Arne Duncan Calls Slow School Internet 'Morally Unacceptable'

The Secretary of Education wants school systems to have networks with broadband speeds up to 120 mbps.

(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Education Secretary Arne Duncan (L) and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (R) read the Dr. Seuss book 'Green Eggs and Ham' to students enrolled in a Head Start program.

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Secretary of Education Arne Duncan asked cable companies to help boost technology in America's classrooms Wednesday, telling corporate officials slow internet speeds in schools are hurting kids in the classroom.

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"Most schools have about as much Internet bandwidth as your house," Duncan said during a conference in Washington, D.C. "We are denying are teachers and students the tools they need to be successful. That is educationally unsound and morally unacceptable."

Speaking at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association's 2013 Cable Show, Duncan called on the industry to help accelerate a number of technological upgrades for classrooms, including moving textbooks from print to digital, creating more preschool programs and upgrading school networks to support broadband speeds up to 120 mbps.

Duncan's appeal comes less than a week after President Barack Obama announced his ConnectED initiative, a plan to wire 99 percent of America's students to high speed broadband and wireless networks within five years.

Duncan said that current connectivity rates pale in comparison to other countries around the world. He noted that every classroom in South Korea has been fitted with broadband access, while the U.S. rate sits around 20 percent. He also said that in order for students and educators to fully harness emerging technologies, the U.S. would need speeds of 1.5 mbps per student, 45 mbps per classroom and 120 mbps per school system. According to Duncan, school systems currently average around 15 mbps.

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"The status quo is bad for children, bad for families, bad for communities and ultimately bad for our nation's economy," Duncan said.

After his address, Duncan was joined by a panel of cable executives, education entrepreneurs and teachers to discuss how the cable industry can continue to help classrooms innovate and introduce new ways of learning.

"Solving the problems of education [in the U.S.] are not just one-offs," said David Cohen, Executive Vice President of Comcast. "You cant just attack one piece of this problem and expect to make a difference."

Cohen and Duncan highlighted how access to digital textbooks allows for more "vibrant and understandable" lesson plans that ultimately allow school systems to save money. "What's fascinating to me is that we are still spending $7, $8, $9 billion a year on textbooks. Beyond that, we have states that are on seven-year textbook adoption cycles," Duncan said. "We know information is changing by the minute, so the fact that we are spending so much money on something that is so outdated makes no sense to me whatsoever."

Comcast's Cohen said digital textbooks are "a place where we as a cable industry can participate in this revolution."

John Danner, the co-founder of Rocketship Education, an elementary charter school company, says technological advancements have presented classrooms with affordable, cutting-edge teaching tools that were too expensive for school systems five years ago.

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"So many things have happened over the last several years that have blown those barriers down, that the cable industry has done to have very, very affordable programs," Danner said.

Valyncia Hawkins, a teacher at Anne Beers Elementary School in Washington, D.C., said broadband access has changed the dynamic in her classroom.

"Our role has changed, we're no longer teachers, we are facilitators for the learning," Hawkins said. "Having broadband in the classroom, learning has actually become quite reciprocal. While I'm teaching my students, they are also teaching me."

Danner also said that any upgrades the cable industry assists with will have an impact far behind the classroom.

"The most important thing about getting families connected is that you unlock to potential for parents to help their children," Danner said.

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