In June 2013, President Obama unveiled his ConnectED Initiative. The objective of this program is to provide broadband Internet connectivity to 99 percent of U.S. students within five years. According to a White House press release, only 20% of teachers feel their classrooms have the Internet connectivity to meet their teaching needs.
The Economic Divide
Although the president has kicked off this initiative no additional funds have been earmarked to make this happen. Instead the president has directed the federal government to make better use of existing funds to get Internet into more classrooms.
Gerald Mann, director of Middle School Instruction for Alexandria, VA., spoke about unfunded mandates:
“I think it’s part of education, unfunded mandates,” he said. “No Child Left Behind was an unfunded mandate. In education you kind of get used to the “Thou Shalt,” but there is no money behind that.”
Reallocating existing funds may not be the best strategy. According to a 2013 report from eSchoolnews.com, 74 percent of respondents said their technology budgets are smaller now than they were five years ago.“When the economy took a hit you get less state money and counties are giving less,” Mann said. “The student population across Northern Virginia is increasing, but budgets aren’t keeping pace. So as school systems look for places to save money, you look at people versus equipment and that’s where technology budgets start to shrink.”
As a result of the shrinking budget, schools are rethinking rules against students bringing their own devices. Students who do have a tablet of computer will increase the need for bandwidth. However, only 15 percent of school officials reported having enough connectivity to meet even current needs. To address this problem the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) reports it has already spent over $4 billion, resulting in 10,000 schools in 44 states receiving or upgrading broadband access.
Another surprising issue is the problem of teachers unable to use technology. According to Mann, in the state of Virginia, there is no standard for teaching with technology. When asked if teachers are properly trained to use the technology, he answered flatly, “No.”
“What I found was that teachers who did not use a smartphone or weren’t constantly using some kind of device were a little weary of using it,” he added.
Students without home Internet are not exactly being left behind. Many of these students have smartphones which allow them to access the Internet. According to Mann, some devices are more powerful than a cheap computer. However, he states that there is a “big difference between knowing how to operate a smartphone and knowing how to create a PowerPoint presentation.”Mann disagrees that students are at a disadvantage when they don’t have computers or Internet at home. He believes that students get enough experience at school with computers to be able to apply for jobs and perform other tasks online.
The cost of Internet connectivity and computers is the biggest problem. A recent report by the NTIA showed 26 percent of respondents do not have Internet at home because they can’t afford it and 13 percent say they do not have a computer. On average, this group earned less than $25,000 annually.
Some schools have programs that issue laptops to students each school year. According to Mann, every high school student in the city of Alexandria is provided a laptop.
The County of Henrico, Virginia is also providing computers to its students. It has placed an order for 23,000 Dell laptop computers — enough computers for every high school and middle school teacher and student. The school district is also moving away from printed texts to digital textbook.
But, other school districts in the nation lag behind in adopting new technology. In 2012 Bronzeville Scholastic Institute in Chicago had only 24 computers to share among nearly a thousand students. Spending on school technology varies wildly from state to state, district to district, and even school to school. At Deerfield Public School District 109 outside of Chicago, 2,000 computers are provided for 3,100 students.
The Racial and Geographical Divide
According to Larry Irving of the NTIA, the digital divide is really a “racial ravine.” Irving points out that African-American and Hispanic households are only “40 percent as likely to have home Internet access as white households.” While almost all schools have Internet access, the number of students without it in their homes is a growing concern especially in minority homes.
U.S. Census data indicates that while 76 percent of white households had Internet only 58 percent of Hispanic homes had Internet and 56 percent of African-American homes had it.Black and Hispanics are not the only group caught on the wrong side of the divide. Native Americans are also greatly disadvantaged. According to Evans Craig of the Albuquerque High Performance Computing Center in New Mexico, only about one fourth of the homes on Indian reservations have basic telephone service.
Rural areas also find themselves lacking access to the Internet. According to the NTIA, people living in urban areas are 50 percent more likely to have Internet access than those living in rural areas.
Director of Instruction for Tunxis Community-Technical College in Connecticut, Dr. Margi Winters believes the digital divide may simply be a matter of choice.
“It’s my observation that it is a values divide,”she said.
Educator Sarah Phinney agrees:
“I don’t believe simply giving people computers is a very efficient way of closing the gap. Sure, this gets a computer in the home at someone else’s expense, but it does not address a person’s attitudes toward computers. You can give a person a computer, but if they do not see its value in their life and do not know how to operate it, chances are good that they will sell the computer to produce cash– something that everyone sees a personal value in.”
President Obama has requested $71 billion for discretionary spending in his 2014 education budget. Some of that money will go to the Federal Communications Commission Schools and Libraries Program (E-Rate). The program ensures schools and libraries can obtain telecommunications equipment, including high speed Internet at steeply discounted prices.
The 2014 budget for the program is $2.38 billion, but FCC officials say that demand is more than twice that amount. In 1997, when the E-Rate fund was created, only 14 percent of schools had Internet access. That number has risen to 95 percent.
E-Rate is a public and private partnership that is indicative of the kind of effort it will take to bridge the gap. Many companies are working to get Internet connectivity to poor and under-served communities.
Comcast recently announced it is going into the third year of its Internet Essentials program. The program has so far connected more than 900,000 low income Americans with an in-home Internet connection. However, just providing an Internet connection is not enough. The program has also provided 18,000 computers at a low cost.
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We have been a tireless advocate for more programs to help Americans cross the digital divide. Comcast has garnered many kudos for its Internet Essentials program that "may" give $9.95 a month access to households that have a child on the national free lunch program in their school. But in reality, it serves more as a PR event for them than an aid to the poor. With Comcast's footprint in 39 states and access to about 50 million households, they've only approved Internet Essentials to about a quarter million homes. The problem is that existing Comcast cable customers are not allowed to obtain access. The program serves mostly as new customer acquisition (someday they will raise the prices on them) program and a great public relations avenue.
I'd like to see a program available that did not have as many preconditions as Internet Essentials (and CenturyLink's Internet Basics) have. The FCC is completing it's pilot program that expands the Lifeline program (free government cell phone) program we are calling Lifeline Internet to include broadband access, and we'll see where this goes this year.
No child left behind is part of the dumbing down of America. Pass them regardless of ability and teach them they are entitled and it's not their fault they never opened a book. They should still be entitled to the same pay and positions as those that can read and right because of their color and not performance.
Education, from a family of educators... is broken, we do not allow schools and teachers to actually teach, mandates do nothing but set a status quo for every student, equal opportunity does not denote equal results. What is a better approach? Let me start with education geared towards the student's aptitude, music, history, mathematics, language arts, art, body shop, woodworking, metalworking, animal/agriculture care, these are all viable and needed in the field of education. Drilling concepts deemed "core content" just to justify funding based on artificial test scores that show only how well and long a child can be tested until they fail is failing our children ( I have 2 school age children and one that is 2,). What we need to do is to have aptitude based education and free up school choice to the parents.
I believe we need to get common core out of our schools and go back to teaching instead of brainwashing
Perhaps mandates--whether funded or not--should not exist. Congress isn't empowered by the Constitution to create them, nor are any of the nauseating bureaucracies Congress has created as a means to sidestep their legislative responsibilities.
Right. This would put the untermench back in their places. I can hear 'em singin' in the fields now.....
Education is only a local issue if you want to privatize all schools and let business take over...and that is what the republicans who call for local control...to reject tax dollars...the small communities will not have money to build schools and pay teachers....and that is where Business will raise its ugly head....and only the rich will be able to educate their children...
"Johnny Ritchie". From your previous comment "Main courses like English, math, etc... can be all taught with a computer at home." Appears like you are one of the reasons unfunded "mandates" is happening....out of touch with the masses of today. How is that unfunded mandate. First it doesn't need any extra funds. It cost on average $12,000 per student to educate them in a public schools. Some places are much higher. A $500 computer per student, which many schools already have per student. Give each one a computer for home and learn then on can be practically free. You can already learn college courses for free. Apple has an App that's called "ITunes U", and you can learn any subject under the sun for free. Why do we keep paying teacher salaries to teach the same thing year after year, with the students just copying the info off the blackboard. It's a waste of time, money and man power. Just do a video and the student can watch it as many times as they wants, with computerized quizzes and tests with instant results.
Defund the Department of Education. Turn responsibility for education back to the states. Get the feds out of education. Let local districts set the school curriculum. Let students go to the best school and have their taxes follow them depriving crappy districts of wasted funding.
As long as racial/economic inequality exists education will suffer. Internet costs are inflated for corporate gains otherwise, television would still be free. Adobe has switched to "leasing" it's programs to you for use, another way to force people to pay endlessly for a product. Corporate Greed, pure and simple. All are going to pay for it eventually. Everything done to undermine minorities negatively effects the white peoples too.
Johnny Ritchie, The federal gov't should be limited to the powers granted to it by the 10th Amendment and no more. States should be soverigns to conduct their business in accordance with their individual constitutions. If that were the case things like Obamacare would never have occurred. Lobbyists would soon be eliminated if each state were exempted from federal policy and guided by their own elected legislatures.
What is your evidence? All States must comply with Federal guidelines or lose education dollars. Education has been centrally controlled for over 40 years under the Department of Education and Federal law\Regulation.
Johnny Ritchie you give a lot of reasons why everyone else's ideas won't work but offer up no solutions. Any ideas? We need solutions. If the current system is broken how do we fix it?
From your previous comment "Main courses like English, math, etc... can be all taught with a computer at home." Appears like you are one of the reasons unfunded "mandates" is happening....out of touch with the masses of today.
Two parent working families is a requirement for the majority of families today. Public Education is a requirement if we want our children educated vs dumb. Sounds like you are proposing to replace Public education with daycares....which would be a killer for our children and Nation.
The Lobbyist fighting for Mr. Corporations has much more greenbacks than the Education Lobbyists....Money!!!
Too many States solely work for the Lobbyists vs the masses. Slavery would still be legal in some states if the States ruled.
Too many States screw the millions of children and Teachers. That hurts the whole Nation when the children grow into dumb adults and the good Teachers quit for greener pastures.
I think it is how corporations keep stealing our tax money. The don't fund what people want, but do fund corporate welfare.
Don, human teachers are so 20th century education. We can teach all the kids with just computers faster, cheaper and better. And we can still have hands on things like shop class and cooking. Main courses like English, math, etc... can be all taught with a computer at home.
Yes, but some of the states are such spendaholics, that not only do they count on all the fees and fines that they can think of to burden us with, they wouldn't even think of thumbing their noses at the federal government. Even our counties have lobbyists (that we pay for in taxes) in our state government to get money.
Mandates itself funded or not is bad. It means someone at the top is dictating all of education. I'm a school board director.
Exactly … what do we have to lose? Really we should have been rejecting much of Federal government intrusion … for years we have been receiving back cents on the dollar from funds sent to them.
But another way of saying "mandate" is "minimum standard". If there are no minimum standards, schools and governments will often simply cut corners and not do what needs to be done. OTOH, with funding comes the purse strings of controls. Unfunded mandates are a damnable problems but one without an easy solution.
Education system is broken. We to stop with these mandatory programs and get back to some real education. Teaching higher level education at younger ages. Teach critical thinking, how to think not what to think. The amount of money we send to the Federal Government for subsidies, foreign aid and military spending could be held back at the State level. Use that money to build a education system like no other in the world.
As an elected official in a small WV county, we looked at technology and found a lot if inefficiency. All the city governments had high speed All the county facilities had high speed All the state agencies had high speed All the libraries had high speed. I could list dozens of others. Our proposal was to bring fiber trunks into 2 locations and then run networks for all facilities off of these hubs. The cost savings were more than half. It was squashed by the providers.
Hate to break it parents, but it is your job to make sure your kid isn't stupid. Luckily, we have the internet. Khanacademy.org is free, and the teacher is way more qualified than any teacher in your kids' school. And he can be paused, rewound, or skipped. And then Harvard, MIT, etc, offer many classes for free... So I love mandates. I hope they mandate trigonometry by 8th grade, calculus by 9th...
All mandates originating from Washington should be rejected. Education is a local issue best executed by local bodies.
@cheap_internet Cudos to you for trying to do something positive.