ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Needed to keep a school building running these days: Water, electricity — and broadband.
Interactive digital learning on laptops and tablets is replacing traditional textbooks in many cases. Students are taking computer-based tests instead of fill-in-the bubble exams. Teachers are accessing far-off resources for lessons.
Technology is changing the way students are taught — and tested. But there's a catch: Most of it is occurring in schools that have rich connectivity to the Internet.
Although nearly every school has Internet access, classrooms frequently are not connected or the connections are super slow.
The hurdle is limited capacity inside schools to transmit data, or bandwidth.
"It's the backbone. We have to actually think not just about the sustainability of the current traffic, we're talking about exploding traffic," said Raj Adusumilli, assistant superintendent for information services in the Arlington Public Schools in northern Virginia.
The effort to get high-speed Internet access in every school got a boost Wednesday from the philanthropy of two technology gurus — Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates. Zuckerberg's Startup: Education and Gates' foundation have contributed a combined $9 million to the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway, a San Francisco-based nonprofit working to improve connectivity in schools.
"When schools and teachers have access to reliable Internet connections, students can discover new skills and ideas beyond the classroom," Zuckerberg said in a statement.
The funds are expected to be used to provide technical expertise to schools and use competition to help drive costs down.
It likely would cost billions to get high-speed Internet access to every school in America.
President Barack Obama this past summer set a goal of having 99 percent of students connected to high-speed Internet connections within five years. Also, the Federal Communications Commission is weighing changes to a program to increase connectivity in schools.
Today, about 80 percent of schools have Internet capabilities that are too slow or isolated to places like front offices and computer labs, said Richard Culatta, director of education technology at the Education Department. Many schools have the same amount of connectivity as an average home. That means several hundred kids or more operate on an Internet connection similar to that used in a house by four family members. That leads to networks that are slow and prone to crashing.
"There are many examples of fantastic things happening across the country, but they are happening in places where infrastructure is in place that supports these types of innovations," Culatta said.
At Jamestown Elementary School in Arlington, Va., first and second graders use iPads to document the growth of caterpillars for a science project or record themselves reading out loud as they make electronic books.
"It's fun. You can draw and make books and movies," said 7-year-old Braeden Meeker. "We learn writing and math. We learn a lot of things."
But one day in class, the system crashed when students tried to look up their house on a Google map.