“Closing the homework gap depends on good data. This program is the first step in that effort.”
San Francisco, California (April 13, 2021) – Early in the pandemic, as teachers struggled to move all instruction online, school districts were scrambling to figure out just how many kids were not connected to broadband (high-speed internet) at home.
That challenge led to a major pivot for national nonprofit, EducationSuperHighway, which had planned to sunset in the Fall of 2020.
“All of us at EducationSuperHighway worked for years to help school districts improve their connectivity in the classroom. State and school leaders were making huge strides and our organization was winding down,” said Ellen Goldich, Program Director, EducationSuperHighway. “But then 2020 brought an unexpected educational challenge and we decided to leverage our recent experiences in a new way—to help students who could not access remote learning. There simply were not options for many of these kids and we had to take action.”
EducationSuperHighway took a unique approach to the problem by both partnering with states and school districts and working directly with Internet Service Providers (ISP’s). Through these partnerships EducationSuperHighway is collecting and analyzing key data sets not publicly available to better identify those students without access.
Essentially, states and school districts are sharing addresses with ISP’s who can then let EducationSuperHighway know if a student household is connected or not. All of this comes with some iron clad data-sharing agreements—protecting both the students’ privacy and the ISP’s proprietary information.
“It took a number of months, and a lot of lawyers but over 90 Internet Service Providers and four national broadband associations have agreed to take part in this program and help students through this work,” said Goldich.
The new program called “K-12 Bridge to Broadband” is now being tested statewide in Georgia, Indiana, and New Mexico, Nebraska, and New York as well as in county offices of education in California.
“What we’re trying to do is better understand the scope of unconnected student households so we can better target their needs with funding and other resources,” explained Goldich. “As a first step in closing the homework gap, school districts can rely on Internet Service Providers to quickly and accurately tell them who is and isn’t served, and the options available to connect them.”
The “K-12 Bridge to Broadband” project is still in the early stages of the data exchange effort. The next steps include turning that data into something that is both actionable and digestible for state and school district leaders to leverage—and looking at ways to connect families to the resources they’re now lacking or that they may need help understanding how to use.
“I think, for me, what gets me so excited about this is that we’re in a moment in time that there’s no shortage of options for immediate and long-term funding for this effort,” said Goldich. “Seeing the way that Congress has identified home connectivity as this new key issue is a good thing. There is a real awareness now. People are starting to wake up and see that getting online not only helps with education but also economic opportunity, health care, jobs, and more. Our focus may be K-12 but so many other opportunities are also linked to the internet and improving connectivity at home.”
To search resources and learn more about the ways this program is working to connect students to broadband head to the K-12 Bridge to Broadband webpage.
Learn more about EducationSuperHighway at the organization’s website.
Editor’s note: Connected Nation partnered with Funds For Learning to continue ESH’s work to improve school connectivity by taking over the Connect K-12 resource which can be found here.
This is a free tool that aggregates, analyzes, and visualizes E-rate data to help state and school district leaders negotiate better broadband contracts for their schools. The goal is to help school districts get more for their federal funding dollars and expand bandwidth in every school to meet the Federal Communications Commission’s recommended 1Mpbs per student bandwidth goal. This makes it possible to have digital learning in every classroom, every day.
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