NYC School Internet Initiative Draws Ire over Waste

Published May 31, 2016

While other cash-strapped states and municipalities are seeking ways to tighten their school spending budgets, New York City’s Department of Education recently announced plans to increase its technology spending. The department’s 2012 budget priorities include $542 million for wiring and other behind-the-wall upgrades for Big Apple schools—an initiative that has raised objections from privatization experts.

The department said the budgetary increase is necessitated by an increase in online learning opportunities and computer-based standardized tests.

While agreeing that the Internet is a sound way to bring down education costs, John Bambenek, chief forensic examiner of Bambenek Consulting in Boston, Massachusetts, says school districts that undertake the operation of Internet infrastructure incur cost burdens better addressed by private industry.

Only two years ago, Bambenek noted, New York City declared success in education technology when it boasted every classroom in every school had plug-in Internet connections and wireless access, which cost roughly half a billion dollars over several years.

“Almost every other organization pays for someone else to handle their IT infrastructure, and the [New York] case is a good example why,” said Bambenek.

‘Good Planning Needed’
“Schools spend $1 billion to wire every classroom and come back two years later for another half billion to do it again,” Bambenek said. “Unfortunately, there is also no small number of contractors who would be happy to take advantage of this and bleed schools, which is why good planning is needed.”

Good planning includes understanding the Internet’s potential for education and incorporating that into the school system’s long-term strategy, says Greg Stack, K-12 thought leader for NAC Architecture in Spokane, Washington.

“The nation has spent nearly $60 billion on putting computers in classrooms, but test scores have not improved,” Stack said.

‘Customized Learning Potential’
“The potential for the Internet is to individualize teaching so that students can customize their learning,” said Stack. “They can go at the pace they need, reviewing material that is more difficult and breezing through material that is less challenging. They also have the potential to find lesson plans that interest them and keep them engaged.”

Stack says the technology enables more distributed education—education that occurs at many places in the community.

“If you are learning over the Internet, why do you need to be at a school?” Stack asked. “You can just as well learn at home, at the library, at a local Starbucks, or wherever else you are most comfortable.”

Phil Britt ([email protected]) writes from South Holland, Illinois.