Infrastructure, Bandwidth and Access
The challenges facing CIOs, IT
directors, and others responsible
for planning and maintaining
district infrastructure continue
to grow under pressure from a
variety of factors. These include
lower computer-to-student ratios,
“Bring Your Own” implementations,
increased reliance on digital
content, and the prospect of highstakes
* Lower Computer-to-Student Ratios. As many schools
move towards one-to-one implementations and others
add new hardware to improve ratios, the need for a
robust wireless network and adequate bandwidth grows.
* “Bring Your Own” Implementations. With the
growing popularity of BYO, it is not uncommon for
the district to be supporting more devices than people,
putting an additional strain on the network.
* Increased Reliance on Digital Content. As schools
move to e-textbooks and online curriculum supporting
Common Core standards, always-on technology and
ubiquitous device access become more essential than ever.
* The Prospect of High-Stakes Online Testing. These
demands are only going to become greater as we move
towards online testing such as the assessments related to
Common Core state standards that will be implemented
We have looked
at our devices,
and staff to
determine if we
to test whole
grade levels at
a time. Like many
I believe we will
have to make a
to pull off the
10 Tips for Network
Here’s some advice from SchoolCIO Summit
participants for getting–and keeping–students
and educators connected to the Internet.
1. Pay Attention to Access Points.
2. Build in Redundancy. At Texas’ Klein ISD,
for example, where they are piloting online,
end-of-course exams on top of an extensive, oneto-
one initiative, CTO Karen Fuller explains that
the district has invested in two separate networks,
each offering 400 MB.
3. Reassess Frequently. As Marianthe
Williams, director of technology for the River
Dell Regional Schools in New Jersey, explains,
“We have a district commitment to keeping our
infrastructure robust and ahead of where we need
it to be so that it supports teaching and learning
but is invisible to the end user.”
4. Think Beyond the Walls. Williams also
recommends “providing wireless access on the
5. Keep Upgrading Your Bandwidth. Niles
Township (IL) CTO Guy Ballard recommends
following the latest SETDA guidelines by aiming
for 100 MB of bandwidth for every 1,000 users.
6. Prioritize the Traffic. “Strategic management
through caching and bandwidth management
hardware has allowed us to prioritize the traffic,”
says Javier Baca, executive director of IT for the
Sunnyside USD in Arizona.
7. Tap into Funding Opportunities. Lisa Young,
director of technology for the Clayton County
Public Schools in Georgia, says her district has
been able to build infrastructure and equip
classrooms with support from eRate, RTTT
funding, and SPLOST revenue.
8. Lobby for Better Rates. A number of
participants expressed frustration at what they
saw as the unreasonably high rates their schools
were being charged for Internet connectivity.
9. Look for Ways to Help With Home Access.
Several district leaders reported success
partnering with cable companies to spread
the word about low-cost connections through
the Internet Essentials or Connect2Compete
10. Work With the Community. K-12
leaders suggest partnering with community
organizations such as libraries, municipal
governments, and local businesses to provide free
Standardization Versus Openness
Equity issues related to BYO were addressed at the June SchoolCIO Summit, with a number of
administrators agreeing that a blended approach, including a mix of home and school-owned devices, may be
the ideal solution. But tied in with the equity issues are questions related to standardization. Are all devices
created equal? Is there a “lowest common denominator” that a school needs to agree on? How difficult is it
for IT administrators to support a multitude of different devices?
Participants in the infrastructure working group at the Chicago summit were divided on the
standardization question. Many BYO enthusiasts believe that it’s time to allow students to choose what
technology they want to work with and that device agnosticism works well when the technology is being used
primarily for Internet-based research and communication. But a number of SchoolCIO Leadership Summit
attendees felt strongly that agreeing on minimum and consistent standards is essential if the BYO devices are
to be used for completing required assignments and testing.
Online Testing Challenges and Issues
Plans for online Common Core testing in 2014, along with the benchmark testing that many districts are
already embracing, raises the infrastructure bar and adds several new challenges, including:
* Anticipating Which Devices Will Work for Testing. “We are moving towards BYO in our district,”
says Jean Tower, director of technology for the public schools of Northborough and Southborough,
Massachusetts. “We think this will be a challenge for online testing. The tests need to work on mobile
devices and on student-owned devices.”
* Additional Bandwidth and Network Demands. A number of Illinois participants referred to a recent
state program, in which more than 10,000 teacher evaluators participated in assessments over a 10-week
period, as a mini-test run. Some were surprised that the bandwidth held up while others reported glitches.
* Worries About Test Administration Glitches. A number of ed tech leaders at the summit shared concerns
about what sorts of problems with the cloud-based CCST assessments they might encounter in their first year.
* Encroaching on Use of Technology for Instruction. Robert Miller, director of ICT for the New Canaan
Schools in Connecticut, says his district has shifted testing to older computer labs while increasing the
number of laptops available “to accommodate continued technology-integrated learning experiences while
the online adaptive testing takes place.”
* Staffing and Support Issues. Districts that are already involved in online testing have found that
technical support and monitoring can require a great deal of staff time. Craig Williams, director of
information services for Illinois’ School District U-46, describes the solution
that his district arrived at for the benchmark tests administered three
times each year. “We brought in separate proctors with technical
abilities to monitor the tests so that the building techs were free to
support what was happening in the classrooms.”
Technical Requirements for Online Testing
The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC ), the two organizations
responsible for developing Common Core State Standards (CC SS) assessments, have been working together to define the minimum system requirements for the online testing that
will begin in 2014.
First issued in April, 2012, and revised in June, the device guidelines for new technology purchases include a system with at least a 1 GHz processor, 1 GB RAM, 9.5 inch screen,
and screen resolution of 1024 x 768. The device must be connected to the Internet, but bandwidth requirements have not been spelled out clearly at this point.
The following cable company initiatives are
designed to help low-income families afford
Comcast’s Internet Essentials program
entering its second year, grew out of
negotiations between Comcast and the
FCC over Comcast’s acquisition of NBC
Universal. It extends service for $9.95 per
month to families of school-age children
who are receiving free or reduced-price
Connect2Compete (www.connect2compete.org) is a newer
program that is in the early stages of
implementation by cable companies other
than Comcast. It also offers service for
$9.95 per month. As of now, this program
is only available to families qualifying for