Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S4
EDUCATION WEEK n
April 15, 2015
Blended Learning: Breaking Down Barriers > www.edweek.org/go/blended-barriers
District Establishes Wi-Fi
In Local Community
By Michelle R. Davis
ear the Ping-Pong and foosball tables, just steps from the
gymnasium, where the sounds of bouncing basketballs echo
down the hall, a strange contraption sits against the west
wall of the Birch Creek Youth Center.
It looks like a cross between an old-school video-arcade
console and a modern-day atm-but it's actually a kiosk
placed in the recreation hub by the Kent school district.
The kiosk emits free Wi-Fi in a 75-foot radius and features a 42-inch
led screen up top to display the latest district news. For many students
who live in nearby public housing and go to school in the surrounding
27,400-student school system, the kiosk acts as a bridge between the
digital connectivity they have through laptops and other devices at
school and the lack of Internet access they cope with at home.
The Kent district has placed nine kiosks across the community, in three
community centers and six district schools, and has coordinated with
local businesses and organizations to establish a network of school-sponsored
Wi-Fi hotspots. The district has used donations and partnerships to
help defray some of the costs associated with the $6,500 kiosks.
The idea is to make it easier for students, particularly those living
in poverty, to access the Web away from school for homework and research
after school hours. It's a goal shared by numerous school systems
around the country, which have taken myriad approaches to boosting
connectivity outside the classroom.
In addition to beaming free Wi-Fi, the Kent kiosks feature multiple
languages for interaction and allow parents who don't have their own
computers to log onto the district's student information system, Skyward
Family Access. The system provides them with a link to student
grades, assignments, and the ability to communicate with teachers and
other school officials.
In Kent, located just south of Seattle, the kiosks are also part of a
broader effort to use technology to build stronger ties with students
and parents, many of whom live in poverty and lack English language
skills, said Thuan Nguyen, the chief information and digital strategy
officer for the school system.
"More technology than ever is embedded in the instructional process,"
Mr. Nguyen said. "Making sure students have connectivity is
more critical than ever."
As K-12 districts become increasingly reliant on lessons that require
technology, district leaders and policymakers have become
increasingly concerned about many students' inability to get online
outside the classroom.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, seven out of 10
teachers assign homework that requires high-speed Internet access, yet
in some communities, only 1 in 3 students can access the Web at home.
More discouragingly, few districts appear to be making strides toward
closing those gaps. A survey released last year by the Washington-based
Consortium for School Networking found that 82 percent
of school systems do not provide any off-campus broadband services
to students. Only 10 percent of districts had identified community or
business Wi-Fi hotspots for students, and an equally low number reported
partnerships with Internet providers for low-cost home access.
While many advocates of increasing students' Internet access applaud
initiatives like those underway in Kent, they also see limits to
those programs' reach. Individual district efforts tend to address the
lack of connectivity in relatively limited ways, said Evan C. Marwell,
the ceo of EducationSuperHighway, a San Francisco-based nonprofit
that tries to improve Web infrastructure in schools.
"To solve this problem, we're going to have to do things at scale," Mr.
Homework Goes Online
On a recent March day, Deepeka Taya, a senior at Kentlake High School,
was catching up on her homework using her school-issued laptop and the
free Wi-Fi provided by the district kiosk at the Birch Creek Youth Center.
During her first two years of high school, the teenager had no Internet
access in her home, located in the King County Housing Authority, so she
spent a lot of time going online at the community center. Now, she said,
her family has a home connection, but it's slow, so she's often drawn to
the Wi-Fi kiosk, where connectivity comes at a much faster clip.
Ms. Taya's parents have also used the kiosk to access the district's
Skyward program to track her academic progress, she said.
"Most of our assignments are online," she said. "If I didn't have the
Internet after school, or had problems getting it, it would be hard."
The Kent district is just one of many K-12 systems that have taken
creative steps aimed at closing the connectivity gap.
The Coachella Valley district in California, which has equipped school
buses with Wi-Fi, parks one of those vehicles in a trailer park at night
to provide Internet to students after hours. The Albemarle, Va., district
is building its own broadband network with the goal of connecting directly
to students' homes in rural areas. Other districts allow students
to check out hotspots from school libraries.
Many districts work closely with Internet providers. Comcast's Internet
Essentials program, for example, offers online access to qualifying families
in its service area for $9.95 per month. Since 2011, Comcast says it has connected
350,000 families through the program in 39 states and the District
As Kent expanded its use of technology over time, officials became
determined to move aggressively to help students and families make
Watch students and a
community official in Kent,
Wash., talk about Wi-Fi
hotspots that have been
set up throughout the
K-12 System Loans Hotspots for Connectivity
Green Bay, Wis.
By Michelle R. Davis
t Washington Middle School in Green Bay, Wis.,
library media specialist Kristin Brouchoud has
11 mobile Wi-Fi hotspot devices to lend to students
who want to take the Internet home with
them. One recent day, they were all checked out.
The devices are part of a districtwide experiment to
make sure that students have handy access to the Internet
outside of school hours for homework or research. In past
years, students without home service might have had to
seek out a coffee shop, a McDonald's, or a library or community
center to do their online work. But the 22,000-student
district is quietly trying a new approach this year.
"A lot of our teachers have changed the way they teach,
and their lessons are all digital," Ms. Brouchoud said. "It's
important for us to provide that service so we're not giving
some students an advantage while others are at a
Students can take home those hotspots-a Kajeet
MiFi device-for short-term and long-term use. Each
of the district's 10 secondary schools have up to 25
Kajeets, which are often paired with netbooks to be
Sixty percent of the district's students qualify for free
or reduced-price lunch, and there are many families
that don't have high-speed Internet access, or a device,
at home, said Diane Doersch, the district's chief technology
and information officer.
The district does not have a 1-to-1 device program,
but it generally has about one device for every 1.5
students, Ms. Brouchoud said. "We are very sensitive
about saying you must do this kind of (online) work at
home," she said. "We know we have families that don't
have that access and we don't have enough devices for
Cost is an issue for families. To bridge the gap, the district
has invested in about 200 Kajeet MiFI devices and the data
to use them, at a cost of about $20,000, Ms. Doersch said.
The Kajeet devices attach to Sprint or Verizon networks
and have automatic filters and settings that a district can
keep or customize, said Linda Kerr, the director of marketing
for McLean, Va.-based Kajeet. For example, some
districts allow students to access sites like YouTube and
social networking, while others don't. Each device costs
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report
District Establishes Wi-Fi In Local Community
K-12 System Loans Hotspots For Connectivity
Businesses Sign Up To Give Students Online Access After School Hours
On the Road: Wi-Fi Access on Wheels
Districts Weigh Control Over Software Buying
Centralized Purchasing Brings Rewards for D.C.
District Allows Schools To Lead on Buying
Research Uneven, Tough To Interpret
Behind a Looking Glass: Teachers Help Peers Master Technology
A Charter School Designed For Ed Tech
Librarians Adopt New Role: Guiding Blended Learning, District Tech Efforts
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S2
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Contents
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - K-12 System Loans Hotspots For Connectivity
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Businesses Sign Up To Give Students Online Access After School Hours
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - On the Road: Wi-Fi Access on Wheels
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S7
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Districts Weigh Control Over Software Buying
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S9
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - District Allows Schools To Lead on Buying
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S11
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Research Uneven, Tough To Interpret
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S13
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S14
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S15
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Behind a Looking Glass: Teachers Help Peers Master Technology
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S17
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S18
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S19
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - A Charter School Designed For Ed Tech
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S21
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S22
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S23
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - Librarians Adopt New Role: Guiding Blended Learning, District Tech Efforts
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S25
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S26
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S27
Education Week - April 15, 2015 - Special Report - S28