FASTER Arkansas: Beebe Gathers Education, Tech Leaders To Evaluate K-12 Internet Needs

by Jordan King  on Monday, Jul. 29, 2013 12:00 am  

A map of which K-12 schools are operating at bandwidth speeds of 100 megabits per second for every 1,000 students and staff members. Each dot represents a public school acting as a bandwidth distribution point for nearby educational facilities. (Photo by Source: Arkansas Department of Education)

The Arkansas Department of Education and some individual school districts, including Fort Smith, qualify for financial assistance for technology expenses, including bandwidth, through the federal E-Rate program. E-Rate is used by ADE to provide an average of 5 kilobits of bandwidth per second for each student in a district — a fraction of SETDA’s recommended bandwidth for 2014-15. This ADE bandwidth is distributed to districts for free through the Arkansas Public School Computer Network. Schools can then get reimbursement from E-Rate of 20 to 90 percent on additional bandwidth purchases, depending on the district’s poverty level.

Prior to E-Rate reimbursements, for instance, the Rogers School District currently pays $5,800 each month for 500 Mbps of bandwidth from Windstream Corp., according to Cris Carter, the district’s chief information officer. And, in the Common Core future, that’s not going to be enough. Rogers will need almost three times its current bandwidth to meet the SETDA recommendations; Fort Smith will need to add another 1,095 Mbps over the next year.

Gregory said he expects his district to meet the goal, but he says it is only a perceived need that is being met — not an actual one.

“The Internet is like money: the more you have, the more you’ll use,” Gregory said. He explained that the Internet should be considered supplemental and that a successful educational environment depends more on skilled teachers than technology.

QDLS Chairman Ed Franklin offered a similar maxim, but to the opposite effect. “If you don’t have a tool, then you’re not using it,” he said.

Franklin said that a combination of adequate broadband Internet access and faculty development could lead to a greater appreciation for a technologically advanced classroom.



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