High-poverty urban districts strive to close the digital divide

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

When it comes to speedy Internet access in schools, which technology advocates say will be critical to ensuring that American students stay competitive globally, Philadelphia is way ahead of many districts across the country.

In the Obama administration’s new ConnectED initiative, an effort to redirect $2 billion in federal funding to put high-speed broadband in all American schools, the goal is for schools to have Internet speeds of at least 1 gigabit per second by 2017. Philadelphia schools already have 2 gigabits, and will have 20 in 18 months, says Melanie Harris, the district’s chief information officer. “We call it laying the highway,” she said. “We’ve put our schools in a great position.”

It’s a major accomplishment, but one that also highlights the difficulties of bringing technology to the nation’s neediest kids. When President Obama announced the ConnectED plan last year, he said “there’s no reason we can’t do all this.”

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