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Articles: Networks

When it comes to data analytics, Maribeth Luftglass,CIO at Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, focuses on ensuring privacy of all student data. And, she adds, it should be a top concern for all CIOs. (Photo: Donnie Biggs, Fairfax County Schools)

Just a few years ago, CIOs—if they were involved in data analytics at all—would run a report, export it into an Excel document and share it with teachers and district leaders once a week or at the end of each semester. Now it’s all about creating systems that aggregate and sort data automatically, making it easier for educators to view crucial information every day

Cloud usage is on the rise. In 2014, schools delivered only 42 percent of their IT solutions fully or partially via cloud. In just two years, that number jumped to 67 percent and in three years, K-12 IT pros expect that number to reach 74 percent, according to CDW-G’s K-12 Cloud Possibilities infographic.

Those numbers are impressive. However, for the 33 percent of schools that have not yet taken the cloud plunge, many are asking, where do I begin? Is it worth it? There are seemingly an overwhelming number of providers, options and approaches.

Custom playlist: At Horizons on the Hudson school in the Newburgh Enlarged City School District, IT specialist Joseph Catania watches students demonstrate how they use ClassLink to access SAFARI Montage for videos they need for a project.

Let’s face it, digital content—from the Khan Academy to streaming videos to adaptive learning applications—has enveloped K12 education. While some district leaders have only begun replacing printed learning materials with the new technology, other districts are going entirely digital.

Factors to consider when deciding between managing a network in-house and employing a service provider

With the recent updates to E-rate, district leaders can choose between building and maintaining their own networks using dark fiber or trusting the job to a communications service provider. When making that decision, considerations must include looking at the total cost of ownership, evaluating technology innovation, identifying the impact to network control and security, and determining staff availability and expertise to manage future issues.

With the modernization of E-rate and the increase in available funding for school districts, many administrators face a strategic choice when it comes to their network. Some districts may choose a managed service through a third-party vendor, while others want to keep their network managed in-house by district staff. There are pros and cons to each model and several key considerations every district should examine before making this important IT decision.

Districts often deploy VoIP to replace outdated “plain old telephone systems” that are past warranty or can’t be fixed because replacement parts are scarce.

The internet delivers assessments, videos and instructional content to schools, so why not phone service, too? Adding voice to the bandwidth communications stream makes sense to an increasing number of district leaders who are abandoning traditional landlines.

Between 9,000 and 10,000 schools, mostly in rural areas, do not have high-speed internet connections. (Click map to enlarge)

High-speed internet access increased substantially in classrooms over the past two years. But 21 million students, many in rural areas, remain without reliable broadband connections in the classroom, according to the “2015 State of the States” report from the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway.

At Mentor Public Schools in Ohio, the IT team set up Chromebooks for all the elementary schools. And as part of the 1-to-1 initiative, high school students will have MacBooks.

There’s good news for district leaders in the ongoing battle to meet the ever-increasing demand for bandwidth. One-gigabit networks are coming to more areas, the cost of service per megabit is decreasing, and funding through E-rate and other sources is increasing.

Common Core supporter Sonja Santelises, a vice president at the Education Trust, says political uncertainty over the standards could destabilize classrooms.

Praised and pilloried at both ends of the political spectrum, the Common Core State Standards—and the years-long effort to establish national benchmarks for student learning—will pass a crucial milestone in 2015, when 11.5 million American schoolchildren finally tackle Common Core-linked math and English tests.

The move toward personalized learning and the ability to deliver resources via the cloud are transforming the way districts purchase digital content for math, reading and other parts of the curriculum. As this landscape changes, district also are spending more on digital resources.

The FCC recommends schools have internet access of  at least 100 Mbps per 1,000 users in the short term. The FCC will provide $1 billion per year for  Wi-Fi connections in 2015 and 2016.

High-speed broadband is in and phones are out, according to the recent FCC order to update the federal E-rate program. Administrators will have new funds to expand district Wi-Fi capacity, but will need to make up for lost phone and email subsidies.

The main goal of President Barack Obama’s ConnectED initiative is to shift funding from outdated technology to build broadband and Wi-Fi networks to give all schools high-speed internet access.

The federal push to provide all students with high-speed broadband and mobile devices is kicking into high gear, with over a billion dollars pledged for school technology and an overhaul of the program that provides discount internet access.

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) recommends districts consider its list of Essential Conditions when building a framework for teaching with technology.

At Madison County Schools in Alabama, technology coordinator Tom Whitten, above on left, meets with his IT team to solve bandwidth issues in the district’s schools.

The wireless networks at six high schools in the Madison County Schools in Alabama are now humming at full power after administrators figured out how to prevent a new wave of new smartphones, tablets and other devices from overwhelming bandwidth capacity.

The Oyster River Cooperative School District in Durham, N.H., recently upgraded to gigabit wired connectivity and replaced its legacy Wi-Fi with Aruba Networks. Above, Carolyn Eastman, assistant superintendent, meets with IT Director Joshua Olstad.

Implementing technology upgrades required for Common Core assessments can be more opportunity than burden for districts seeking the most academic achievement from their IT spending.

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