Even as the debate over the effectiveness of education technology rages, policymakers and educators are spending billions of dollars on hardware, software, and connectivity.
To know what these investments have bought and whether they are paying off: policymakers need regular, reliable, and readily available information on technology in schools.
While it’s true that many states gather their own data, their use of different definitions and procedures makes comparisons impossible.
That means policymakers and members of the public often lack benchmarks that can show whether their schools are keeping pace with schools in other states.
To help fill this gap, Technology Counts ’98 reports the most recent, reliable, and comparable information available on education technology in the 50 states.
This year, in an effort to make the technology data more understandable and useful, we introduce a three-part framework for reporting the information: access, capacity, and use.
Simply put, if schools are to realize benefits from education technology:
- Teachers and students must have adequate and equitable access to hardware and network connections.
- States and districts must give schools the capacity to use technology well by devising a thoughtful technology plan and offering adequate teacher training and technical support.
- Teachers and students must use technology in effective ways.
Unfortunately, state-by-state data on education technology remains haphazardly collected and alarmingly incomplete.
Part of the problem is a lack of federal involvement in technology data collection. While the Clinton administration has made technology funding a priority, the federal government has no coordinated effort to collect even basic information across the 50 states.
As a result, most state-by-state information on the presence of education hardware and connectivity is available only from private firms, such as Market Data Retrieval, based in Shelton, Conn., and Quality Education Data, based in Denver.
For the following section, on access to hardware and network connections in America’s schools, Technology Counts ’98 relies almost exclusively on previously unpublished MDR data.
The results of MDR’s 1998 survey reveal dramatic increases in the presence of up-to-date technology in schools over the past year. Nationally, the number of students for every instructional multimedia computer dropped from about 21 in 1997 to about 13 in 1998.
Three out of four classrooms now have at least one computer designated for instructional use. Multimedia computers, which have a sound card and a CD-ROM drive, make up 45 percent of all computers in public schools.
Kathleen Brantley, MDR’s K-12 product manager, attributes the growth to three factors: public demand for modern technology in schools, federal leadership and funding, and a strong economy.
“There has been a concentrated effort on the part of schools to update their computer stock in order to offer students access to multimedia machines rather than aging equipment,” Brantley says. “When society determines something is important, we’re all more willing to fund it.”
Changes in connectivity are no less dramatic. As recently as 1994, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that only 3 percent of the nation’s classrooms were connected to the Internet.
Today, 44 percent of the nation’s classrooms have Internet access, according to MDR. And more than half of classrooms are connected to a local-area network, which enables computers within a school to share information and such resources as software and printers.
Some data suggest that the Internet’s content may be more important than its communications potential in fueling school connectivity.
The percentage of schools reporting that students have access to the World Wide Web increased from 54 percent in 1994 to 90 percent in 1997, according to tabulations provided by the NCES for Technology Counts ‘98.
In contrast, the percentage of schools reporting that e-mail is available to students remained almost unchanged over the same period.
Inequities in Internet access persist. MDR data show that across the nation and in many states, high-poverty schools are less likely than other schools to be connected to the Internet.
A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 1998 edition of Education Week