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Apple Picks Aerohive For ConnectED Program

A federal program to put WiFi in underserved K-12 environments is starting to heat up, and one WLAN vendor scored a nice piece of the pie. However, will a sweet deal for some amount to a good deal for schools?

The White House launched the ConnectED initiative in June 2013, and it's just now starting to see some progress. Aerohive Networks announced today that it's been selected as the sole WiFi infrastructure provider for ConnectED as part its relationship with Apple, which is expected to be a major provider of devices to the program.

Apple plans to provide $100 million in resources to the initiative, including client devices (iPads and AppleTVs) and the Aerohive network switches and APs that will form the new infrastructure for ConnectED schools. A hundred million dollars' worth of gear may sound impressive, but iPads aren't exactly cheap, nor are access points, switches, and the engineering that goes into bringing it all to life.

Bear in mind that the recently failed iPad initiative in the Los Angeles Unified School District cost taxpayers more than $1 billion in that school system alone. I think there is a lot to learn from the Los Angeles example before ConnectED goes too far, but as the deputy mayor of a small village and a one-time local school district technology committee member, I'm skeptical anyone involved will take the time to learn from recent history.

Though I am a fan of Aerohive's technology, I'm also a taxpayer who doesn't like that federal dollars mandate particular client devices and networking gear, when a case could be made that certain school districts or groups of students may be better suited for Chromebooks or low-end laptops. For example, many students need keyboards to write papers (writing a paper on a tablet is brutal), making Windows laptops a better fit for some. Microsoft is on the list of ConnectED donors.

I also don't like the fact that a single integrator benefits from ConnectED. Education Networks of America (ENA) landed a sweet monopoly deal in that it's the only managed service provider that will service ConnectED schools. ENA has a good track record in providing networking services to a number of K-12 environments, but there are other quality large and small integrators out there that ought to be able to get in on a program of this magnitude.

Given that my own kids went to school in a fairly poor rural school district, I somewhat applaud the goals of ConnectED. However, I still haven't heard any details on how this venture actually aids learning. It's been proven that technology for technology's sake can amount to ineffective feel-goodism when grant money is behind it.

And there will always be those who rightly ask if the underserved districts that get ConnectED funding might have higher, more fundamental needs than an iPad in every backpack. I'm hoping the best for ConnectED, but I remain skeptical.