Public schools lack of bandwidth needs attention

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The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) estimates the US market for pre-K to 12th grade educational software and digital content to be over $7.96 billion USD. Testing and assessment comprise the largest category and a 35% growth rate from last year.

Despite the money spent last year on educational software and digital content, most public schools are grappling to bridge the digital gap and struggling with bandwidth coverage. As the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District (the second largest school system in the country) considers buying 67,500 more iPads, only 208 out of 800 schools have the bandwidth to support its 1:1 iPad plan; that leaves 533 schools without the necessary bandwidth to be ready for online tests that will accompany national academic standards (the Common Core). 

School districts across the country are scrambling. In the past two years, schools in Louisiana have upgraded 41,000 computers and purchased 48,000 others at a cost of $24 million, but bandwidth for school Internet access remains a huge stumbling block. Half of Hawaiian schools don't have reliable Internet access and any plans for 1:1 are being hedged or temporarily shelved. 

On January 8, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York announced he will seek voter approval of a $2 billion bond to fund a technology upgrade in the state's public schools. If this money goes through, the largest public school system in America will be affected: New York City. The money would allow schools across the state to purchase desktop or laptop computers, tablets, and make upgrades to Internet access. But where will the money be allocated and what technology upgrades will be procured?

About 72% of public schools across the country (rural, suburb, and urban communities) lack high-speed Internet access. Often, Internet rationing results. Schools have to watch kids hogging or using up a school's web capability. EducationSuperHighway, a nonprofit, tests school bandwidth and works to upgrade Internet access. Any student, parent, or teacher can test a school's Internet. I tested our locally zoned elementary school at 6.41 mbps; but this speed is woefully inadequate according to the latest figures. SchoolSpeedTest also checks to see if schools block Khan Academy, Wikipedia, Edmodo, and many other resources.

President Obama recognizes and supports the need for high-speed digital learning in classrooms. He realizes that other countries are surpassing the US in terms of high-speed Internet access and digital learning. In June, ConnectEd was launched with Obama's plan for connecting to the Internet. Perhaps one day we will see an Open Policy Council that helps to advise public schools on how to upgrade computers and Internet access or more public schools will access forums like this site.

As the need for Internet access grows, schools battle budget cuts and aging computer hardware and software and have to find novel open solutions. Yet there are success stories and models. Ken Agcaoili at R.L. Stevenson Middle School in Hawaii has been an innovator by switching the school's 150 laptops running on Windows XP to Ubuntu. Morrison Public Schools, located just north of Stillwater, Oklahoma in Noble County, use Linux. Remarkably, they achieved a hat trick: a 1:1 environment for $62,000 rather than the typical cost of $400,000.

Open tools like Nagios, Cacti, and Zabbix can help schools monitor networks, cut costs, and reduce the bandwidth bottleneck too.

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Carolyn Fox is an educator, librarian, historian, and an un/homeschooling mother. She lives in Massachusetts with her UK husband and son.


The problem is stated in the first paragraph....its about dollars, not education.

Abolish the government indoctrination and day prisons.

Problem solved.

Excellent article Carolyn. I know significant number of schools and educational set ups in India cannot add much value in a student's life due to lack of infrastructure. I was not aware that U.S also needs to catch up with a lot of work to bridge the digital divide. The fact that 72% of schools lack adequate internet access is surprising.
Thanks again for sharing it.

Money is always in short supply in P-12 education but there are only isolated instances where open source is widely recommended and used and it's mostly due to ignorance and clever marketing by vendors. There are many great tools that rely on open source infrastructure that can be used and are gaining traction. Google Apps for Education is free to all P-12 schools. Ubuntu 11.10, Fedora 16 and Chrome OS all meet the technology requirements for PARCC testing,

However many technology directors have little or no Linux/open source experience and many of the decision makers are mis-informed about open source solutions like Linux laptops, LTSP. Open source software is "sold" as unreliable, not an industry standard and other misinformed viewpoints. There is a need for informed advocacy that can bridge this gap. The paradigm is changing but it's been painfully slow.

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