November 2, 2016


School Technology Makes Progress, Yet Challenges Remain—AASA & CoSN’s 2016 Infrastructure Survey

School systems in the United States are making progress in increasing broadband connectivity and Wi-Fi in classrooms. However, significant hurdles remain before all students are able to experience a digitally-enabled learning environment. These are the findings revealed today in CoSN’s 2016 Annual E-rate and Infrastructure Survey, a report conducted in partnership with AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and MDR.

Gathering insights from K-12 school administrators and technology directors nationwide, the report addresses key areas of concern for school districts, including affordability, network speed and capacity, reliability and competition, digital equity, security and cloud-based services. 

“The good news is districts are making real progress in supporting modern technology infrastructure. However, it remains clear that more work and investment are needed over the long run to address the digital equity challenge of today and provide robust broadband connectivity for all students in and outside of school,” said Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN. 

Progress: School systems have progressed toward meeting the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) short-term goal of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students. Today 68 percent of the school districts fully meet the minimum Internet bandwidth recommendations in every one of their schools (it climbs to 80 percent of districts having three-fourths of their schools at this immediate connectivity goal). The 68 percent fully achieving the goal today is up from just 19 percent in 2013. 

The survey also shows increased reliability in Wi-Fi, which is now largely ubiquitous in high schools – only 6 percent lack Wi-Fi. In 2016, 81 percent of survey respondents indicated that they were very confident or somewhat confident in their Wi-Fi, a significant improvement over previous years.

Remaining Challenges: Despite this progress, school leaders also reported that affordability remains the biggest barrier to establishing strong connectivity in schools and that digital equity is a major priority. 

School districts are also largely not meeting the FCC’s long-term goal of 1 Gbps per 1,000 students. Only 15 percent of school districts report having 100 percent of schools reaching this goal, and that is consistent across urban, rural and suburban districts. School system leaders are divided about whether the long-term goal is too ambitious or about right.

School leaders project significant Internet bandwidth growth (100 to 500-plus percent increase) over the next 18 months, especially in urban (37 percent) and suburban (31 percent) districts. School leaders also project that nearly two-thirds of all students will use two or more devices at school within the next three years—an increase from 21 percent of students today. 

“The 2016 E-Rate and Infrastructure Survey demonstrates that we are making progress in bringing broadband infrastructure to our schools and in meeting our short-term bandwidth connectivity goals. This is welcome news,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. “At the same time, however, the survey shows that challenges remain. In particular, we must continue to raise awareness and come up with strategies to overcome the ‘Homework Gap,’ which is the cruelest part of our new digital divide. Thanks to CoSN, AASA, and MDR for this year’s survey, which continues to shine a spotlight on the state of infrastructure necessary to support digital learning across the country.”

“The findings of this year’s infrastructure report highlight the important work of the ongoing effort to expand school connectivity and the opportunity to use this expanded connectivity in schools to support student learning as schools transition to implementation of the reauthorized Every Student Succeeds Act. The findings of this survey—both where progress has been made and where there is continued room for growth—are in strong parallel to the underlying improvements of ESSA and the responsibility state and local education agencies will play in leveraging expanded decision-making authority into meaningful learning opportunities for their students. Also, for addressing equitable educational opportunities, including those tied directly to connectivity, including equitable access both in and outside of school,” said Daniel A. Domenech, who serves as Executive Director for AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and a member of the Universal Service Administrative Company Board of Directors.

Further details as well as additional challenges and priorities identified by school system leaders follow:  
  • Affordability
    • Recurring Expenses a High Hurdle. This year, 57 percent of school leaders identified the cost of ongoing recurring expenses as the biggest barrier to robust connectivity—up from 46 percent last year. 
    • Monthly Costs Going Down. The cost for monthly Internet connection showed significant improvement, with nearly one-half of respondents reporting low monthly costs (less than $5 per Mbps). This is a steady improvement from 36 percent in 2015 and 27 percent in 2014.
  • Lack of Competition
    • Lack of Competition Magnified Rurally. More than half (54 percent) of rural district leaders reported that only one provider sells Internet to their school system, and 40 percent of rural respondents reported receiving one or fewer qualified proposals for broadband services in 2016. This marks no progress from last year. 
  • Digital Equity
    • Digital Equity Atop the List. Among the school leaders surveyed, 42 percent ranked addressing digital equity / lack of broadband access outside of school as a “very high priority.” 
    • Strategies Needed. Nearly two-thirds of school system leaders, however, revealed that they do not have any strategies for providing off-campus connectivity to students. This is only a slight improvement over previous years.
  • Security
    • Small Investment in Security. Nearly half of school system leaders spend less than 4 percent of their entire technology budget on security. 
    • Phishing Top Security Concern. The largest security concern for school leaders is phishing (with 19 percent citing it as a high risk), with denial of service and ransomware rated equally as threats (9 percent).  
  • Cloud-Based Services
    • Server Migration Increasing. Approximately 40 percent of school districts are considering migrating their server infrastructure to the cloud. 
    • Learning Management Systems Tops Cloud Deployment. Nearly 60 percent of school system leaders stated that learning management systems make up the largest cloud deployment, followed by student information systems. 

Conducted in August 2016, the 2016 Annual E-rate and Infrastructure Survey collected 567 responses from district administrators and technology leaders serving urban, suburban and rural school system in 48 states and the District of Columbia. 

“MDR is excited to once again partner with an organization committed to identifying and solving the challenges associated with technology and education,” said Kristina James, MDR Director of Marketing. “Current MDR research shows that 75 percent of districts rated wireless networks as their top technology priority, the sixth year in a row that wireless networks have topped their priority list, reflecting the shift to digital and districts’ interest in being able to personalize learning for all students. This year’s CoSN survey illustrates the same desire, while highlighting the barriers districts need to overcome, to continue making progress towards this shift.”

To read the full report, please visit:  

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