pam Moran, superintendent of Albemarle County Public Schools in Virginia, there’s another topic weighing on her mind: the district’s broadband infrastructure—or the network of equipment and technologies needed to provide high-speed internet service to Albemarle’s classrooms.
Over the past decade since she began leading Albemarle’s schools, she’s been at the helm of the digital transformation reshaping the district. The tools, then, exist to help districts to bridge the digital divide for their students. The problem is that many districts don’t have access to these tools. Places like Albemarle Schools provide a clear example of how school districts can close the digital divide; now we need to address the barriers that keep other districts from following suit.
The lack of high-speed internet services in many rural areas is one of the challenges hindering Florida’s efforts to increase college degrees and spur economic development, a new report shows. Some 680,000 Floridians do not have access to a broadband internet service that would allow information to be downloaded at minimum speed of 25 megabits per second, according to the report presented to the state Higher Education Coordinating Council.
Ed Moore, president of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida who compiled the report, said the data should prompt a “hard look at what access there is to digital learning and digital infrastructure across our state.” “You cannot get ahead if you cannot get online,” Moore said. Expanding broadband access and online education opportunities could help the state meet the Higher Education Coordinating Council’s goal of having 55 percent of Florida’s working-age population obtain either a college degree or professional certificate by 2025. Less than 47 percent have reached that level. Moore said the 30 private colleges and universities in his organization now offer 592 degrees and certificates through online courses.
CoSN (the Consortium for School Networking), the national professional association of school system technology leaders, announced a new collaboration with Team4Tech, a nonprofit based in Redwood City (CA) to create resources for rural school districts in the United States. For the first year, this collaboration is working with the Millard School District, a rural school district of approximately 3,000 students in Delta and Fillmore (UT). As part of this initiative, VMware, a technology company based in Palo Alto (CA) has brought a group of 12 employees from around the world (including the U.S., Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Ireland and India) to Utah as part of its Good Gigs leadership development program through immersive service learning. In addition, two of CoSN’s nationally recognized Certified Education Technology Leaders (CETLs) are joining the team to add their expertise to helping Millard.
Applying for E-rate funding is not simple, especially for applicants seeking fiber-based services. Applicants must have an in-depth knowledge of dark vs. lit fiber, self-provisioning, and special construction, and that’s just the beginning. The vast majority of schools and libraries have to hire consultants to guide them through the labyrinth of E-rate rules and procedures. So the last thing we should want is to make the E-rate application even more difficult. Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening.
E-rate fiber applications are being delayed or denied even though they follow the Federal Communications Commission’s policies, past precedent, and the Eligible Services List (ESL). As a membership organization made up of schools, libraries, associations, broadband companies and E-rate consultants, we hear these complaints constantly. The Schools Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB) will file comments later this week on the proposed ESL for Funding Year 2018 asking to maintain the existing rules and policies governing applications for fiber-based services. The rules and policies adopted in the 2014 E-rate Modernization Orders are intended to help schools and libraries increase their bandwidth and obtain low-cost fiber services, which will be especially helpful in rural markets. We will encourage the FCC to maintain the 2014 rules and policies and to provide consistent guidance to E-rate applicants.
[Commentary] The federal E-rate program plays a critical role in allowing Kansas kids to harness the power of technology in schools and libraries. Current Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has voiced support for the program as a commissioner, repeatedly calling it a “program worth fighting for” and saying it has the potential to “help millions of children in America benefit from digital learning.” Of course, we agree with him on those points. However, since then, Chairman Pai has curiously refused to commit to protecting the program; retracted a progress report demonstrating E-rate’s success following its modernization; and expressed a desire to alter funding for the program in a way that would leave countless kids behind.
With Chairman Pai scheduled to testify to the Senate Commerce Committee, Sen Jerry Moran (R-KS) has an important opportunity to stand up for kids in Kansas and throughout the country. School districts like Garden City, which received $492,000 in funding in 2016 to expand access to high speed internet services thanks to E-Rate funding. We respectfully urge Sen Moran to stand up for our nation’s schools on July 19.
[James Steyer is CEO and founder of Commons Sense Kids Action]
Too many students still scrounge for the vital internet access their classmates (and technology-enamored school reformers) take for granted. Dozens of interviews—along with reviews of tax disclosures, Federal Communications Commission filings, and court records related to the Educational Broadband Service (EBS)—show that this educational spectrum is, at least, woefully underutilized. It's a public resource born of good intentions but wasted by a broken system.
There are lots of ideas for fixing EBS. JH Snider of iSolon said the FCC could reclaim leased EBS licenses when they expire and reallocate them, although he can’t imagine them taking such a bold step. The FCC could also issue new spectrum licenses for the rural areas not yet covered by EBS, under the condition that license holders use the spectrum for public purposes rather than lease it. The national association of EBS license holders sent the FCC a proposal along these lines in 2014, but the agency has not formally responded. As for the current leases that dominate EBS, EveryoneOn founder Zach Leverenz said that the FCC could do a lot to “correct the shadiness in the system” just by clarifying the vagueness of legacy rules tying EBS to its original mission—such as defining what 20 hours per week of educational use means and ensuring that the 5 percent of spectrum “reserved” from the leases is actually used for educational purposes.
[Commentary] Thanks to a 2016 change in Federal Communications Commission policy, a small school district in central Virginia may have found a way to the bridge the “homework gap.” The homework gap is the lack of digital access at home that can hurt students’ academic performance and interfere with their ability to complete assignments.
Brette Arbogast, director of technology for the Appomattox County School District in Virginia, saw problems with E-Rate in 2015, in part because of a lack of competition among technology companies bidding on school business. Arbogast figured out his school district could save a lot of money if it built a network itself rather than hiring a private internet-service provider. Though the savings potentially amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, without internet access in students’ homes, the program would do nothing to address the homework gap. A recent amendment in FCC policy was a game changer. Until last year, E-Rate-funded networks could only serve the grounds of schools or libraries. In 2016 the FCC reformed the rules so that networks funded with E-Rate could reach off-campus to serve students during non-school hours. The district quickly capitalized on the change. The school district became a certified ISP and an E-Rate provider – a process that takes about a year. Once they had built the network to serve the school, they cooperated with a municipality that helped finance Wi-Fi radios, which the school connected to the network. Those Wi-Fi devices provide internet access to students in their homes after 4 p.m., thus getting them online to complete their homework.
[Craig Settles is a broadband industry analyst and consultant to local governments]
Students increasingly must gain 21st century technology skills to succeed in life after high school. Despite the technological shift driven by rapid innovations, approximately 5 million US households with school-age children still do not have access to high-speed Internet at home. The paper gives school leaders guidance to improve digital access in their communities.
In addition, CoSN puts forth recommendations for districts to build and strengthen their networks and identifies funding opportunities for school systems to improve digital equity. These include leveraging capital expenditures, operational expenditures, federal and state funds, bonds, levies, grants, and in-kind and school-to-business partnerships to address digital equity. “School-to-Home” details the main barriers to extending broadband to homes nationwide. These include assessing size of the connectivity problem and addressing the need for adequate Internet access at home and in the community, particularly for students from low-income homes. Despite cost and lack of fiber or high-speed Internet availability, some districts are improving Internet access by promoting public Wi-Fi access, providing Internet in school parking lots and athletic fields, and establishing portable loaner Wi-Fi hotspots for student use to take home to do school work.
Over the past decade, the "digital divide" in America's public schools has shifted. Classrooms in nearly every corner of the country have been flooded with devices and software. High-speed internet connectivity has expanded dramatically. Undoubtedly, there are still big disparities in the technologies available to the haves and the have-nots. But in places like Pittsburgh's southwestern suburbs, where some local school districts are engaged in a kind of ed-tech arms race, just offering kids the latest-model laptop isn't enough. Instead, what distinguishes the most innovative schools is what students and teachers do with the technology they have.
Parents want their children prepared to shape the future, not get steamrolled by it. To make that happen, schools like South Fayette Intermediate try to surround teachers like Bishop with supports and learning opportunities, so they can continually find new and powerful ways to integrate technology into their classrooms. For most districts, it's a huge challenge.
A change in leadership at the Federal Communications Commission has led to rising uncertainty about the future of efforts to boost broadband access, preserve an open internet, and protect online privacy—all issues affecting the K-12 sector. Atop education leaders' list of concerns is the E-rate, a $3.9 billion federal program that helps schools and libraries pay for telecommunications services. A wide cross-section of experts credits the FCC's 2014 overhaul of the program for helping.