Special Report

What Data Should Be Collected?

By Andrew Trotter — November 10, 1997 4 min read

What gets measured, gets money, some policy analysts say. The flip side—what gets money, gets measured—may be equally true.

Perhaps for both reasons, state policymakers are showing greater interest in getting accurate, up-to-date data on technology in public schools.

Many states conduct at least limited surveys of the hardware, software, and infrastructure in their schools, or they glean those data from the surveys of market-data firms.

But state officials say they need comparable data from all the states, so leaders can make comparisons and highlight the policies and practices that prove most effective.

Currently, data on school technology are “very fragmented, very scattered, not compiled, not standardized,” says Mary Fulton, a policy analyst at the Education Commission of the States in Denver.

She notes that data collected by states are often inconsistent with those collected by other states. “It’s often comparing apples and oranges, cranberries and peanuts,” Fulton says.

One problem is that surveys by different states often don’t use common definitions—such as what constitutes a “modern” computer.

A number of states define it as a multimedia computer, meaning it has a sound card and a CD-ROM drive. But Tennessee, for example, defines a modern computer as one with a 386 processor or better and certain networking capabilities.

The market-research firms Quality Education Data and Market Data Retrieval seek to overcome that problem by surveying schools nationwide and breaking out statistics for each state. But many state officials aren’t happy with the quality of these surveys.

At the same time, state legislators and education leaders are demanding richer data on the ways in which students, teachers, and administrators are using technology and on the related needs for teacher training and technical support.

Technology experts say that the numbers of computers or wired classrooms don’t necessarily indicate how well teachers and students are using them.

“There is so much equipment in schools that is so underutilized,” says Barbara Means, an education researcher at Stanford Research Institute International. “And there’s some very old equipment in schools that is used creatively.”

Education Week asked state technology directors and various other experts about what school technology information they would like to see collected from all the states. Here are some of their responses:


  • What percentage of students use technology to communicate with people beyond their own school for classroom activities?
  • What percentage of students use electronic networks, including the Internet, to collaborate on class projects with students at other schools?
  • What modes of distance learning are available to students, such as cable television, satellite, or computer?


  • What percentage of teachers are at various technology proficiency levels, such as novice, intermediate, advanced, and expert?
  • What percentage of a state’s preservice teachers are at various proficiency levels when they are certified?
  • What percentage of school media centers have a full-time media specialist who is trained to assist teachers or students in using technology?
  • What percentage of teachers use technology regularly for various activities related to instruction, such as writing, collecting, and analyzing data, and gathering information?
  • Do districts or schools maintain ongoing programs of staff development that include technology? What percentage of teachers take part in this type of professional development? How frequently do they participate in them? How many hours do they spend in such programs? How useful do teachers regard them?
  • What methods do districts or schools use to encourage teachers to participate in technology training—mandates, incentives, or teacher initiative?
  • Administrators

  • What percentages of principals and superintendents have taken part in professional development on how to integrate technology into the curriculum or to use technology to support school reforms?
  • What percentage of official school or district correspondence is distributed via e-mail or Web resources?
  • What percentage of teachers use an electronic network for administrative tasks, such as submitting grades, recording attendance, and sending correspondence?
  • Is technical support for on going maintenance of school technology provided by full- or part-time school or district staff, by outside contractors or vendors, or by students?
  • What is the ratio of technical support staff to users?
  • What percentages of districts and schools have a specific revenue stream to support and sustain technology initiatives?
  • Outreach

  • What percentage of schools facilitate communication with homes by having telephones in every classroom, a homework hotline, voice bulletins, e-mail accounts for teachers, or a Web site?
  • What percentage of schools give students access to technology and/or networks during non-class hours?
  • What percentage of schools give community members access to technology?
  • Inventories

  • What are the ratios of students to equipment available for instruction, including computers, multimedia computers, CD-ROM players, networked computers, and computers with Internet access?
  • What percentages of schools and classrooms have access to cable television, satellite broadcasts, schoolwide local-area networks, and the Internet? What types of Internet connections are they (e.g., dial-up, dedicated line, high-speed modem)?
  • What percentage of instructional computers are linked to a local-area network?
  • What percentage of district buildings are linked to a wide-area network?
  • What percentage of computers are located in computer labs, media centers, administration offices, classrooms, and other locations?
  • What percentage of classrooms have telephones?
  • What percentage of administrative workstations have LAN or WAN access to the Internet?
  • What percentage of schools have access to current word processing, spreadsheet, database, and graphic software?
  • A version of this article appeared in the November 10, 1997 edition of Education Week as What Data Should Be Collected?