Commit to the bandwidth
Ohio’s schools are coming to the moment of truth about curriculum and testing requirements and the capacity of their electronic networks to handle the technology demands.
Early in the 1990s, Ohio launched a statewide project, the SchoolNet program, to wire and to provide computers for public classrooms. That was when desktop computers were the cutting edge of educational technology. The goal was that by 2005, classrooms would have the capacity to handle one computer for every five students. Consider what schools and students are expected to do, and that goal sounds laughable now. Developments in computer technology — smartphones, tablets and other pocket-size devices — are capable of transmitting and receiving vast amounts of text, video and audio files at very high speed.
Increasingly, teaching, learning and administrative functions are web-based, requiring reliable access to the Internet. As part of implementing the Common Core curriculum, testing in Ohio public schools will be conducted online, a process that will require a huge bandwidth to enable hundreds of students at a time to take the tests.
Yet many districts rely for Internet access and digital services on outdated networks designed for a few students working on even fewer computers. As the Columbus Dispatch reported recently, in about one-third of Ohio school districts, Internet access last year was slower than a standard home cable deal provided.
Upgrades that eventually would double the current capacity of the Akron Public Schools network, for instance, are expected to cost nearly $4 million this year. Of growing concern as testing and other school functions migrate online, the necessary statewide investment seems lacking to upgrade the wiring, connections and speed for school networks. Districts are on their own, essentially, to bring their systems up to date, with little available from the state in the form of grants. To make the most of the electronic revolution, Ohio needs a funding commitment equivalent to what it has made in rebuilding schools.