Keep the "Internet Bus" Rolling for Kids, Jobs

Here is a good idea. The New York Times reports on a school district in Arizona that has put WiFi on a single school bus serving High School students. The results have been a marked improvement in student behavior, as the bus has become a rolling study hall. Student athletes at away games use the parked bus as an Internet Café.

The Times reports that Empire High School is part of an initiative to become a "digital school" where students are issued laptops instead of textbooks. The cost of a computer is a big hurdle to getting online so that problem has been taken care of in a way that is blind to class or income. It also has the benefit of putting a computer into every household.

Only time and more experiments will tell if the Internet Bus leads to improved grades and test scores. Already though there is evidence showing that children with access to high speed Internet (broadband) do better in school. And parents like the Internet; in a poll taken Fall 2009 some 80 percent of parents said that the Internet helps children with their schoolwork.

As Congress is considering a new jobs bill maybe they should consider helping school districts around the country make this same kind of improvement. Installing Internet hubs on school buses could be a nice little job spur--broadband has been an employment bright spot in the still struggling economy. And, it would give students an immediate and tangible benefit. A big focus should also be on funds for laptops.

The policy would have to be written to be mindful of the big divides in our schools between the rich and poor districts. We want to use this to close the digital divide, not widen it. There are all sorts of progressive ways to implement such an idea too with a sliding scale of grant sizes depending on a range of factors including income of the school district. And something should be done for urban school districts where kids often walk to school instead of taking the bus.

Finally, this is certainly not an excuse or replacement for bigger policies to get more people on the Internet. But sometimes in politics and policy we need a clear and tangible idea that people can support--like getting every soldier new body armor or putting 100,000 police officers on the street.

So, how about giving every high school student a laptop and helping school districts wire their buses (as well as their schools). For years there have been people working on policies in this area -- its time to move forward. Let's keep the Internet bus rolling.

Update: I forgot to mention a post I wrote in January about advances in these mobile hubs while attending the Consumer Electronics Show.