tech crunch

In some NYC schools, more laptops but too little bandwidth

As New York City plans to spend more on technology consultants and expand its online learning programs, an obstacle is presenting itself: schools aren’t as wired as people assumed.

At a panel discussion today about online learning — orchestrated by the city’s Department of Education and the Federal Communications Commission — Wireless Generation CEO Larry Berger talked about the challenges software developers face when they work in public schools. Some schools have the bandwidth to support classrooms where each student has her own laptop. Others can barely give their teachers wireless access.

Asked about some of the problems classroom technology poses, Berger said:

I think one of the hard things is that it’s almost never the case that you get to work in a school that has all of the infrastructure that you wish it had. What we start learning as we try to do initiatives that assume that kids would be on a computer, connected, and learning at their own pace, is that we learned that the schools we thought were wired aren’t that wired.

There are places where the internet can be found in that school, but in fact to really do that kind of work means you need to put a router in every classroom because of the amount of traffic that kids really working will generate. And then if you turn on really interesting multi-media video simulations, that means you need two routers in the classroom. And then it turns out you’re not as connected as you thought you were — there’s just not enough bandwidth — and those are the problems that everyone’s struggling with.

Berger’s comment could explain why the Department of Education’s capital plan calls for $176 million more for technology spending than it did in 2010. The plan says that without increased funding for bandwidth expansion and infrastructure, initiatives like the city’s Innovation Zone — which gives some schools laptops for every student and allows students to take courses online — can’t happen.

Meanwhile, other areas of the capital plan, such as funding for new school seats, have been cut by half.

I’ve heard concerns similar to Berger’s from principals, some of whom encourage their students to stay offline during their free periods when other students are trying to use wireless laptops in class.

Berger’s company Wireless Generation, an education technology company, was bought by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation back in November, two weeks after the company brought on former Chancellor Joel Klein.

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.