High-speed learning is good. But we’re not there yet.

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America’s schools are more connected than ever.

That’s according to the second annual State of the States report on school internet access released by Education Superhighway, a connectivity advocacy group.

According to the report, more than 10 million students were connected to high-speed internet in 2016. That’s a huge jump compared with 2015, and it shows that states are prioritizing connectivity to enhance student learning.

But there’s still a long way to go.

As digital tools become a centerpiece of classroom learning, schools need to get on the bandwidth bandwagon, or risk allowing students to fall behind.

Here are key findings—good and bad—from the report, along with a few steps schools can take to increase access to high-speed digital learning.

Making real progress

More students are connected than ever

The FCC minimum threshold for high-speed internet is 100 kbps per student. In 2016, 10.4 million students gained access to this level of connectivity through state and local efforts and help from the federal e-rate program. In total, nearly 35 million students are now connected across the country.

We’re close to 100% district connectivity

Eight-eight percent of school districts now have broadband access, according to the report. That’s nearly double the rate of connectivity from 2013. With that amount of progress in such a short time, it’s not hard to imagine that 100 percent of school districts will be fully connected within the next few years. But it’ll take a serious commitment on the part of both states and school districts to achieve that goal.

While connection speeds have increased, costs have stayed the same

Forty-two percent of school districts upgraded broadband capabilities in 2016. Many districts were able to achieve three times their bandwidth speed for less than a 7 percent increase in cost.

Overall, districts are spending the same amount per student on connectivity as they did in 2015. This is due, in part, to technological improvements made by service providers who offer better access at the same or lower costs.

A long way to go

Despite the amazing strides K12 schools have made in connectivity, the report finds that many students are still struggling for access.

Too many students still aren’t connected

Nearly 19,000 schools still don’t have high-speed internet, says Education Superhighway. That equates to 11.6 million students without access to the newest digital learning programs and tools.

Cost is still a roadblock for connectivity in many districts

Unsurprisingly, where broadband costs are high, districts are less likely to be connected. Districts that fall short of the FCC’s 100 kbps per-student minimum pay 2.5 times more for bandwidth than schools with higher-speed access.

What districts can do

If your school or district is struggling to provide high-speed connectivity, or is looking to upgrade its network for better results, here’s a few important steps you should take:

  1. Determine your connectivity needs
    Make sure you know exactly what your bandwidth needs are. And don’t forget to think about the future. Try to project what your needs will look like in five, 10, or 20 years. Your community should be an important part of these conversations.
  2. Do your homework
    It’s up to you and your team to understand what network upgrades will cost and how long they’ll take to implement. As with any big technology purchase, make sure you’ve done your homework before diving into negotiations. Also, know what local, state, or federal programs are available to help fund your connectivity project.
  3. Adapt your plans
    Education Superhighway says districts shouldn’t be afraid of changing their connectivity agreements mid-contract. You might find that your needs change sooner than you expected. That’s OK. Just make sure any changes you make are made with your students and their needs in mind.

Does your district have high-speed broadband connectivity? If not, what are you doing to change that? Tell us in the comments.

For more on connecting your districts, read We’re still chasing the broadband dream.

About the Author

Todd Kominiak
Todd is Managing Editor of TrustED. Email: tkominiak@k12insight.com.

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