More schools are online than ever before – but it’s far from perfect

Latest CoSN survey measures how far technology has spread
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To take full advantage of all the internet has to offer, schools need to have reliable, speedy connections.

When teachers don’t know if a program will crash midway through class – or work at all – they are often hesitant to use online programs to enhance lessons.

In 2013, before a massive federal push to fund and support school internet upgrades, just 19 percent of public districts in the United States reported that all their schools had a speedy internet connection, according to a new report from the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), a nonprofit membership organization for school technology professionals. Today, 68 percent of districts say they meet that benchmark – a major increase that reveals just how many schools now see the value in improved internet connections.

The best teachers know how to improvise – or, better yet, teach students a lesson about fixing mistakes – but failing internet connections are not ideal as an everyday occurrence. And it’s not just about wired connections. A cart full of student devices is of little use if the school lacks WiFi. Among high schools, only 6 percent nationwide now report that they lack WiFi, according to the CoSN report.

Some say technology can help teachers create lessons that are tailored to fit each child. (Is technology necessary to personalize learning? A new story in The Hechinger Report asks and answers that question.) Beyond that, the internet gives students and teachers access to a wide variety of tools. But even the best online program is not a panacea, of course. Speedy internet service and expensive computers can’t replace teachers, research shows.

Even though more schools are online, leaders say they will need more modern connections in the coming years to keep up with the pace of technological advancement. Nearly 60 percent of school leaders surveyed by CoSN said ongoing costs remain a major challenge.

“The good news is districts are making real progress in supporting modern technology infrastructure,” Keith Krueger, the CEO of CoSN, said in a statement. “However, it remains clear that more work and investment are needed over the long run to address the digital equity challenge of today and provide robust broadband connectivity for all students in and outside of school.”

Helping schools find affordable internet providers – and ensuring the school district is paying a fair rate – has been an area of interest for industry and education leaders alike.

The Education SuperHighway, a nonprofit organization with major funding from the founder of Facebook, has build a database intended to help schools compare costs with other districts. It’s also providing support to districts and states – New Hampshire, for instance – to build robust school internet networks.

And the Technology for Education Consortium, announced earlier this year at the SXSWedu conference in Austin, Texas, has vowed to help schools price-shop for hardware like computers and tablets.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about Blended Learning.

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