More Schools, Classrooms Gaining Access to Internet
Nearly eight of every 10 public schools in the nation had access to the Internet as of last year, more than double the proportion in 1994, according to a survey by the National Center for Education Statistics.
The percentage of the nation's instructional rooms--classrooms, computer labs, and library or media centers--with connections to the global information network rose at an even faster rate, from 3 percent in 1994 to 27 percent in 1997, the survey released last month found.
"All across the country, those figures are striking--there's no leveling off," said Linda G. Roberts, the technology adviser to U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley.
Ms. Roberts credited the increases to a combination of many factors, including NetDay wiring programs, which have taken place over two years in more than 40 states; federal funding for technology; and comprehensive planning and investments by the states.
Vice President Al Gore, who unveiled the figures at a telecommunications conference in Washington, said, "We have made progress in reaching our goal of connecting all of the nation's schools and classrooms to the Internet by the year 2000."
Many observers expect the number of connected classrooms to grow sharply this year and next, as schools begin receiving federal "E-rate" discounts on telecommunications services, including the wiring of classrooms.
But Mr. Gore warned that schools with 50 percent or more minority students, and schools with 71 percent or more poor students, have lagged behind other schools in Internet connections. Smaller schools were also less likely to be connected.
The education-rate discounts, which are greater for poor and rural schools, could help remedy that shortfall, Mr. Gore said.
Ms. Roberts said the NCES survey next fall would try to determine the extent to which teachers are actually using the Internet in the classroom and the extent to which they are getting the support and training they need.
"Even in instructional rooms with Internet access, students who spend time in those room may not actually use that access," the NCES report notes.
The NCES data were taken from annual surveys of between 900 and 1,200 schools that were selected as a national representative sample.
Many teachers would like to make more use of the Internet in their classes, but are frustrated by how hard it is to find the good stuff.
In a poll released last week by MCI Corp., the Washington-based telephone company, over 60 percent of teachers expressed concern about the content on the Internet. Most said they were hungry for curricula and instructional materials that were grounded in research and presented by reputable educational groups.
Yet 92 percent of the 400 teachers surveyed by telephone said they agreed that use of the Internet in school is critical for preparing students for the future.
An almost identical majority--91 percent--said they favored using the Internet to teach core subjects.
Not coincidentally, MCI last week became the latest of a number of phone companies, including AT&T Corp. and Pacific Bell, to launch a World Wide Web site that offers curriculum materials on-line to teachers and parents.
The MarcoPolo site presents a portfolio of Web sites by the National Geographic Society, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Council on Economic Education.
The site, which is plastered with MCI logos, is at www.mci.com/marcopolo.
Sarah Clark, the public-affairs specialist at the National Geographic Society in Washington, said its "Xpeditions" site dovetails with the national geography standards the society helped develop, and at the same time offers "interactivity, fun, zip, pizazz, access."
"We've had a geographic education program in place for 10 years, training teachers who train other teachers," Ms. Clark said. "This is a next step, a way of delivering geography materials into their classrooms."
The site includes maps of the world that can be downloaded, the geography standards themselves, and lesson plans and activities for home and school use. Another feature, "Expedition Hall," is "a virtual museum of geography."
MCI, which invested $2 million in the MarcoPolo site, also recently gave a $520,000 grant to the Consortium for School Networking, in Washington, and the National School Boards Foundation in Alexandria, Va.
The two groups will use the money to improve communication between people who have created statewide computer networks and leaders of state school boards' associations.
For schools and districts that filed their first E-rate application forms early in the process, it's time to file a second one--Form 471--with the Schools and Libraries Corp. in Washington.
Form 471 requires applicants to summarize the contracts they've signed for work that will be subsidized with federal E-rate discounts.
While the first E-rate form, Form 470, did not require applicants to assign any dollar figures to their proposed technology projects, Form 471 asks for detailed information about costs. It also requires applicants to have received approval of their technology plans at the district or state level.
Schools and districts could begin sending in their Form 470 on Jan. 30. Once that form has been submitted, applicants must wait 28 days before sending in Form 471.
One concern voiced by many applicants is how much they should count on receiving discounts from a program that is new this year and has a cap of $2.25 billion.
The fund could run out, said Tom Carroll, the director of technology planning and evaluation for the SLC, which is administering the program.
At a recent school-networking conference in Washington, Mr. Carroll advised schools to include a "contingency clause" in their contracts if they are depending on E-rate discounts to pay for technology projects.
The SLC is offering help through several venues for the tedious task of filling out the forms.
Since January, SLC staff members have conducted one or two workshops a day across the nation on how to apply for E-rate discounts.
Last week, the SLC posted new fact sheets about Form 471 on its Web site (www.neca.org). The same information can also be requested by calling the SLC Client Service Bureau at (888) 203-8100.
Cisco Systems Inc., a San Jose, Calif., computer-networking company, created a CD-ROM that contains all of the SLC's official information and forms plus a NetDay how-to guide. It's available for free by calling NetDay at (800) 778-3632, ext. 723131.
--ANDREW TROTTER & MARY ANN ZEHR
The percentage of public schools and instructional classrooms with access to the Internet has been rising quickly, according to surveys of a nationally representative sample of schools between 1994 and 1997.
Source: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education.