State of ed-tech: These challenges threaten big advances in K-12 technology

Despite the growing risk, schools may not be taking cybersecurity—particularly ransomware—seriously enough.
By: | April 29, 2022

Home internet access is still not universal two-plus years into the pandemic that revealed a gaping digital divide and homework gap, school IT leaders say.

Only 5% of respondents to CoSN’s 2022 State of EdTech Leaders survey reported that all of their students had adequate broadband access at home and only slightly more IT leaders said most of their students had a sufficient internet connection. Just under half of those surveyed said 10% or less of the students in their districts lacked access. Digging a little deeper, a third of the districts reported that between 11% and 30% of their students had no home access, leading the researchers to conclude “the homework gap persists despite considerable progress having been made.”

“What we have learned is that hotspots do not provide enough bandwidth for effective and productive remote learning,” says Lenny J. Schad, District Administration’s chief information and innovation officer. “Additionally, many areas of the country still don’t have carrier coverage throughout communities, particularly in rural areas.”

Schad, who was not involved in the CoSN survey, urged IT leaders to work with their communities to build more robust public WiFi systems. This would require collaboration with local and state governments, the private sector, internet service providers, and utility companies.

In contrast to chronic disparities in home internet access, districts are steadily modernizing their own networks, according to the survey, which covered 1,500 urban, suburban and rural districts and was conducted with the Ed-Fi Alliance. Less than 20% of IT leaders reported that their schools remained at “relatively slow” internet speeds of 100Mbps or less. Meanwhile, most districts are making progress in data interoperability, with most IT leaders citing single sign-on as a top priority that they have fully or partially implemented.

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As far as student devices go, BYOD—or bring your own device—is quickly becoming a thing of the past as nearly 85% of respondents said their districts have launched or completed 1-to-1 initiatives down to the elementary level.

Strains on IT staffing

Providing tech support for students at home is another top challenge, as it strains the resources of many IT departments. More than half of the CIOs said they don’t have enough staff to provide remote support. And staffing pressures may intensify in the coming years. About one in 10 of the leaders surveyed said they expected to retire early because of the stresses of the pandemic.

IT leaders may also have to contend with their staff members’ growing requests to work from home, Schad says. “The private sector has jumped on this opportunity,” he says. “School districts are much slower in adopting this and as a result are losing employees to the private sector and are having difficulty in attracting new employees.”

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Diversity, or the lack of it, is another human resources challenge: Some 85% of IT leaders identify as white, and 64% as male, the survey found.

Are we taking cybersecurity seriously enough?

The answer appears to be, “maybe not.” Although IT leaders ranked cybersecurity as their No. 1 priority, only a small number believe their district is at high risk for a ransomware attack. And, only about a fifth of districts dedicate the equivalent of a full-time staff member’s time to managing cybersecurity.

One reason for this disconnect is that too many superintendents, school boards, and other top administrators see cybersecurity as only an IT problem when it should be considered a district issue, Schad says. IT departments should focus on getting this mentality changed, he added.

“Once cybersecurity is viewed as a district problem, appropriate shared ownership and accountability can be established,” he said. “This will allow for IT departments to have a much more strategic conversation related to continued funding and appropriate staffing.”

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