information gap

Report incites a debate over internet speeds in city schools

No matter who you talk to — politicians, Dennis Walcott, principals or teachers — it’s clear that the Department of Education has work to do before teachers and students can handle extensive online activity in their schools. Where they disagree is how close the school system is to actually being up to speed.

The disagreement spilled into public today when department officials vehemently objected to the veracity of a report by Borough President Scott Stringer’s office. Stringer’s report, which was based on data his office received from the city last month, showed that three in four school buildings had slow internet connections.

The report criticized the city for moving too slowly to upgrade technology in schools in the age of information. Schools will also need a minimum internet bandwidth  — measured in how many megabytes of online information can be uploaded and downloaded per second — in order to administer online tests by 2015 as part of New York’s participation in a national assessment consortium (New York has signaled it may not begin the online testing on time).

But city officials said today that the department is actually much further along than what Stringer’s report claimed. They said the data they sent to Stringer’s office weren’t accurate, a point that they said was communicated last week after seeing a draft of the report.

The reality, Walcott said in a statement, is that just 250 of the city’s roughly 1,250 school buildings have slow internet speeds, a number that is consistent with what education officials told reporters at a technology summit last month. The majority of the schools, they said, have the capacity to download up to 80 megabytes of information per second.

A school with an internet bandwidth of 80 mbps would be able to administer more than 800 online tests at once, according to early bandwidth recommendations released in February by the the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

Walcott said all schools with slow connections will be upgraded by January.

“I will not allow people to use our schools for their own self-serving purposes or as a platform for parochial politics,” Walcott said, a nod to Stringer, who is running a heated race for New York City Comptroller.

But teachers and principals said today that internet connections remains a big technological issue in their schools. Some said the internet crashes frequently, while others say it’s simply too slow to use in any practical way. One principal said her school’s slow internet limited what teachers could do in their classrooms, which are outfitted with Smart Boards with online access.

“You can’t necessarily count on the fact that when you go on the Smart Board that you’ll get what you need,” said the principal, who asked to remain anonymous because her school was scheduled to receive an upgrade this year and did not want to disrupt the process.

Responding to the city’s gripes with Stringer’s report, a borough president spokeswoman said education officials were focused on the wrong thing.

“Instead of playing a shell game with data, it is time for DOE to take responsibility, and get down to the business of ensuring that our students are fully prepared to compete in a 21st century economy,” said the spokeswoman, Megan Dougherty.

Still, Stringer’s report shows that the city has made some progress in two years. In 2011, nearly 500 schools had slow internet speeds; this year, there are 242 schools.

In 2010, the education department dedicated $783 million of its $957 million four-year capital spending plan to technology upgrades, city documents provided in Stringer’s report show.

The reason? They were “necessary in order to prepare all of our building to administer new tests online — aligned with the Common Core standards — in the 2014-15 school year.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”