It's been three years since President Obama launched the ConnectED initiative, calling for 99 percent of students to have access to high-speed Internet by 2018. In that time, a lot has changed, but there's still work left to be done, particularly with providing Internet access to students at home.
On ConnectED Day, Tuesday, Sept. 13, education leaders connected in live-streamed conversations and Twitter chats to commemorate the anniversary by looking backward to track the initiative's progress and forward to see what needs to happen next. A year into the start of the initiative, 30 percent of school districts that served 4 million students offered high-speed Internet access at 100 kilobits per second for each student, according to the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway. In its 2015 State of the States report, EducationSuperHighway found major progress in this area with 77 percent of districts connected at high speeds.
This progress can be attributed in part to $2 billion in dedicated Wi-Fi funding through the E-rate program governed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that provides needs-based service discounts to school districts. At the same time, the median cost of Internet access dropped by half to $11 for each megabit per second, and states and districts invested more in Internet, the report found.
But top leaders said that while this progress is encouraging, the nation has more work left to do so that all students and their parents will be able to access learning opportunities and engage with the school online from home.
"We must ensure every child every day has the opportunity to learn in their homes and at school 24/7 around the clock so they have a better tomorrow," said Valerie Truesdale, chief of technology, personalization and engagement at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina.
Ultimately it's only fair to make sure every student has an opportunity to access the Internet at home, said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. Soon, the FCC plans to figure out if the E-rate statute will be able to provide discounts on Wi-Fi for school buses, which would help students do their homework while traveling and in their neighborhoods if the district parks a bus nearby.
Along with Wi-Fi on school buses, districts are working with local businesses, government, philanthropic organizations, faith-based groups and others to check out Wi-Fi hot spots to students and provide spaces where students can access Wi-Fi nearby, designated by a sticker in the window.
"That decal tells every student, 'We care about you, we care about you getting your homework done," Rosenworcel said.