The nation’s school districts are largely meeting the Federal Communications Commission’s short-term goals for broadband connectivity, but progress toward long-term goals is hampered by the recurring costs of their efforts to increase connectivity, the Consortium for School Networking’s (CoSN) 5th annual school-infrastructure survey revealed.
Collecting feedback from 445 large, small, urban and rural districts across the United States, CoSN found that 85 percent of K-12 school districts have achieved the FCC’s short-term goal for broadband connectivity of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students. Still, researchers noted, there remain districts — about 4 percent — where none of the schools have met that goal.
With regard to the commission’s long-term objective of 1 Gbps per 1,000 students, progress is slower, the survey found. Some 53 percent of districts reported that none of their schools have achieved that goal. Meanwhile, 47 percent said that “at least some” schools in the district have reached the long-term goal, with just 16 percent saying all of their schools have reached it.
“There have been impressive connectivity gains in school districts nationwide,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN. “But progress must continue. …To achieve modern learning experiences and achievement for all students, districts need steady, long-term investments in broadband connectivity.”
However, Krueger said that “ongoing expenses remain a big challenge for schools.” Indeed, the key factor keeping 61 percent of districts from reaching broadband goals is the cost of funding, the survey found. Within that 61 percent, the majority (55 percent) cited the cost of monthly recurring expenses as the primary factor.
Cost as a barrier is not new. Districts have named cost as the principal hurdle to connectivity goals since the first CoSN survey five years ago. However, this year’s 61 percent figure shows “some modest improvement” over 2016’s 65 percent, researchers pointed out. And there is another reason for optimism, they said: a higher percentage of respondents indicated they have “no major obstacles” to meeting the goals — 25 percent this year compared to 18 percent in 2016.
Krueger indicated that the cost barrier to meeting FCC goals is problematic. As schools move toward more personalized, cloud-based learning settings, increased broadband will be essential, he said.
To be sure, software as a service (SaaS) is a widely accepted practice among school districts, with 94 percent of survey respondents reporting that they use some type of cloud-based software system. Among those districts, 66 percent use a cloud-based learning management system (LMS). Among survey participants that have a cloud LMS, 27 percent have moved to the cloud and 39 percent were “always in the cloud.” Another 14 percent are planning to move to a cloud LMS in the future.
Student information systems (SIS) were the No. 2 cloud-based application, with nearly half of districts (47 percent) reporting the use of cloud SIS. Storage came in third as a currently deployed cloud-based service at 34 percent, although another 34 percent planned to move to cloud storage, the survey showed.
An overwhelming 82 percent identified “avoiding time-intensive installation and software maintenance” as the top reason for moving to the cloud, followed by potential cost savings with 62 percent agreement.
Among other findings, 25 percent of respondents receive an E-rate discount of 80 to 89 percent; devices continue to proliferate across all levels of school, with continued progress on one-to-one policies or better learning environments; and the majority of school districts (52 percent) say they are either “very proactive” or “proactive” when it comes to network security, compared to 42 percent in last year’s survey.
The report, released this week, was conducted in partnership with AASA/the School Superintendants Association, education marketing firm MDR and Forecast5 Analytics.