Report calls for more broadband access in schools

SETDA recommends that schools provide 100 Mbps per 1,000 students/staff by the 2014-15 school year, and provide 1 Gbps per 1,000 students/staff by the 2017-18 school year.

School districts should provide a minimum of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) of bandwidth for every 1,000 students and staff members within the next two years, and federal lawmakers should provide more funding to help make this happen, according to a report released May 21 by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).

The report, “The Broadband Imperative: Recommendations to Address K-12 Education Infrastructure Needs,” explains how the ongoing shift to technology-rich learning has sparked rapid growth in the nation’s educational broadband needs.

Schools are undergoing a transformation from print-based to digital sources, and that shift “changes technology from being supplemental enrichment to something we rely on,” said Douglas Levin, executive director of SETDA at a report release and briefing in Washington, D.C.

To prepare students for college and careers, schools increasingly use internet-based tools for activities such as multimedia research and online testing. At a school with a technology-rich learning environment, students might use laptops in class to generate audio podcasts, work in e-textbooks, and collaborate with other students through wikis or video conferencing.

Young children entering school nowadays are accustomed to digital learning devices and expect that level of technology in schools, said Christine Fox, director of educational leadership and research at SEDTA.

“At one of our elementary schools, they Skype with their sister school in Taiwan. That’s what [the students] expect. They don’t realize how great the distance is between our schools. They realize how small the world is because of our technology,” said Andrew Zuckerman, director of instructional services for Lawrence Township, N.J., Public Schools.

Eventually, SETDA hopes to see broadband become ubiquitous in schools. With sufficient bandwidth, “technology then is no longer ‘nice to have,’ or ‘just for some,’ but an integral part of a school’s ecosystem. It’s systemic,” Fox said. “If, at the last minute, a teacher wants to participate in a conference across the country, the teacher with robust bandwidth access doesn’t have to ask, ‘Do we have bandwidth for that?’ They just do it.”

Recent research shows, however, that educational broadband needs are not currently being met. The report cites a 2010 survey by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which found that nearly 80 percent of responding schools reported their broadband connections to be inadequate for their needs.

To help policy makers and school leaders better implement broadband access into educational infrastructure, the new SETDA report makes four main recommendations:

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