The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has reported that two-thirds of America’s school districts have an inadequate foundation for digital learning, with many reporting that not a single school in the district will be able to meet national high-speed broadband targets, set at 1 gigabit speeds for every 1,000 students. This means that the vast majority of teachers and students do not have access to the bandwidth they need to fully utilize online resources, negatively impacting teachers’ ability to fully leverage these new tools while planning learning opportunities in their classes.
Reliable data about schools’ network speeds and overall health is also not readily available. While Internet companies are required to advertise their service speeds, they do not report actual on-site speed or monitor and report on the quality of their service. Many schools and districts also lack the tools, resources, and time to properly assess their networks. This continuing absence of transparent data about network speed and performance has proved to be a significant barrier in improving school connectivity.
Over the past few years, state governments and nonprofits have begun to take steps to help fill in the blanks on school districts’ connections. Earlier this year, Alaska released a comprehensive broadband audit detailing the connectivity of its 500+ schools across the state’s 53 school districts. Beginning in the summer of 2014, this yearlong labor-intensive process required site visits by network engineers to every district in the state.
EducationSuperHighway, a national nonprofit, has also helped to illuminate the state of connectivity in districts. Using newly released data from the FCC’s E-rate program, EducationSuperHighway’s ongoing data analysis is tracking district progress toward national connectivity targets.
Broadband measurement efforts, however, have not yet been able to show the actual day-to-day technical experiences within classrooms. Students are accessing school networks to conduct research, query online databases, watch videos, and collaborate in real time via web-based tools. Yet setting national speed targets and overall measures have not shed light on the quality of those daily learning experiences. Emerging studies, such as New America’s Measuring Broadband in Schools project, are exploring new methods for obtaining these data to help improve technology use in classrooms.