On today's espisode of Connected Nation, we talk with those behind a new report on school connectivity in America that finds more than 23.5 million students lack adequate internet speeds for digital learning in every classroom, every day.
Find out how the newest data can be used to improve those numbers, how many school districts are already meeting or exceeding recommended bandwidth goals – AND why NOW is a critical time for more than 4-thousand school districts to upgrade.
Click here to read the 2022 School Connectivity report
Connect K-12 website - https://connectk12.org/
Additional free educational and digital litercy learning resources:
Teens Teach Tech - https://connectednation.org/teensteachtech
Achievery - https://www.theachievery.com/en?utm_source=Connected_Nation
Digital Literacy and Learning Program - https://connectednation.org/digital-literacy-workshops/
Digital Works - https://digitalworksjobs.org/
Jessica Denson, Host (00:07):
This is Connected Nation, an award-winning podcast focused on all things broadband from closing the digital divide to improving your internet speeds. We talk technology topics that impact all of us, our families, and our communities.
On today's podcast, we talk with those behind a new report on school connectivity in America that finds more than 23.5 million students lack adequate internet speeds for digital learning in every classroom, every day.
Find out how the newest data can be used to improve those numbers. How many school districts are already meeting or exceeding recommended bandwidth goals and why now is a critical time for more than 4,000 school districts to upgrade?
I'm Jessica Denson, and this is Connected Nation. I'm Jessica Denson, and today my guest star, Emily Jordan, who serves as the Vice President of Education Initiatives for Connected Nation. And Heather Huddleson, who is the director of program development, also with Connected Nation. Welcome ladies.
Emily Jordan, VP of Education Initiatives (01:07):
Thank you so much.
Jessica Denson, Host (01:09):
Emily Jordan, VP of Education Initiatives (01:09):
So much for having
Jessica Denson, Host (01:10):
Me. I'm excited to talk to you about this report today. Before we dive into it I'd like to give our listeners a little background on Connect K12 and the Connect k12.org website. What does it do and who is it for? Emily, I'd like you to take that first and break that down for us.
Emily Jordan, VP of Education Initiatives (01:27):
Absolutely. Thanks, Jess. So we have been working on the connected K-12 program for over two years now and we are in partnership with a national ERE consultant, Paul Funds for Learning. We were tasked with this work from another fellow non-profit education Super highway to continue their work to help give free a free resource to school district and state leaders giving them internet speed and pricing information. And this, it's, as I've said many times, and we want everyone to know it's a free tool. We use E-rate data and E-rate is a federal funding source for schools to get subsidies for their internet service and equipment. And we it aggregate, analyze and visualize that data so that it's better and it's easier to use at that school district or state leader level.
Jessica Denson, Host (02:12):
So for school district or state leader to actually access it. What is actually happening when they go in there? They just look up their school district and everything comes up. What are they getting from that?
Emily Jordan, VP of Education Initiatives (02:23):
So the site has national, state and district level pages. So if you're a school district leader, you can type in your school district and you'll see contract information costs speeds and all of that for your district and those around you. But if you're a state leader, you can go and see how your state is doing. And how many districts in your state are working towards the fcc, The Federal Communications Commission's long term goal of having one megabit per second per student in all K12 schools.
Jessica Denson, Host (02:49):
And why is having that data even important that kind of informs negotiations for new bill for contracts? Is that how they can use it?
Emily Jordan, VP of Education Initiatives (02:58):
Absolutely. I mean, as consumers of using the internet on a day to day basis, everybody has that kind of mystery of knowing, well, what's she paying, what I'm paying? And we just don't believe that school should have that guessing game. And so since they use their contracts to apply for the federal funding, it's open data so anyone can go access it, but it's just very clunky to go find it yourself. So it's easier to go on connect K12 and type it in and you can download all of this for free as full spreadsheet of all these spec metrics that will help inform kind of who the right provider might be and what the right kind of deals and rates you can get while you're applying to make an upgrades for your school network.
Jessica Denson, Host (03:37):
So really simplifying a very complicated set of data, right? Yes,
Emily Jordan, VP of Education Initiatives (03:42):
Jessica Denson, Host (03:43):
And Heather, I know that Emily leads the 12 program and other education initiatives within Connected Nation, but share what your role is within Connected Nation and some of those other programs that you guys work on together.
Heather Huddleston, Director, Program Development (03:56):
Yes, I work with Emily on Connect k12 and I work on a variety of other programs and including the three programs that we work with at and t on that really I think encapsulate the mission of our work at Connected Nation, which if you want to summarize in a statement is to close the digital divide. And so three of those programs that we are able to do because of our partnership with at and t. So the first one is called the Digital Literacy and Learning Program, and it's a collaboration with at and t and it is an in-person and virtual digital literacy training workshop program that we are running across the country and communities. And it's really for digital empowerment, and we're offering it in a variety of communities including military communities. And we're recording this here a couple of days before Veterans Day. So I'm proud to say that that's been a real focus here at Connected Nation, but we're doing it in a variety of ways in person online. And so that's the first of the programs.
Jessica Denson, Host (05:25):
When you talk about digital literacy and learning, you're talking about everything from learning the basics that many of us just take for granted, correct?
Heather Huddleston, Director, Program Development (05:32):
Yeah, that's exactly right. A lot of us really at this point take for granted the ways that technology is just integrated into our lives, but there's a huge divide between people who are comfortable with technology and have access to it and those who do not. And so what we're really trying to do is bring technology into the lives of those who don't have access to it and empower them with the tools to use it efficiently and effectively in their daily lives as well.
Jessica Denson, Host (06:04):
And what are the two other two programs? There's one with teens, correct? And another program that can help just a wide range of groups, correct?
Heather Huddleston, Director, Program Development (06:11):
Exactly, yes. So the second program that I get to work on, it's called Teens Teach Tech. And that's really a fun and cool program that gives teens the ability to get together in their school community or after school programs or something with an adult mentor. And we provide them all of the tools. We teach them how to do it, but they can teach people in their lives, grandparents or seniors in the community or others how to use technology. They can do it using TikTok or whatever the latest and greatest is. But yeah, it's a way for teams to show off their skills. So that's another really cool thing, and they can do it in a way that they do it within their school community or afterschool clubs or that kind of thing.
Jessica Denson, Host (07:15):
Awesome. And then there's also sheery, which is basically something that at and t has developed with different groups such as Disney and that type of thing that offers other training pieces. Correct. I will include links to all three of those programs in the description of this podcast. But let's shift now into what I promised you guys, which is a little bit about this connectivity report from K12 for CK 12. I'd like to break it down. The headline here from the report, from my understanding, Emily, is that 67% of US school districts now meet the federal communications commissions, internet connectivity, Benchmark E. Explain why that's significant and why that 67% mark is important.
Emily Jordan, VP of Education Initiatives (08:01):
Yeah, I mean, it's a great improvement. We kind of launched this program in the midst of covid, and so we kind of got the benefit of everyone recognizing that internet is essential now, it's not a nice to have, it's a must have for education. And so as I mentioned before, and you mentioned the FCC had placed a long term goal of having one megabit per second per student, which really just enables or ensures that your network is robust enough for all students to be using digital learning in their classrooms. So that 67% is up from last year it was 59% of districts, and that's districts nationwide, public school districts. But we're trying to achieve that a hundred percent. We want everybody to be able to have equitable learning everywhere, and that starts with having a great network to use all to use the internet.
Jessica Denson, Host (08:52):
Staying with you, Emily, another piece of that is the fact that the overall cost for those schools meeting the FCC goal, FCC goal rather, has really gone down overall versus those not meeting the goal. Can you expand upon that and why that's so important?
Emily Jordan, VP of Education Initiatives (09:06):
Sure. We've seen just in general, the cost of broadband is going down, so it doesn't need to be so diverse across the country anymore, but we're our data show that schools that are obtaining a higher bandwidth level to be able to make sure they have one megabit per second per student are just overall paying less. So this year it showed that was, it was 97 cents as a median cost for Meg for those districts that were meeting that goal. And that's the first time it's been under a dollar with that kind of metric and statistic. I think nationally it's closer to a dollar 19 as a median cost for the whole country, which is still great. You know, figure in 2015, those numbers were in the double digits of $11 per megabit roundabout. So it really shows that it's fiscally smart that school districts are using their E-rate dollars really prudently and making sure that they're getting the best rates and the best network for their teachers and students.
Jessica Denson, Host (10:04):
And this is really significant. I mentioned this in our tees for this show today more than 4,000 school districts nationwide have an opportunity that's, that really hits right now. Can you explain why it's that number and what's different about those school districts right now?
Emily Jordan, VP of Education Initiatives (10:20):
Sure. So just like, well, I guess we as consumers and households are a little different, but they basically have a contract term. So every time your contract term is ending, you then to be able to apply for the urate funding, you have to go through an rfp, a request for proposal process from service providers to get a new contract and to initiate a new terms for however many years, Maybe it's a year, maybe it's four years. And every state is a little different. There are states that have state networks where the state helps provide that with school districts, but there are school, there are states that have no one helping them. So every school district is out on the road. So that's kind of why Connect K12 exists to make sure that all of that information is out there so that the leaders feel empowered to say those district leaders at those 4,000 plus districts can say, Okay, well this is who I had last year and this is what options were available to other districts, and how can I make it better for me?
Jessica Denson, Host (11:15):
Fantastic. Heather let's come to you now. Could you focus on a few other key takeaways from this report? What are some critical data points that have been uncovered?
Heather Huddleston, Director, Program Development (11:26):
Sure, there, there's good news in the report. There are states that have achieved the goal, the FCC goal of one megabit per second per student. And those three states are Arkansas, Hawaii, and North Dakota. And so that's something to celebrate. And so 47 to go <laugh> <affirmative>, there are a number of states that are close and making progress. And so that, I think it's very important to make the data accessible, which is what this does. And it makes it very clear and it shows the progress and it shows what needs to be done. And I think that that's what makes this report so useful. It's something that we hear time and time again from district and state leaders that they really utilize. And so we're very proud of that. There's there's a state, South Carolina that we'd like to point out, they made the biggest leap in the number of districts, meaning the goal it was 42%. And so that's progress. They'll sure that they'll be proud of that. Georgia was next down the line and then Wyoming. So there are states that are really making progress.
Jessica Denson, Host (12:58):
So when you say they make the most significant leap, you're saying that they have increased the number of districts that are meeting that goal, that SCC goal, correct? Yes. This is not just about classroom connectivity, correct? There's a part of this that impacts home. Is that right, Emily?
Emily Jordan, VP of Education Initiatives (13:17):
Well, so the report itself is specifically our data is around the school building connectivity, but the digital divide and the learner experience now also includes the home, as we know. So during Covid, all of these devices were deployed and sent out, but now schools, kids are back in schools and all those devices came back with them. And so our school networks have to be they're taking on more of the burden of what capacity they have because just because they started using something in covid, they're not gonna stop. We've got a breadth of new resources and online platforms, like we mentioned earlier that school that need to be supported by the school networks.
Jessica Denson, Host (13:54):
Emily, what are other takeaways from this report that school district and state leaders should really be considering?
Emily Jordan, VP of Education Initiatives (14:01):
I think it's just an awareness and an empowerment tool at the crux of it, At the heart of it, like I said, there's national and state level metrics that every state now is deploying a designated person to be paying attention to their broadband and helping to close the digital divide for everyone. And I think that our tool connect K12 exists to make it just a step easier. There's so many things that those broadband people, but also the education folks are trying to focus on and trying to close gaps in education and in test scores and all these things. But this report and this site and the data that's on there for free is there to make every, help everyone benefit and really just be a resource that helps to close the digital divide.
Jessica Denson, Host (14:49):
All right. I would like both to answer this question, if you don't mind. We'll start with you, Emily, and then hand it off to Heather. What would you recommend for parents or teachers out there who wanna support this effort to improve school tech and internet access? What do you think that they should take away from today and what they can do to help with this work?
Emily Jordan, VP of Education Initiatives (15:10):
Well, I am not a parent, but I am a former teacher and I think being aware and advocating for it is the best. We are recording on election day here, so you've got all of these great opportunities to have your voice be heard. And as a former teacher, I think if I had known there was some information to help my school do better, cuz there's nothing more frustrating than being buffering while you're trying to wrangle a whole class of children, <laugh>. But Heather is a parent, so she probably has it in other perspective as well.
Heather Huddleston, Director, Program Development (15:49):
Yes, I am a parent and a taxpayer as all of us are. And these tech dollars are education dollars and negotiating better rates for faster speeds for children while they're at school, is stretching the dollars in a better way. And so this report is a publicly accessible report. And so we encourage everyone, parents, teachers, administrators, to look at it, use the data and be aware of it, and use it to negotiate better rates so that the education dollars can be spent on other things. I would say that would be a great use of it
Jessica Denson, Host (16:39):
To get those dollars to go further would be great. So share your final thoughts each that you would like state leaders and school district leaders to take away from this. And Heather, you kind of touched on it, some probably there, but it would you like to expand anything which you want, our state leaders and school district leaders, maybe the school district leaders for your children to know about this,
Heather Huddleston, Director, Program Development (17:02):
To just make sure that they're aware of it. And one of the things that we do at Connected Nation is we share this report and we share it with state leaders, we share it with technology directors, we share it with district leaders. And as Emily was saying, that all states now have a broadband director, so we're sharing it with them as well. So in addition to making this information accessible, we're also trying to spread the word about it. So we encourage all of them to take a few minutes and look at it and use it and contact us if they need any
Jessica Denson, Host (17:40):
Help. And Emily, any final thoughts from you?
Emily Jordan, VP of Education Initiatives (17:42):
Yeah, I think something to always remind everyone about this work is that we are not the broadband bandwidth police. We are not trying to call anybody out for being behind the curve. It's really just there to, as Heather said, inform and be reliable data that can be used to advocate for change. So we think we have seen incredible progress from every state over the past two years of doing this work. And our main goal is just to have robust, reliable networks for teachers and students to have, as our site says, 21st century learning, but honestly, just modern prepare them, prepare our kids for their future, and that means that they've gotta be savvy on the internet and if they don't have the access, they can't be savvy. So yeah. Thank you so much for having us.
Jessica Denson, Host (18:31):
Yes, thank you ladies. I appreciate you both. Thank
Emily Jordan, VP of Education Initiatives (18:34):
You so much
Jessica Denson, Host (18:35):
Again. My guests today have been Emily Jordan, who serves as the Vice President of Education Initiatives and Heather Huddleson, who is the director of program development, both with Connected Nation. I'll include linked the 2022 school connectivity report in the description of this podcast. I'm Jessica Enson. Thanks for listening to Connected Nation. If you like our show and wanna know more about us, head to connected nation.org or look for the latest episodes on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Google Podcast, Pandora, or Spotify.