Poorer Schools Still Lagging Behind On Internet Access, Study Finds

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While nearly every school in the United States is now connected to the Internet, the most impoverished schools are falling further behind when it comes to online access in classrooms, according to a federal study released last week.

Follow Up
Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms, 1994-1999 is available free online from the National Center for Education Statistics. (Requires Adobe's Acrobat Reader.)

The percentage of schools with at least one connection to the Internet increased from 89 percent to 95 percent between 1998 and 1999, according to "Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994-1999," released by the U.S. Department of Education.

The figure has nearly tripled—from 35 percent—since 1994.

But the nation's poorest schools—those where 71 percent or more of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches—made no progress in expanding connections to individual classrooms. The percentage of classrooms in such schools with Internet access remained flat, at 39 percent, from 1998 to 1999.

Meanwhile, the percentage of classrooms with Internet access in the nation's wealthiest schools—those with fewer than 11 percent of their students eligible for subsidized lunches—rose from 62 percent to 74 percent.

Overall, schools reported that 63 percent of their classrooms were hooked up to the Internet last year, up from 51 percent in 1998.

"The real good news is virtually all the public schools now have Internet access," said Linda Roberts, the director of the Education Department's office of educational technology. But the data also show that "the digital divide is real," she said. "We haven't solved the problem."

Poor Infrastructure

Ms. Roberts and others said it wasn't hard to surmise why the poorest schools still lag behind on Internet access, even though a $2.25 billion-a-year federal initiative—the E-rate program—is available to help pay for it. Such schools, they pointed out, have a lot of infrastructure problems to overcome before they can install a connection.

"You don't have sufficient electrical capacity to accommodate more computers, much less more powerful networks," Ms. Roberts said.

The education-rate program, which provides schools and libraries with discounts on Internet access and other telecommunications services, doesn't pay for such related steps as increasing a school's electrical capacity or dealing with asbestos problems that may crop up, noted Andy Carvin, a senior associate at the Washington-based Benton Foundation, which is studying the program's impact.

Vol. 19, Issue 24, Page 5

Published in Print: February 23, 2000, as Poorer Schools Still Lagging Behind On Internet Access, Study Finds
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