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Only 3 percent of U.S. schools are effectively integrating technology into all aspects of their educational programs, while most others fall far short of that goal, a report from a group of 21 business and education leaders concludes.

A majority of schools--59 percent--ranked at the lowest end of the scale developed by the CEO Forum on Education and Technology. "It doesn't matter what segment of society it is, if an organization is doing well, it's really taking advantage of information technology," says Allan Weis, a forum member and president of Advanced Network and Services Inc., a nonprofit Armonk, New York, company that promotes technology use in education. "Why is it that the only part of our society that's preparing the youth of tomorrow doesn't take advantage of it?"

"School Technology and Readiness Report: From Pillars to Progress," is one of two studies released in October that examine how well schools nationwide are integrating technology--an issue the Clinton administration and many state policymakers have emphasized.

In the other report, a cable-television organization analyzed the explosive growth over the past five years of Internet use in schools. Nearly 48 percent of the 400 teachers surveyed by Cable in the Classroom said they use the vast computer network in their teaching--most often to do research or access curriculum materials. But of that number, only 37 percent could name three World Wide Web sites that they found particularly useful.

"From this, we conclude that teachers' use of the Internet, for the most part, is still in the early stages of development," the report by the Alexandria, Virginia-based group says.

The CEO Forum report is the first of four by the group, whose members include technology companies such as Apple Computer, nonprofit entities such as National Public Radio, and education organizations such as the National Education Association and the National School Boards Association. The group derived its grading criteria from the "four pillars" of school technology articulated in 1996 by President Clinton: hardware, connectivity, digital content, and professional development.

Schools designated "target" users of technology--only 3 percent made the cut--show strengths in all four categories. They have at least one computer for every three students, on-site technical support, high-speed Internet access, and teachers with more than 71 hours of training in technology use. In addition, many of the schools' computers must have multimedia and CD-ROM capabilities. The group even specifies that teachers in the "target" schools act more as guides to students than traditional lecturers.

"It's the integration of the four elements and not each one standing alone that's important," says Anne Bryant, the group's co-chair and executive director of the school boards' association.

The 59 percent of schools designated "low" technology users, on the other hand, have fewer computers, no maintenance support on campus, teachers with less training, and very few machines with multimedia or CD-ROM capabilities. Those schools may not have an Internet connection, and their teachers tend to teach in more traditional ways.

Twenty-six percent of the nation's schools fell in the "mid tech" category; the remaining 12 percent were labeled "high tech." The report includes a chart of its criteria so that schools can judge where they figure on the scale.

Some critics of the educational-technology bandwagon were skeptical of what they called the report's "shopping lists." "It's kind of like the American Dairy Council saying kids need to drink more milk," said William Rukeyser, coordinator for Learning in the Real World, a Woodland, California-based group that opposes massive investments in educational technology. "What schools need is a lesson plan."

--Debra Viadero

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