Special Report

Tracking U.S. Trends

May 03, 2005 6 min read

Over time, Internet access has steadily increased in public schools, leading to virtually no difference in access between poor schools and their wealthier counterparts, according to the latest figures from the National Center for Education Statistics.

The NCES, an arm of the U.S. Department of Education, also reports that schools are using their Internet access more frequently to build school Web sites—which, experts say, can offer everything from lunch menus to online practice tests and daily homework assignments. During the 2001-02 school year, 75 percent of all public schools had Web sites, and that figure had increased to 88 percent for the 2003-04 school year. About 80 percent of high-minority schools and 72 percent of high-poverty schools had Web sites.

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Information from Market Data Retrieval, a research firm in Shelton, Conn., that tracks the use of educational technology, provides further evidence of the continuing infusion of technology into schools.

MDR found that between the 2002-03 and 2003-04 school years, there was a small but consistent decline in the number of students per instructional computer nationwide, as well as for high-poverty and high-minority schools. The ratio of students per instructional computer in public schools dipped to 3.8-to-1, from 4-to-1, in that short time.

Some states were exceptions to that trend, however. For example, the ratio increased in Nevada from 4.5 students per instructional computer to 5.7. The ratio also went up in high-poverty schools in Massachusetts, from 2.9 students per computer to 4.7.

When MDR counted only the number of instructional computers that are located in classrooms, the number of students per computer in classrooms declined nationally from 7.9 in the 2002-03 school year to 7.6 in 2003-04. But the availability of instructional computers in classrooms ranged widely when comparing some states—for instance, there were 14.3 students per computer in Utah, compared with 3.5 students in South Dakota.

The ratio of students per Internet-connected computer in classrooms also declined slightly between 2002-03 and 2003-04. On average, there were 8.0 students per Internet-connected computer located in classrooms during the 2003-04 school year, compared with 8.4 for the previous year.

New Technologies ‘On the Rise’

The use of more current technologies appears to be growing—in some cases, rapidly, while in others, at a gradual pace, according to MDR.

During the 2003-04 school year, 47 percent of all instructional computers in public schools used up-to-date operating software such as Windows 2000, NT, or XP, an increase from 29 percent the previous school year.

State initiatives to place laptop computers or hand-held-computing devices in schools are rare. The Education Week Research Center found that just Maine, Michigan, and New Mexico have state-sponsored student-laptop programs in place, while Massachusetts and the District of Columbia are piloting such programs.

Pennsylvania is the only state with a state-sponsored hand-held-computing program. In Pennsylvania, competitive grants are available for principals to use hand-held technologies in partnership with teachers at their schools as a tool for integrating technology with instruction.

Although few states are working to put hand-held technologies or laptops in classrooms, data from MDR show a gradual increase in the percentage of schools nationwide that use those technologies. In the 2003-04 school year, for instance, 13.3 percent of instructional computers were laptops, compared with 12.4 percent during the previous school year.

In addition, 3.8 percent of all public schools used hand-held technologies for students in 2003-04 and 8.4 percent of public schools used such technologies for teachers that year, up from 3.5 percent and 7.6 percent, respectively, from the previous year, according to MDR.

Standards for Educators

The Education Week Research Center found that 40 states have technology standards for teachers, two more than the 2003-04 school year. Still, many states have not crafted policies to ensure that teachers meet those standards. Twenty states require that teachers take one or more technology courses or pass a technology test before they may receive an initial teaching license. Ten states require teachers to demonstrate competence in technology or complete professional-development courses related to technology before being recertified—but six of those states did not include technology requirements as part of initial licensure.

The Education Week Research Center found that it is a little less common for states to have technology standards for administrators, with 32 states having such standards for the 2004-05 school year. Only six states require administrators to complete technology coursework or pass a technology test before they receive an initial administrator license. Seven states require administrators to demonstrate competence in technology or complete professional development related to technology before being recertified.


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Although most states have not established policies to ensure that staff members are savvy users of technology, MDR found that the percentage of schools in which a majority of teachers are considered “beginners” in the use of technology has declined, from 35 percent in the 1998-99 school year to 19 percent for the 2003-04 school year. But during the 2003-04 school year, the percentage of schools with a majority of teachers who were technology novices varied widely when comparing some states. In Kentucky, for example, technology novices made up a majority of the teaching staff at just 5 percent of public schools, while in New York, 38 percent of public schools had a majority of teachers who were technology beginners.

Instructional Issues

Efforts to put technology standards for students in place have been widespread for a number of years, but very few states test students on those standards.

Minnesota, Mississippi, and South Dakota are the only states that do not have technology standards for students. Mississippi plans to have such standards in place for students by the 2005-06 school year.

Currently, though, only New York, North Carolina, and Utah test students on their mastery of technology standards. Hawaii is piloting a technology test for students.

Meanwhile, MDR reports that more teachers have begun to use the Internet for instruction. According to the market-research firm, 77 percent of public schools had a majority of teachers who used the Internet for instruction during the 2003-04 school year, up from 54 percent in 1998-99. In the 2003-04 school year, high-poverty and high-minority schools compared well with overall figures in that category, with 73 percent of high-poverty schools and 71 percent of high-minority schools having a majority of their teachers using the Internet for instruction.

E-learning opportunities in which instruction takes place over the Internet instead of in a traditional classroom are available to a sizable number of students. Twenty-two states have established a state virtual school, and 16 states have at least one cyber charter school, according to the Education Week Research Center.

In addition, MDR found that 25 percent of public schools offer their own distance-learning programs for students.