BY STATE SENATOR LARRY TEAGUE –
LITTLE ROCK – In schools with high speed Internet access, teachers can post photographs and video clips of classroom projects online, where parents can see what their children are doing.
Students with access to broadband don’t have to miss class time when winter weather turns bad. They can do lessons that have been specifically assigned for snow days.
Students who need help with math or English can take specialized courses from a digital curriculum, made available because of access to broadband.
As more schools gain high speed Internet access, there will be more stories of how computer links make learning more efficient, more specialized, more available in isolated areas, more enriching and more advanced.
Arkansas has expanded the availability of high speed Internet in classrooms. According to an organization called EducationSuperHighway our improvements have been “phenomenal.”
EducationSuperHighway is a non-profit organization that promoted digital learning, which recently released its annual “State of the States” report.
According to its survey of every state, 79 percent of Arkansas school districts meet the minimum goal of being able to move 100 kilobits of data per second per student. That is up from 58 percent last year. Nationally, 77 percent of all schools meet the minimum goal.
The governor and legislative leaders are emphasizing the expansion of broadband access as a method of improving Arkansas schools. State officials and educators hope that within two years all school districts in Arkansas will meet the minimum goals for broadband access.
According to EducationSuperHighway, 100 percent of the schools in Hawaii and Wyoming now have high speed Internet access. Progress over the past two years can largely be attributed to increases in funding and a steady decline in the cost of Internet services, the organization reported.
Nationwide, 23 percent of school districts with 21.3 million students lack broadband access at the minimum goals of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which funds some projects to connect schools to the Internet.
The state’s efforts to connect all schools with high speed Internet received a boost in September when the FCC awarded a $54 million grant to two telecommunications companies that operate in Arkansas. The companies applied for the grants under a national program called Connect America. They will pay for lines to about 100,000 homes and businesses in rural areas.
This school year marks the first time that all Arkansas public high schools are required under state law to offer computer science classes.
Public Charter Schools
The state Education Department’s committee that authorizes charter schools has approved requests by three school districts to open schools with innovative methods.
Springdale was approved to open a 1,400 student high school in which English will not have to be the only basic language for instruction. Classes will be taught in English, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese.
Hot Springs was approved for a 1,200 student high school with night classes and alternative schedules, online courses and on-site instruction with local businesses. Students will get a head start on associate degrees and industry certificates.
Gentry was approved for a 500 student charter school that will emphasize health care, transportation and information technology, job skills in demand by local businesses.