From the Administration
“In a country where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, why shouldn’t we have it in our schools? We can’t be stuck in the 19th century when we’re living in a 21st-century economy.”
President Barack Obama, June 2014, Mooresville Middle School, North CarolinaAccess to high-speed broadband and Wi-Fi is now as vital a component of K-12 school infrastructure as electricity, air conditioning, and heating. The same tools and resources that have transformed our personal, civic, and professional lives must be part of learning experiences intended to prepare today’s students for college and careers. College students rely on technology for academic success and to improve personal productivity. In the workplace, everyone from mechanics to accountants to physicians depends on technology to conduct their work, grow their businesses, and collaborate with their colleagues – both locally and globally.
E-Rate and E-Rate ModernizationThe Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) E-Rate program provides most schools and libraries with discounted rates for specific services and products related to telecommunications services, telecommunications, internet access, internal connections and basic maintenance. The amount of the discount depends on the level of poverty and location of the school or library. Schools should consider researching their E-Rate eligibility.
In 2014, after over a year of deliberation, the FCC updated the Universal Service Program for Schools and Libraries (E-Rate) by implementing programmatic changes to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the program ensuring E-rate money is spent smartly, improving program administration, focusing on closing the Wi-Fi gap, dramatically increase funding for school broadband while transitioning support away from legacy technologies to 21st Century broadband connectivity. The updating took place in two phases, on July 11, 2014 the FCC released the first E-rate Modernization Order (see Order Summary) and on December 11, 2014 the FCC released the second E-rate Modernization Order. To stay most up to date on the E-rate Modernization process visit: http://www.fcc.gov/e-rate-update.
Bringing Broadband to the School
From the Field
In 2011, Baldwin County School District launched the Digital Renaissance 1-to-1 program, an ambitious journey to provide students with the skills and tools necessary required to be college and career ready.
As part of this project, the district completed an infrastructure overhaul to boost broadband access throughout the district. The district’s upgrade provided 2.5 gigabits (GBs) of internet pipe into the broadband system and connected the main office and the schools. It also included 1-gigabit switches that provide 1 gigabit to each wireless access point in every classroom. This new broadband backbone permits the seamless download of multimedia content into the classroom and students to create and share content via web 2.0 tools.
Easy access to reliable, robust, and cost-effective broadband provides the opportunity for students’ school experiences to include creating engaging text and multimedia projects such as videos, collaborative research with students on the other side of the state or the world, access to online courses not available locally, and the ability to talk directly with authors and experts. Teachers can collaborate with colleagues, participate in professional development online, and immediately analyze the results from online assessments to personalize instruction for each student.
Districts must determine the extent of the infrastructure and capacity needed to support all users in achieving continuous full connectivity for all functions of the school district. This includes not just the broadband into the district, but also the networking across buildings and in classrooms. The infrastructure needs to be sufficient not only for the present, but also looking to future years, as device and network usage will undoubtedly grow over time.
The amount of bandwidth a district needs will vary significantly depending upon the number of devices in the district that will access a network as well as how those devices and networks are used. Uses of technology such as streaming video demand larger amounts of bandwidth than webpage viewing and online reading.
SETDA’s paper The Broadband Imperative: Recommendations to Address K-12 Education Infrastructure Needs makes general recommendations both for internet connection to the internet service provider and for connections from the district to each school and among schools within the district. The recommendations were based upon current trends and the real-world experiences of states and leading districts as well as input from experts from the private sector. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted these recommendations as bandwidth targets, and one measure of success of the modernized E-rate program will be the extent to which districts across the country attain them. These recommendations are:
Broadband Access for Teaching, Learning and School Operations 2014-15 School Year Target 2017-18 School Year Target An external Internet connection to the Internet Service Provider (ISP) At least 100 Mbps per 1,000 students/staff At least 1 Gbps per 1,000 students/staff Internal wide area network (WAN) connections from the district to each school and among schools within the district At least 1 Gbps per 1,000 students/staff At least 10 Gbps per 1,000 students/staff
Assessing Broadband SpeedsTo assess program needs and progress in providing internet access that meets the current and future needs of students and educators, education leaders must evaluate the quality of their broadband prior to any device deployment and then set a schedule for regular analysis. There are numerous commercial tools that will help with this analysis by showing real time availability as well as real time usage and display such information as a percentage of usage of available bandwidth. Districts need to consider internet connections to the service provider, internal connections between the schools and the district and internal wireless access inside of each building and instructional areas. School speed tests can play an integral role in this process. One commonly used speed test tool is Education Superhighway’s tool. As of the spring 2014, approximately half of the states have used the speed test tool in statewide campaign to provide data to document needs throughout their states.
Broadband Funding OptionsThere are federal grant programs that districts can investigate to be sure they are taking full advantage of possible funding sources related to access.
- Most schools and libraries are eligible for E-rate discounts for specific services and products related to telecommunications services, telecommunications, internet access, internal connections and basic maintenance. The amount of the discount depends on the level of poverty and location of the school or library. Schools should consider researching their E-Rate eligibility.
- The Distance Learning and Telemedicine Loan and Grant Program (DLT) is designed specifically to meet the educational and health care needs of rural America. Through loans, grants and loan/grant combinations, advanced telecommunications technologies provide enhanced learning and health care opportunities for rural residents. Eligible purchases include: Interactive video equipment, audio and video equipment, terminal equipment, data terminal equipment, inside wiring, computer hardware and software, computer network components, acquisition of instructional programming that is a capital asset, acquisition of technical assistance and instruction for using eligible equipment.
Spreading Broadband Throughout the School
From the Administration
“60% of schools in America lack sufficient Wi-Fi capability to provide students with 21st Century educational tools…. Far too many schools have no Wi-Fi at all. For those that are lucky enough to be connected wirelessly, such networks often don’t meet the capacity needs of students and teachers.”
Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman, FCC Blog, June 6, 2014
The Wi-Fi gap in U.S. schools is a concern that federal, state, district and school leaders are addressing nationwide. The increase in the number of devices available on campus (both district and student owned) coupled with the increased dependence on digital content requires dependable, high speed, Wi-Fi access.
As districts and schools consider Wi-Fi access, planning is essential. Districts that have had substantial experience with Wi-Fi and companies that assist districts with networks and Wi-Fi agree that a 5-year plan with updates every year can provide a solid basis for a network that is effective. Following are some interconnected questions to consider as you begin to plan for high-speed Wi-Fi across schools and districts. The answer to one most probably will affect the answer to others.
Requirements of the network
- How many devices will the Wi-Fi network need to support now and how many devices in the short and long term future?
- How will those devices be used in the near term and in the longer term?
- Will students be reading documents and doing searches or will they be creating content such as video and uploading it?
- In addition to tablets or laptops what other types of devices on campus will need Wi-Fi access (printers, digital media players, microconsoles)?
Deployment of the network
- In addition to the devices in the classrooms, how will Wi-Fi access in “common areas” (cafeteria, hallways, courtyard, fields, etc.) on school campuses be used?
Security of the network
- What levels of access and permissions will be needed for students, teachers, administrators IT staff and guests?
- How will BYOD be handled?
Management of the network
- How centralized will the management of the network be across the district?
- Can the IT department implement the Wi-Fi network or are consulting or outside vendors required?
- Is the WLAN architecture sufficient to handle the requirements among schools?
Budget for the network
- What type of new or upgraded equipment will be required to implement or increase Wi-Fi access?
- How will W-Fi implementation impact short and long term budgets?
On July 11, 2014, the FCC adopted an E-rate Modernization Order that was intended to modernize and streamline the E-rate and expand funding for Wi-Fi networks in schools and libraries. The Order also adopted SETDA’s bandwidth targets from The Broadband Imperative. The Order attempts to provide more predictable and more equitably distributed funding for Wi-Fi networks while at the same time beginning to transition support away from legacy services. To address the critical need for Wi-Fi networks, the order set a target of providing $1 billion in annual support for internal connections. Schools can spend $150 (pre E-Rate discount), one time per student for a 5-year period beginning with funding in FY2015.
Connecting Students Outside of School Access
Ensuring this needed resource for students outside of school can be difficult, especially in rural areas.
The federal program, Connect2Compete (C2C) helps to provide K-12 students affordable internet and devices to students and families that qualify for the National School Lunch Program.C2C is offered in partnership with leading cable companies, including Cox, Bright House Networks, MediaCom, Suddenlink, Comcast’s internet Essentials and others. Eligible customers receive internet for as low as $9.95 per month (plus tax). Some districts have worked with local internet service providers to support home access. Others provide subsidies to families in the district to assist with the cost of access to the internet at home, while still others support and rely on other publicaly accessible institutions to provide access to the internet. While many commercial establishments such as coffee shops and restaurants do provide internet access, relying on them to provide internet access to students outside of school can raise a host of ethical problems.
Home access to broadband is arguably as important to the overall quality of a student’s learning experience as access at school—and it is a key strategy in extending learning time. Connected students are able to get homework help and submit their assignments online. They can use the connection to collaborate with fellow students after school, access research materials, develop multimedia projects, and use advanced features of digital textbooks. Without broadband in the home, device programs such as 1-to-1 can lose a great deal of their effectiveness. As the Digital Textbook Collaborative noted in its 2012 report, “Digital Textbook Playbook,
“While schools must be connected in order to create a successful digital learning environment, digital learning cannot only happen at school. To accomplish truly ubiquitous learning, students must be able to connect outside the school walls.”
In the National Broadband Plan, home access to a high-speed internet connection is described as “critical to maximizing utilization.”SETDA’s Broadband Imperative recommends:
“The federal government, states, and districts take responsibility for ensuring easy access to robust broadband connectivity outside of schools including, but not limited to, the home and publicly accessible institutions to libraries and community centers.”
Policies for Safety and Security
Providing broadband and Wi-Fi access to teachers and students requires addressing policies to help protect student privacy, to encourage digital citizenship and to support student safety. Schools implementing high access, digital learning environments should consider policies related to responsible/appropriate use of the network and devices.
Acceptable Use Policies
- Schools and districts typically implement acceptable use policies (AUP) for students, parents and faculty members that have access to school devices and/or the school- based software or broadband services to help ensure student safety and security and to help protect the school’s equipment and servers. AUPs vary based on school and district implementation programs, and should be customized based on the user groups. Each school or district should review annually current policies, templates and supporting documents related to device usage and management, broadband access and permissions and contact forms.
Below, are sample documents that may help to manage user expectations by establishing policies for responsible internet use examples:
- Greene Central High School in North Carolina sample acceptable use policy, signature page, and laptop consent form
- Fairfax County Virginia Acceptable Use Policy
- iPad Procedures: Lamoille UHS, Hyde Park, Vermont
- A Student-Centered Universal BYOT Policy Template For Schools
Three federal laws are crucial as a base for local policies on student data privacy and they also play a role in considerations for policies related to appropriate use of technology. Those federal laws are The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), and Children’s internet Protection Act (CIPA).
- The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. New regulatory changes for FERPA became effective on January 3, 2012. Among other things, the 2012 changes to FERPA expanded the requirements for written agreements and enforcement mechanisms to help ensure program effectiveness, promote effectiveness research, and increase accountability. In February 2014, additional guidance summarized the major requirements of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) that relate to educational services, and urges schools and districts to go beyond compliance to follow best practices for outsourcing school functions using online educational services, including computer software, mobile applications and web-based tools. The Department of Education has established a Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) within the National Center for Education Statistics, which serves as a “one-stop resource” for the P-20 education community on privacy, confidentiality, and data security. Since its launch the center has developed a PTAC Toolkit that provides resources on data sharing, security best practices, and other relevant topics.
- Congress enacted COPPA in 1998. Most recently, it was amended in December 2012 to take effect on July 1, 2013. The goal of COPPA is to put parents in charge of what information may be collected online about their children under the age of 13. The rule applies to operators of commercial websites and online services (including mobile apps). COPPA allows schools to act as “intermediaries” between website operators and parents in providing consent for the collection of personal information in the school context. For example, when a district contracts with a vendor for homework help, individualized education modules, online research and organizational tools, or web-based testing services, the vendor doesn’t have to obtain consent directly from the parent; the school is authorized to speak on behalf of the student. However, the Bureau of Consumer Protection Business Center also advises schools to inform parents of its practices in their acceptable use policy. When student use of a web service extends beyond school activities, the center adds, the school “should carefully consider whether it has effectively notified parents of its intent to allow children to participate in such online activities.”
- Schools with E-Rate funding must enforce a policy of internet safety and certify that they are enforcing a policy of internet safety that includes measures to block or filter internet access for both minors and adults to certain visual depictions. CIPA requirements include maintaining an internet Safety Policy, a Technology Protection Measure and a public notice or hearing. A technology protection measure is a specific technology that blocks or filters internet access. The school or library must enforce the operation of the technology protection measure during the use of its computers with internet access, although an administrator, supervisor, or other person authorized by the authority with responsibility for administration of the school or library may disable the technology protection measure during use by an adult to enable access for bona fide research or other lawful purpose.