If you're reading this, you're connected to the Internet.
It's a connection many people take for granted in the age of tablets, smartphones and Wi-Fi-enabled televisions. Users expect Web pages to load swiftly and videos to stream seamlessly.
A strong digital connection is a luxury not found in most high schools, though. In fact, 72 percent of U.S. public schools lack the broadband connection needed to sustain digital learning, according to EducationSuperHighway, a nonprofit group.
But tech giants Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are hoping to reduce that percentage. Startup:Education, a foundation started by Zuckerberg, the Gates Foundation and a handful of other organizations are injecting $9 million in funding to help schools get up to speed digitally, EducationSuperHighway announced last week.
"When schools and teachers have access to reliable Internet connections, students can discover new skills and ideas beyond the classroom," Zuckerberg said in a statement. "The future of our economy and society depend largely on the next generation using and building new online tools and services."
[Learn about connectivity challenges at rural schools.]
To support initiatives such as one-to-one laptop programs, bring-your-own device policies and perhaps most importantly, online assessments ushered in under the Common Core State Standards, the State Educational Technology Directors Association recommended last year that schools have a minimum Internet connection of 100 megabits per second for every 1,000 students.
Broadband connectivity is not the only investment school districts need to make to prepare for online Common Core assessments by the 2014-2015 school year, though.
"District leaders are going to have to assess their bandwidth capabilities, their operating systems, the speed and number of machines required for testing, the quality and coverage of their wireless network, and both student and faculty familiarity with software and the digital testing environment," Andrew Dyrli Hermeling wrote in a March 2013 article for District Administration, an industry publication.
[Read more about technology in the classroom.]
Meeting minimum technology requirements means already cashed-strapped districts need to fork over some serious dough.
Harford County Public Schools in Maryland budgeted $18.5 million in technology expenses to implement the Common Core exam, according to reports. The district cut staff positions and canceled planned teacher raises during budget negotiations over the summer, the Baltimore Sun notes.
The Arizona School Boards Association estimates the hardware, software and network upgrades required to administer the online Common Core assessments will cost $230.2 million statewide.
[Discover why standards aren't a top concern for parents.]
School districts should not settle for meeting minimum requirements, though, says Digital Learning Now!, an advocacy campaign managed by a nonprofit group founded by former Florida governor Jeb Bush.
"Minimum requirements are just that – the bare minimum technical specifications needed for the technology to work," the group noted in a January 2013 report. "It is critical that districts not plan for the minimum, but for what is needed to deliver a high-quality learning and assessment experience for students and teachers."
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