Access ​​to Devices at School Increases, But Do Parents Have a Veto?

Photo Credit: Lexie Flickinger (CC-By-2.0)

A survey of school district technology leaders conducted by the Consortium for School Networking showed school district connectivity and student access to devices have increased.

They note that confidence in a school district’s wi-fi network has increased:

Districts’ confidence in their wireless networks to support one device (or more)per student is increasing. A large majority (69%) of respondents report they are “very confident” in their network’s ability to support one or more devices per student as compared to the prior year’s 58%. 

They also note broadband access has increased:

Ninety-two percent (92%) of districts are meeting the FCC short-term goal of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students for all their schools. Even more impressive, this year over a third (35%) of districts achieved the FCC long-term goal (1 Gbps per 1,000 students) for all schools – up nearly 100% from last year. 

Student access to devices has increased. Almost one-half of respondents say that their students have access to at least one device. While almost a quarter of respondents say their students have access to two devices and that number is expected to jump to 38 percent in three years.

The survey also noted two primary concerns.

The first was the “homework gap” that education tech can bring. Fewer than 10 percent of schools reported that every student had access to non-shared devices at home. This makes it difficult for students to complete homework online.

The second concern was about cybersecurity. “The majority of districts (52%) say breach detection is their highest cybersecurity service concern. Despite concerns about a myriad of network security threats, only 12% of districts have a dedicated network security person to manage the challenges,” the report reads.

With cybersecurity concerns come student data privacy concerns and schools have failed in that regard. The education sector stinks at cybersecurity. Online school data is not safe even student health data. The ed tech companies that schools partner with are busy collecting data.

So data privacy concerns are just a given.

The absence of concern about students’ screen time I found to be striking.

Schools and educrats are so invested in whether or not they can provide the connectivity needed for the growing market of education tech that they are not asking whether they should.

Have they wrestled with what expanded screen time is doing to kids? It’s not like there has not been any research as Lisa Hudson noted back in 2016:

It’s actually fairly easy to locate studies that report excessive media use can lead to increased reports of mental health issues (children twice as likely to report mental ill-health), decreased sensitivity to emotional cuesschool difficulties (heavy media users report lower grades), eating disorders (strong correlation between  increased use of internet and discontentment with weight, and body shame), sleep difficulties (greater risk of sleep disturbances, stress), structural and functional changes in brain regions, and obesity (obesity associated with frequent television/video use).  What is surprisingly limited are studies or research concluding that excessive exposure to digital media is beneficial for kids.

According to a Pew Research study, 92% of teens reported going online daily and 24% of those reported being online “constantly.”  Today’s children are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones and other electronic devices.  This number doesn’t include the amount of exposure kids are getting at school, especially with the current tech-to-the-rescue mindset of education reformers, none of which has been shown to be beneficial to student performance.  In fact, more and more research seems to conclude all the tech exposure in school isn’t helping to improve educational outcomes, anyway.  For example, using laptops to take notes resulted in shallower processing.  And in another study, students who used digital devices performed worse in class.

In fact, just last month, 60 Minutes reported on a National Institutes of Health study on the impact of screen time on adolescents’ brains. They noted the premature thinning of the cortex in the MRIs of some kids who use smartphones, tablets, and video games more than seven hours a day. Our cortex is the part of our brain that processes information from our five senses. They are not drawing any conclusions about what this might mean.

They also noted kids who spend more than two hours a day on screens got lower scores on thinking and language tests.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise as lots of screen time has been linked to symptoms of ADHD in teens.

Yes, I understand that some parents, as noted in the study first mentioned, demand devices for their students.

Students often get too much screen time outside of school. Since that is the case why would schools want to add to that? Also, what about the parents who are actively trying to limit the amount of time their child is front of a screen? Are schools listening to those parents? Or are they forging ahead?

As we dive deeper into education tech in schools are those schools giving parents who are concerned about the negative consequences of too much screen time the ability to opt their student out?

Do they get a veto when the school wants to thrust a device in front of their child?