The rapid growth of school technology infrastructure has led to the increased availability and use of computers in schools. Most students now have access to computers and the Internet in their classrooms, nearly all students have access somewhere in their schools, and a majority of teachers report using computers or the Internet for instructional purposes.
In addition to students’ and staff members’ increased access to computers, many states have taken steps to provide guidelines for how to use educational technology more effectively. For example, 40 states and the District of Columbia have drawn up standards for teachers or administrators that include technology, and 41 states and the District of Columbia have technology standards for students.
States are also increasing the use of technology in instruction by allowing for the creation of cyber charter schools and establishing statewide virtual schools.
As it is, a few states have professional-development or licensure requirements that specifically address both teachers’ and administrators’ technology skills, and three states test students’ technology skills.
States have made strong efforts to increase student access to computers since Education Week began tracking student-to-computer ratios in 1998. To be sure, there have been solid gains in student access to instructional computers. But the truly dramatic change over this time has been providing students with Internet-connected computers. The ratio of students per Internet-connected computer improved from almost 20 students per computer in 1998 to 5.6 students per computer in 2002.
Student access to instructional computers grew between 2001 and 2002 in all but four states—Arizona, Maine, Minnesota, and New Hampshire—according to Market Data Retrieval, or MDR, a market-research firm based in Shelton, Conn. Nationwide, there were 3.8 students per instructional computer in 2002, compared with 4.2 students in 2001. Two states— Hawaii and Mississippi—improved their ratios of students to instructional computers by more than one student per computer.
At the same time, states have shown even more progress in student access to the Internet, improving the number of students per Internet-connected computer from 6.8 students per computer in 2001 to 5.6 pupils in 2002.
What’s more, gaps between statewide access to computers and access in high-minority and high-poverty schools are closing across the country.
In 2001, there were 8.1 students per Internet-connected computer in high-poverty schools, and 8.5 students per Internet-connected computer in high-minority schools. A year later, those ratios decreased to 6.3 and 6.7, respectively. Over the same period, 17 states reduced their ratios of students to Internet-connected computers by more than two students in high-minority schools.
Connecticut made remarkable improvement in its high-minority schools, improving the ratio from 19.8 students in 2001 to 6.7 in 2002, according to MDR.
Beyond those improvements, states have made advances in the quality of school computers and the speed of their Internet connections. A majority of instructional computers run operating system software such as Windows 95 or 98, and 43 percent are higher-quality computers such as Pentium IIs or higher, Power Macs or iMacs. Among schools with Internet access, 76 percent use high-speed connections.
The Capacity Challenge
With almost universal access to computers and the Internet in schools, states are now facing the challenge of building schools’ capacities to use technology effectively.
Most experts agree that increasing capacity depends on enhancing the technology skills of teachers and administrators. This is supported by the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001, which requires states to allocate 25 percent of federal technology dollars to staff development.
As it is, states have devoted the bulk of their technology funding to hardware and software improvements. Market Data Retrieval reports that almost 66 percent of school technology spending is projected to go to hardware, and a little more than 19 percent to software. Staff development is expected to capture 15 percent of most schools’ technology budgets, an increase from 14 percent in 2001.
Although state funding for technology-related staff development remains low, teachers across the country are saying that is exactly what they need. Fewer than half, 42 percent, of novice teachers report feeling well or very well prepared to use computers for instruction in their first year of teaching, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Survey, or SASS . And MDR data show that in 23 percent of schools across the country, at least half the teaching force was identified as “beginners” in using educational technology.
Many states are trying to address educators’ technology skills through the creation of teacher or administrator standards that include technology; 40 states and the District of Columbia have such standards.
In addition to standards, some states have adopted technology requirements for initial licensure. For example, 13 states require teachers and/or administrators to complete technology-related coursework, and nine require them to pass technology-related assessments.
At the same time, several states have enacted policies to improve veteran teachers’ technology skills. Seven require technology training or coursework for teacher or administrator recertification; and two states—Kentucky and Washington— require teachers or administrators to pass a technology test.
Although the number of states requiring participation in technology-related professional development is relatively low, according to 1999-2000 SASS data, many teachers report voluntarily participating in professional-development programs. Data show that 70 percent of public school teachers said they had taken professional-development training on the use of instructional computers within a year of being surveyed.
Rather than forcing school personnel to improve their technology skills using the proverbial stick, some states have chosen to dangle a carrot. Ten states currently offer professional or financial incentives for teachers to use educational technology, and 31 states provide such incentives for administrators.
In addition to equipping schools with hardware and software and infusing technology into initial licensure requirements, recertification guidelines, and professional-development programs, many states are working to improve their schools’ technology capacity by more closely tracking what technology equipment they have and how it is used. Currently, 42 states conduct regular data collections on technology in schools.
Computer Use, Online Learning
Recent statistics on technology use in schools show positive trends in student and staff hardware and software use. For example, according to SASS, 69 percent of teachers report that their students use computers during class time.
In 83 percent of schools, at least half the teachers use computers daily for planning, teaching, or both, up from 78 percent in 2001, according to MDR data. Also, in 73 percent of schools, at least half the teachers use the Internet for instruction. That is an increase from 69 percent in 2001. MDR data also reveal that teachers in high-poverty and high-minority schools were only slightly less likely than all teachers surveyed to report that they use computers or the Internet for instruction.
In addition to high rates of computer and Internet use for planning and teaching, states are making progress in setting student standards that include technology. At present, 41 states and the District of Columbia have established standards for students that incorporate technology, an increase from 37 last year. Three states require students to be tested specifically on their technology skills.
Over the past few years, states have also started to embrace the idea of incorporating online instruction into the standard curriculum, and some have crafted policies to guide schools in how they should use online instruction. For example, five states now require at least one face-to-face meeting between students in online courses and their teachers. And Alabama requires teachers of online courses to receive training in online instruction.
In the past few years, some states have also moved toward allowing entire schools to function via the Internet: Sixteen states have established statewide virtual schools, and three more states are sponsoring pilot programs. In addition, 24 states allow for the creation of cyber charter schools— independent public schools that provide education online.
A version of this article appeared in the May 08, 2003 edition of Education Week