Green Acres is an American Sitcom that was broadcast from 1965 to 1971 that starred Eddie Albert as Oliver Douglas and Eva Gabor as Lisa Douglas. The couple moved from an upscale New York apartment to a rundown farmhouse in order to live a simple life. An example of that simple life is anytime Eddie Albert had to answer or make a phone call, he had to climb up a telephone pole and use a rotary phone that was attached to the telephone wires at the top of the pole.
Fast forward to the year 2014 where I have lived a simple life in rural southern Arizona for the past 52 years and somewhat like Eddie Albert I have to periodically walk to the telephone pole and check my internet connections. Due to the remoteness of my home, I have always had unreliable utility services and the utility companies say that my problems with their services are caused because my home is at the end of the service lines.
However, the past two years my internet service has been working intermittently and has caused me to miss deadlines and not be able to answer emails in a timely manner. In one instance, while my wife was pursing her business degree and she was taking an online test, all of a sudden she lost the connection to the internet and her test was automatically submitted without being completed. My wife immediately contacted our internet provider to verify that she lost internet connectivity, so that she could provide proof to the university that she needed to have her test reset. Even though she had proof that the internet connection was lost when she was testing, the university denied her request to retest.
Many times I have had technician come out to the house to try to rectify my situation and they put a “Band-Aid” on the system to get it working without actually finding the cause of the problem. The technicians leave and my internet works for a few hours and then it quits and it is back to square one.
The town of San Manuel, Arizona where I teach at First Avenue Elementary has the same scenario as mine. The town has one road in and one road out and the town is at the end of the utility service lines. Lately the school has been losing internet connectivity more than usual, which leaves me wondering, “Do we as a district have the technological capabilities to teach College and Career Readiness lessons and administer the PARCC assessment successfully?” Here are a few examples of warning signs that have me concerned:
Currently my students use a writing program that is internet based. My students enjoy using the program, but when they are uploading their assignments the band width is not sufficient enough and internet gridlock occurs, which causes many students to lose the assignment they were trying to upload. If internet gridlock is occurring with one class, what will happen when the entire school is trying to submit the PARCC or another test that is similar? Will their answers be saved if the internet connection is lost? Will the school have to petition the Department of Education to retake tests that were submitted uncompleted due to internet gridlock?
Hardware is another concern in rural districts. For example, most of our schools computers are over ten years old and use Windows XP as an operating system. Trying to use current software and internet based programs make the computers run extremely slow to the point that students give up waiting for the program to respond. Our students have access to laptops that are less than ten years old, but the laptops have never worked properly and now the batteries give out before the students are finished with their assignments.
As districts prepare for the upcoming PARCC Assessment by replacing, or not, aging equipment, it reminds me of my internet provider who was looking for a quick fix to my internet problems by replacing my modem or tightening wires inside the junction box, but never finding the cause of the problem. If schools do not have a strong internet signal coming in or out, it is just like changing tires on a car that has run out of gas and the occupants will go nowhere or are we back to climbing up telephone poles like Oliver Douglas?