Loris, S.C., which is just over 100 miles from where I grew up, is about as out-of-the-way as it gets. But this Eastern seaboard town of about 2,400 is at the cutting edge of the movement to modernize U.S. education and make sure young Americans have the skills they need to succeed in the digital age.
Almost half of the children in Loris live in poverty, and the leaders of the local elementary school have made a bet that technology can be their ticket out. Every student in grades 3 through 5 has been assigned a laptop loaded with learning software. Teachers are using digital tools to assess each student's progress in real time and offer differentiated instruction to meet each student's individual needs. One year into this program, its yielding results. Test scores are up, and in state rankings of similar schools, Loris Elementary rose from 41st into the top 20. We see similar stories of how technology can revolutionize education in select schools across the country.
Unfortunately, these stories are the exception, not the rule. As the bipartisan Leading Education by Advancing Digital Commission warned earlier this month, "While technology fundamentally improves nearly every aspect of our lives, it plays a minor role in education." American schools were designed for a different era. Meanwhile, other countries such as Korea are going all-in on digital learning.
We should do the same. We need to make sure every child in America has access to the tools they need to compete.
America is still the land of opportunity, and no child should miss out on the best educational opportunities because of her zip code or socioeconomic status. We need to ensure this because the U.S. will fall behind in the 21st century if our classrooms don't evolve beyond a 19th century model.
But here's the rub. Even if every school in America had the latest digital learning technologies tomorrow, most U.S. schools wouldn't have the bandwidth necessary to fully utilize them. In a Federal Communications Commission survey of schools and districts, nearly half of respondents reported lower speed Internet connectivity than the average American home, despite having 200 times as many users. You don't need a digital textbook to know that the math just doesn't add up.
Not surprisingly, 80% of schools and districts surveyed also reported that their broadband speeds don't meet their teaching needs.
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