What makes a good broadband network for schools?

Other panelists included representatives from California’s K12HSN (High Speed Network), who run a similar broadband plan for their state.

“This network supports over 11,000 schools, 6.2 million students, and around 300,000 teachers in over 58 diverse and spread-out counties in California,” said Jose Ortega, administrator for the California Department of Education’s ed-tech office. “It’s also funded by the state DOE and provides schools with equitable connectivity, internet services, teaching and learning application coordination, video conferencing coordination, and support.”

Like Kentucky, California’s network began in the 1990s, but it began with a university-led initiative.

“After the universities got together to connect, K-12 joined around 2000,” said Teri Sanders, senior director of education technology for K12HSN. “Eighty-six percent of California’s districts are now connected through the network, with the others going to commercial vendors.”

California’s network does have special features, however, including administrative participation in CalREN—a high-speed, high-bandwidth network serving the K-12 and higher-education research communities. Participants in CalREN are connected not only to each other, but to institutions around the world.

K12HSN also includes a service called DataLINK, which offers direct access to connectivity data and information for schools and districts. This information can be viewed in standard or customized reports.

Resources that schools and districts can access through K12HSN include:

Officials from both states say some of the biggest concerns now are hosting Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiatives, online testing, and managing costs.

According to Sizemore, Kentucky’s next generation of broadband will aim to reduce cost of bandwidth to district hubs, increase the bandwidth available to everyone, add interconnected Voice over IP services, and reduce the cost of bandwidth within district wide-area networks.

“We’re also increasing the use of online and cloud-hosted applications,” he said, “including online instructional materials, … online assessment, a P-20 data warehouse, BYOD and mobile device access, and collaboration with Microsoft Office 365 and Google Docs.”

KEN also is advancing online testing initiatives with its centrally managed state-wide network, which allows for firewall and QoS (Quality of Service) rules to be set to prioritize connectivity to a computer-based testing website.

“Expanded bandwidth based on district [average daily attendance] allows for a higher number of concurrent test sessions to be administered,” said Sizemore. “Expanded bandwidth also removes the need for locally-based servers hosting testing content and faster implementation of different testing systems. It also reduces network troubleshooting between districts and testing vendor sites.” That will be particularly important as states move to online Common Core assessments beginning in the  2014-15 school year.

High-quality broadband access provides “such a tremendous impact on classroom learning and instructional improvement,” said Leadingham, “from the inclusion of digital blended learning to dual-credit courses, and from BYOD to a greater focus on collaboration.”

“We’ve had a steady four-year growth period [in scores on California’s Academic Performance Index],” said Sanders, “and much of that is due to the inclusion of digital textbooks, BYOD initiatives, iPads, virtual learning, and data centers.”

Anyone interested in learning more about California’s or Kentucky’s broadband networks, as well as other states’ broadband efforts, can find more details at the recently-launched State Education Policy Center (SEPC).

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