Snapshot of K-12 Tech Landscape: More Districts Reach 1-to-1, But Equity Gaps Persist

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One of the biggest barriers facing ed-tech companies trying to integrate their products into schools is also one of the most fundamental: If students don’t have basic access to devices, K-12 companies’ ambitions are likely to run aground.

A recent survey by the Consortium for School Networking reveals a landscape that is improving, in terms of the number of devices in schools–despite continued worries about equitable access to fast and reliable internet connectivity for all students.

The organization’s latest infrastructure survey of district tech officials found that 40 percent of respondents said their systems offer one device per student. Forty-three percent expect to reach that threshold within three years:

That’s a fairly big jump from CoSN’s survey in 2014, when just 23 percent of district respondents said they had achieved 1-to-1 computing capacity, and 35 percent envisioned reaching it within three years.

The survey did not ask district officials which types of devices students were using, but rather the number of devices on their networks, said Keith Krueger, CoSN’s executive director. So those devices could have included student-owned mobile devices.

But Krueger said he suspects the devices being used are primarily district-provided tools–most likely various kinds of laptops, Chromebooks, tablets, iPads, as well as desktops.

Some districts have even bigger tech footprints. Eighteen percent in the 2017 survey said they have two devices per student, and 30 percent said they hope to get there in three years. In 2014, a slightly lower number, 14 percent, said met that standard, and 35 percent indicated they wanted to get there in three years.

Another finding from the survey: student access to “non-shared” devices, such as through “bring your own device” programs, has risen significantly.

For the first time in CoSN’s survey, more than half of respondents said that 100 percent of their district’s students have access to non-shared devices in a majority of middle and high schools. That’s a sign that BYOD efforts have most likely taken hold, the organization says. It’s also a fairly big shift from the past year, when 36 percent of middle schools and 38 percent of high schools had 100 percent of their students with access to non-shared devices.

“Many districts are saying their goal is to get to a goal of 1-to-1, or a similar environment,” Krueger said in an interview. “We’re seeing progress toward that.”

Access to High-Speed Internet Rises as Tech Costs Fall

The biggest challenge for K-12 systems today–and one that many ed-tech advocacy groups are focused on–is making sure they have the WiFi networks to support their devices, the CoSN official added.

Despite evidence that overall connectivity is increasing, there are still far too many inequities between districts that have the tech infrastructure they need, and those that don’t.

Access to high-speed internet has risen and costs have fallen dramatically over the past few years, gains that some attribute to changes to the federal E-rate program, state-led efforts to improve broadband access, and other measures:

It’s worth noting that an overwhelming majority of CoSN survey respondents–86 percent–say they are either very or somewhat confident that their wireless networks have the ability to handle 1-to-1 technology environments. That’s 5 percent more than the previous year, and twice as high a percentage as it was in a 2013 survey.

Some prevailing inequities, however, come through in the CoSN data, particularly as it relates to the so-called “homework gap,” or the inability of students to get online away from school because they lack devices or connectivity.

The survey finds limited progress in that area. Only about 10 percent of district officials said that all of their students have access to non-shared devices at home, a number that hasn’t moved in three years.

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