Funk: The digital divide still haunts East San Jose students
The East Side Union High School District office is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Ramona Giwargis.

    In today’s world, it is critical that our children learn to use and master modern technology, think critically, communicate across a variety of platforms, work collaboratively and be creative with the ability to quickly adapt.

    In the East Side Union High School District (ESUHSD) we call this our Graduate Profile. Other districts may call it a learner profile.

    We are demanding teachers change their role and evolve from a “sage on the stage” know-it-all to more of a facilitator of learning. Students are presented with complex tasks, which require them to demonstrate their learning through a process of inquiry, analysis and inference, and communicate like a scientist, mathematician, historian, artist, literary critic and more.

    As teachers move to project-based and problem-based learning and require students to work in teams more often, it’s critical that students have access to wireless broadband at home. Students should not have to go to Starbucks or McDonald’s to work on projects and do the necessary research required of high school students today.

    Although 95 percent of residents in Santa Clara County have access to broadband, not all families can afford broadband in their homes. Yes, most students seem to have access to an Android cell phone or iPhone, but it is not realistic to research, take notes, and create presentations on those devices.

    The digital divide is still a problem, particularly in East San Jose.

    East San Jose has eight school districts that make up the East Side Alliance (ESUHSD, Alum Rock, Berryessa, Evergreen, Franklin-McKinley, Mt Pleasant, Oak Grove, and Orchard). The system represents almost 85,000 students, which is larger than San Francisco Unified and Oakland Unified combined.

    The majority of schools in the East Side Alliance are Title I schools (at least 40 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch). Most of these schools align with Highway 101.

    Technology does not solve the achievement gap, but without access to technology and broadband, the opportunity gap will continue to grow; thus, having a negative impact on the achievement gap.

    California has the fifth largest economy in the world. It’s hard for me to understand how this type of opportunity gap still exists in San Jose and in the heart of Silicon Valley.

    Statewide funding for classroom technology has failed to keep pace with the educational needs of our children.

    In 2014, East Side voters passed Measure I, an Ed-Tech Bond, which addresses this problem by providing a locally controlled source of technology funding, allowing our students to thrive in today’s marketplace and compete in the economy of tomorrow.

    The bond provides an ongoing source of funds for classroom computers, internet infrastructure, and other technological innovations for every school in our district.

    The school district last year partnered with the city of San Jose to pilot a unique school district funded municipal Wi-Fi infrastructure project, bringing free broadband access to hundreds of families in the James Lick High School neighborhood.

    This innovative public partnership leveraged district resources to extend the city-owned and operated public Wi-Fi network inside the Mineta San Jose International Airport and San Jose City Hall.

    This project has been extremely successful in providing Wi-Fi access to all of our students who live in the boundary of James Lick High School.

    Access to the city’s Wi-Fi supports the project-based learning that is taking place at James Lick, which is part of the New Tech Network; a network of over 200 schools implementing project-based learning.

    Although San Jose has not turned on community access to free Wi-Fi, we hope that this type of partnership will be expanded to all schools in the East Side Alliance.

    If we are going to require teachers to adapt their craft of teaching to meet the demands of the 21st century learner, teachers need the time to plan training around project-based learning and to incorporate the technology that’s available to everyone.

    However, all the training in the world will go to waste if students do not have access to technology outside of the classroom.

    Learning no longer is assigned to the four walls of the classroom. Learning takes place 24 hours a day. Access to this learning should not be limited to those who can afford it. The digital divide is still creating opportunity gaps for our students.

    There is simply no reason for this problem to continue in Silicon Valley.

    San José Spotlight columnist Chris Funk is the superintendent of the East Side Union High  School District. His columns appear every third Monday of the month. Contact Chris at [email protected] or follow @chrisfunksupt on Twitter.


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