Public school classrooms’ connections to the Internet have improved significantly in the last two years, but an estimated 21.3 million students in the United States remain without the broadband connectivity needed for effective digital learning.
Those are the findings in a new report from EducationSuperHighway, a non-profit organization seeking to improve Internet access to public school classrooms.
The group’s “2015 State of the States” says that 77 percent of school districts are meeting the Federal Communications Commission’s minimum Internet access goal of 100 kbps per student, compared with only 30 percent in 2013.
“In the last two years, we have made tremendous progress, connecting an additional 20 million students,” the report says.
Comparable improvements have been made for teachers’ connectivity.
“Less than 300,000 teachers had the tools they needed in 2013, [but] approximately 1.7 million teachers now have the broadband they need to deliver a 21st-century education,” the report says. “These gains were driven in part by an increase in the amount school districts and states are investing in Internet access and more significantly by a decrease in the cost of broadband.”
The median cost of Internet access in 2015 was half of what it was in 2013 to 2015—it fell from $22 per Mbps to $11 per Mbps.
That’s the good news for those who have the needed connectivity. For the 21.3 million still without the desired technology, the report says, three main obstacles are blocking the path of progress: access to fiber optic technology, the affordability of broadband, and, in some cases, school district budgets.
The report found that school districts without fiber are 15 percent less likely to meet the FCC’s minimum connectivity goals. Districts that meet FCC goals pay an average cost of $5.07 per Mbps, but those not meeting the goal pay $12.33. The average Internet access budget per student in districts that meet the goal is $4.93 annually, but school districts not meeting the goal are spending $2.08 annually.
EducationSuperHighway concludes that leadership from state governors is critical to closing the gap between technology haves and have-nots, as well as making sure that schools that now have adequate connections will be able to keep pace with the increasing demand for greater connectivity. The organization has identified 38 governors who have made a public commitment to improving K-12 connectivity and have taken specific actions to do so.
"EducationSuperHighway’s research shows that executive leadership can significantly accelerate the pace at which K-12 broadband is upgraded," the report says. This is a result of the state’s ability to act at scale and implement programs that simultaneously help many school districts address connectivity issues."
The organization calls upon governors to use their leadership positions to set connectivity goals for schools; close the fiber gap; put wi-fi in every classroom; and make broadband more affordable.