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Sophisticated Computer Use Said Tied to Wealth

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Students in poor schools often have as much access to educational technology as students in wealthier schools because of federal assistance, a recent study has found.

But white students and those from more affluent districts use computers for more sophisticated purposes than do disadvantaged students and members of minority groups, a second study indicates.

One of the reports, prepared for the U.S. Education Department by Policy Studies Associates Inc. (psa), a Washington consulting firm, found that Chapter 1 of the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act affords students in poor areas access to computers, but it also found that Chapter 1 students are more likely to use computers for drill-and-practice exercises than for programming and other "higher-order" applications.

The second report, based on a survey conducted by the Center for Social Organization of Schools at The Johns Hopkins University, reached the compatible conclusion that the way computers are used varies by race. Specifically, the Hopkins study found that schools with enrollments made up predominantly of minority-group students tend to use computers for drill-and-practice, while schools that are mostly white provide instruction in programming.

Researchers conducting the Education Department study, in an analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics and from surveys by several other organizations, found that 35 percent of all Chapter 1 schools had at least one computer in 1981-82. At the same time, 36 percent of all non-Chapter 1 schools had computers.

The researchers noted, however, that Chapter 1 schools have fewer computers on average. The non-Chapter 1 schools surveyed in 1982 had an average of 4.7 computers, while Chapter 1 schools had an average of 3.7 computers.

The difference might be explained by the fact that Chapter 1 programs tend to be concentrated in elementary schools, which generally use computers less frequently than secondary schools, the report said.

Wary of Chapter 1 Money

Another possible explanation for the difference, the report said, is that schools are wary of using Chapter 1 money to buy equipment that can be used by all students because of requirements that the federal funds be spent on educationally disadvantaged students.

The Hopkins study, directed by Henry Jay Becker, examined elementary schools that owned computers and that were attended predominantly by students from poor families.

The predominantly white schools in the study were divided by socioeconomic status into four groups. The predominantly minority schools--two thirds of which enrolled students from the lowest socioeconomic quarter of the population--were considered as one group. Racial and socioeconomic characteristics of their schools were supplied by the principals of 2,209 public and private schools surveyed by Hopkins last December and January.

Differences between the 38 pre-dominantly minority schools and the 32 predominantly white schools that ranked lowest socioeconomically, the report said, are "substantial."

For example, 9 percent of the predominantly white schools reported using computers "intensively" for drill-and-practice exercises. But 33 percent of the predominantly minority elementary schools use computers intensively for drill-and-practice.

About 49 percent of those predominantly white elementary schools enrolling poor students use computers intensively for programming, compared to 10 percent of all predominantly black elementary schools.

Students in the predominantly white schools enrolling poor students, the report said, also spend almost twice as much time per week--35 minutes--using the computer as do students in predominantly minority schools--18 minutes.

The Hopkins study, considered to be the most comprehensive study on the subject of school computer use completed to date, also found that educational uses of computers vary widely according to the geographic location and the type of school.

Public and private elementary schools in the South and elementary parochial schools nationally were found to be the least likely to own computers. Forty-eight percent of the elementary schools outside the South owned computers at the time of the survey, compared with 29 percent of elementary schools in that region. Forty-six percent of public elementary schools owned computers, while 25 percent of parochial elementary schools owned computers.

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