The White House goal of assuring that 99 percent of the nation’s schools have access to high-speed broadband and wireless Internet within five years should offer this side benefit, an administration official says: making districts see that digital learning “is affordable and within our reach.”
The ConnectED initiative, launched by President Barack Obama in June, will create greater opportunities for states and school districts to make joint purchasing decisions that help lower the cost of educational technology and content, said Gene Sperling, the director of the National Economic Council and an assistant to the president for economic policy.
Speaking about ConnectED at the 2013 Educational Technology Summit in Washington last week, Mr. Sperling said that a lack of connected schools will “hold back the scale needed to pull in the low-cost educational devices, the content. ... School districts, schools, and states look at it and say, ‘It’s too expensive.’ ”
He cited Mooresville, N.C., as an example of how a successful digital conversion in a school district can improve outcomes—but also one that illustrates some of the cost challenges.
“It is number two in the state for student achievement,” he noted of the district. At the same time, it is 114th out of 115 districts in terms of per-student funding.
Mooresville showed what was possible when a school system broadens digital access, he said. But the district also is “leasing laptops each year, at [a cost of] probably $200 a year [per laptop]. They should have the ability to purchase a laptop for perhaps a fraction of that,” he said. “If Mooresville had the entire state of North Carolina” making purchasing on a statewide contract, the district could reduce the cost, he noted.
Terri Haas, chief financial officer for Mooresville, told Education Week the lease-purchase program costs the district about $950,000 per year, and the devices are usually upgraded every two years.
Mr. Sperling cautioned attendees at the Washington event that they should not view the ConnectED initiative primarily through the lens of dollars or numbers.
“Our lack of universal high-speed connectivity is the thing that holds back the entire educational ecosystem,” he said.
A version of this article appeared in the September 18, 2013 edition of Education Week as Broadband Benefits Touted for Districts