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?
A version of this article appeared in the November 10, 1997 edition of Education Week as What Data Should Be Collected?