E-Rate

These schools are leveraging E-Rate for a complete digital transformation


How IT, school leaders can use the E-Rate’s latest expansion to provide a full digital student learning experience.

Textbooks and blackboards have become a thing of the past in K-12 schools as educators collaborate with IT teams to shape a full digital core curriculum as part of their educational strategy for 2017 and beyond. In a 2016 survey conducted by the Consortium for School Networking (COSN), 90 percent of IT administrators at K-12 schools expect that curricula will be at least 50 percent digital over the next three years.

As the world undergoes a digital transformation—with connectivity and access to computers and mobile devices playing an increasingly prominent role in everyone’s lives—elementary schools know they need to incorporate technology in the educational process to prepare their students for future success. To support these initiatives, the Federal Communications Commission’s E-rate program has recently been expanded to provide schools nationwide with subsidies for high-speed broadband and gigabit wireless networks.

According to the “2016 Digital Curriculum Strategy Survey Report” sponsored by Ruckus Wireless, hardware and network spend is estimated at $16.2 billion in 2017. Whereas currently 78 percent of students have device and network access for almost a full day, the expectation for this year is that schools will have close to one-to-one access, or one device per student.

Wireless network coverage now stands at 91 percent, but, as the survey indicates, educators deem it unreliable and inadequate for full digital curriculums. What does this mean for schools?

More effort and funding will be directed to improving bandwidth and to upgrading networks—and the effort is being driven by both technology directors and officers and chief academic officers, including classroom teaching staff.

(Next page: How schools are currently using E-Rate for digital success)

How Schools Are Leveraging E-Rate for Digital Success

Schools and school districts are looking to apply E-rate funding to affordable, state-of-the art technologies, such as high-performing access points, centrally managed gigabit Wi-Fi platforms that leverage the cloud, and switches that can easily scale up as demand increases—which it inevitably will.

A case in point is Columbia Public Schools, a sprawling Missouri school district that covers 300 square miles between St. Louis and Kansas City and serves 18,000 students. As Christine Diggs, director of Technology Services for Columbia Public Schools, points out, “Fast and reliable Wi-Fi access is now simply an imperative for delivering a twenty-first century education.”

Columbia Public Schools provides a device for every two students, with the eventual goal of equipping each student with their own Apple iPad. School-issued devices and use of other mobile devices were placing a heavy demand on their existing network, which could not be counted on to reliably deliver digital educational content when needed.

The district resolved these challenges by investing in gigabit Wi-Fi—1,400 Wave 2 access points and 100 controllers. This new, robust Wi-Fi network architecture fully supports more than 20,000 Wi-Fi connected devices and a wide range of applications and services, including teacher evaluations, classroom collaboration, guest access, student information systems, Google Apps, scientific simulators, video streaming, and IP-based security cameras.

Just north of Silicon Valley, the world’s epicenter of technological innovation, San Francisco Unified School District replaced its legacy Wi-Fi network to serve 9,000 staff members and 56,000 students in the 49-square-mile area of the City and County of San Francisco.

The new architecture now boasts 1,500 state-of-the-art dual-band Wi-Fi access points and WLAN controllers, which are deployed in a fully redundant configuration. The new Wi-Fi network is four times faster than the old system, supporting 10,000 or more concurrent Wi-Fi connections on any given day.

Schools and school districts have the opportunity to take full advantage of E-rate funding to improve and expand their digital learning curricula. The deadline for submitting the application (Form 470) is April 13, 2017.

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