In a time of tight state budgets, funding for educational technology is often first on the chopping block. And that has surely been the case in recent years.
Technology spending for schools dropped by more than 24 percent from the 2001-02 school year to the 2002-03 school year, according to Market Data Retrieval, or MDR, a market-research firm based in Shelton, Conn. The sharpest decline came in spending on hardware, which fell 28 percent.
Still, even with that reduction in spending, states have been able to maintain a high level of student access to computers. Nearly every school in the nation has access to computers and the Internet, and most have computers and the Internet in classrooms. What’s more, the gap in access between poor and well-to-do schools is closing.
States have also continued to improve the quality of computers and Internet connections in schools. According to MDR, 80 percent of schools with Internet access have high-speed connections, and a majority of school computers are running more-recent operating software. (Forty-eight percent of instructional computers in schools run Windows 98 software, and 29 percent have Windows 2000, NT, or XP.)
In addition, states are gaining ground in getting computers into classrooms. MDR reports that, nationwide, there are four students per instructional computer—and counting only the computers located in classrooms, there is one computer for every 7.9 students, compared with 9.2 in 2002.
The same is true for Internet access. While there are 4.3 students per Internet-connected computer in schools nationwide, there are 8.4 students per Internet-connected computer located in classrooms, which improved from 11.1 in 2002.
Meanwhile, some states are trying to make access to technology even more efficient and universal through the use of wireless technologies.
According to MDR, the average number of laptops in a school is 22, and about 12 percent of all instructional computers are laptops. PDAs are a less common but growing trend. About 8 percent of schools have PDAs for teachers, and 3.5 percent provide them to students.
Education Week found that only two states—Maine and Pennsylvania—are providing state money for programs that distribute laptops or handheld computing devices. Michigan also has a wireless handheld and laptop computer program, but because of cuts in spending, the Freedom to Learn program is being funded only by federal dollars this year.
Currently, Maine provides every teacher and student in grades 7 and 8 with a laptop computer, and the state is working on moving the program to high schools in 2004. New Mexico is piloting a program based on the Maine initiative, with the goal of providing a laptop to every 7th grader in the state.
Efforts to Integrate
Of course, increased student access to computers is of little value if teachers’ capacity to use technology in the classroom is limited.
Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia have standards for teachers that include technology, according to Education Week data. Thirty-three states have similar standards for administrators.
However, only 15 states require teachers to take courses in technology, and only Florida and Georgia have such a requirement for their administrator-candidates. Just nine states require teachers to demonstrate technology competence by taking a technology test; only four states require their administrators to take such a test.
Once educators become licensed, 10 states require that teachers participate in technology-related professional development or require training or a technology test for recertification. Six have similar requirements for administrators.
But states are offering incentives for administrators and teachers to become more technologically skilled.
A mix of state funding and foundation grants has helped 27 states develop technology-related professional development with incentives for administrators. Such incentives include the gift of a laptop computer at the conclusion of training, financial incentives to take courses, or professional-development credits.
Twelve states offer similar incentive-based professional-development programs for teachers.
States still have a long way to go in integrating technology into curriculum and instruction.
All but six states include technology in state academic standards, and of those six states, Georgia is currently drafting technology standards, and Mississippi plans to have standards in place next school year. But only three states—New York, North Carolina, and Utah—actually test student knowledge of technology to see if the instruction is having an impact.
Problems in moving from access to implementation are also apparent in how much, and in what ways, students and teachers are using computers in schools.
A background question from the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, mathematics test asked teachers how they used computers for math instruction. Although the survey found that 72 percent of 4th graders had teachers who were using computers in some way for math instruction, an overwhelming majority of students had teachers who were using computers for basic drill and practice or for math games. Very few were using computers for higherorder-thinking tasks such as simulations, according to the NAEP survey.
There is also still a large group of students who are not using computers in school. The survey found that 63 percent of 4th graders report using a computer at least once a week.
In addition, the MDR survey found that just 58 percent of schools had nearly all teachers using a computer daily for planning and/or teaching. The proportions dropped to 47 percent and 44 percent, respectively, for high-poverty and high-minority schools.
A version of this article appeared in the May 06, 2004 edition of Education Week