Upgrading networks and purchasing more computers does more than just satisfy Common Core State Standards and other online testing requirements. The moves also allow school districts to meet the growing demand for more technology in classrooms.
"We wanted to use more technology and digital content in the curriculum, but we were limited by our network," says Rebecca Rinehart, director of technology for Greenwood Community Schools in Indiana.
Today, following an infrastructure overhaul, the opposite is true. For a blended-learning pilot project, Greenwood's seventh-grade students now use notebook computers; high school students, meanwhile, use Chromebooks.
The Hamblen County (Tenn.) Department of Education's network upgrade also led to enhanced technology offerings. Race to the Top funding and other federal stimulus resources helped the county buy notebooks and equip every classroom with an interactive whiteboard, digital projector and document camera.
Increasing students' use of technology in the classroom aligns with some Common Core requirements, says Dr. Dale Lynch, HCDOE's director of schools. For example, the standards call for students to use digital tools and the Internet to produce and publish writing and to interact with peers.
Bart Stanley, director of technology for New Mexico's Gallup–McKinley County Schools system, has spent the past year upgrading the core of the network from 100-megabit-per-second to 1-gigabit-per-second speeds and making sure the district's 35 schools have sufficient broadband. The improvements are being leveraged for more than just the online assessments, however.
"The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers is asking for bandwidth that's pretty high," he says. "Think of needing a limo to go to the prom. What if you bought a limo just so you can take it to go to the prom once a year? It's the same analogy for Common Core. One thing our state is focused on is that this bandwidth be used all year to improve instruction."
To bolster technology in the classroom, the district is applying for a Race to the Top grant to purchase tablets for every student. With the devices, teachers will be able to incorporate more digital content and collaborative learning into the curriculum, which, in turn, aligns with Common Core standards.
"Part of career and college readiness is a technology and digital learning environment, and the network supports that," Stanley says. "If all kids get tablets, we will provide them with a library of digital books. We will use online discussion forums and do virtual tours of the Smithsonian. That's much better than reading about it in a book."