What makes a good broadband network for schools?

High-quality broadband access will be particularly important schools roll out online Common Core assessments.

A panel of broadband experts recently agreed that high-quality access for schools and districts means more than providing a connection to the internet—good broadband provides a foundation for innovative initiatives, cloud services, telecommunications, and much more.

Hosted by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), the panel discussed the power of broadband access in schools and how it takes extensive planning, research, and legislative backing to ensure not just access, but high-quality access that can sustain growth.

“Our biggest concern was to have equitable access for all schools and districts,” said Tim Sizemore, program manager for the Kentucky Department of Education’s Kentucky Education Network (KEN). “It started in the early 90s and has developed over the years to a statewide and state-funded broadband initiative.”

According to Mike Leadingham, director of the state education department’s Office of Knowledge, Information, and Data Services, the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA)—which passed in 1990—established funding for broadband access and services for the state’s school districts.

“Allocation of bandwidth for districts is usually based on size,” said Leadingham, “but we make adjustments based on initial usage. Some districts are advanced in terms of using online services and some are not. We make sure all districts get what they need, but we don’t over-allocate.”

Leadingham and Sizemore said the statewide broadband access helps Kentucky districts in many ways. KEN offers:

  • Hub-site connectivity.
  • Online applications access.
  • State-standard cloud services (including eMail, student information system, and financial management).
  • Network, security, and firewall services (including network monitoring and management, as well as district firewall management).
  • Telecommunication services (primary rate interface, long distance, and more).

“By offering equitable access, we can allow for state standards for technical and product aspects,” explained Sizemore. “It also supports state contracts and allows for leverage in buying power.”

Sizemore noted that funding from both the state and federal level is critical and that KEN is a cooperative effort with 100-percent participation from district, state, and federal leaders.

(Next page: California’s success—and how high-quality broadband access can help with student assessment and help boost achievement)

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