(WBIR - Farragut) School systems throughout Tennessee are working furiously to upgrade their internet infrastructure in preparation for next year's PARCC assessments. The computer-based tests require online access and will assess students' in math and English using the "common core" standards.
Knox County has worked furiously to cut the cord in its classrooms by installing complete wireless coverage in its schools. A little more than a year ago, the L&N Stem Academy was the only school out of 89 system-wide that was fully equipped with a robust wireless network. Now KCS has installed the infrastructure in about 50 of its schools.
"We have about 30 more schools that we will finish installing wireless by the end of the school year," said Bill Parker, director of technology for Knox County Schools. "The rest of the schools will be complete by the end of the summer."
When you talk to Parker, it does not take long to encounter jargon that reveals he has been wrapped up in a world of wireless in the last year. Every other sentence seemingly includes phrases such as "gig interface," "enterprise solution," "5 gigahertz radio," and "heat maps." The final translation in layman's terms is the schools will have wireless networks that can handle every student logged on simultaneously at speeds comparable or equal to a hard-wired connection.
"Before we had wireless in the schools, students had to rely on a wired connection that actually plugs into the wall," said Parker. "This new system is a lot more cost-effective and it works. We've tested at one school with 1,000 users logged on and it worked flawlessly, so we're confident in this solution."
While the wireless infrastructure is a requirement for the new PARCC assessments, superintendent Jim McIntyre says this investment should take place regardless of any upcoming tests.
"That level of technology is where we should be anyway for our students in today's world," said McIntyre. "What PARCC has done is sped up that process where we are upgrading all of the schools at once. We're making significant process in an accelerated time frame."
Parker says the bottom line is the classroom should be a place for intellectual and technological progress. Without wireless connections, students who step into the classroom are essentially taking a step back in time compared to the rest of the world they live in.
"You go to a restaurant and they have wireless. You spend a night in a hotel and you have wireless connections. At home you have wireless. You don't want to come back into a classroom and have less than what you have available at any other point," said Parker.
Parker said it will cost around $1 million to install wireless in 30 schools by the end of this school year.