Tracking U.S. Trends
This year, for the first time, Technology Counts assigns letter grades to the states on leadership in three core areas of technology policy and practice: access, use, and capacity.
On average, state performance in technology is, well, relatively average. The typical state receives a C-plus, and a majority of the states fall somewhere between a C-plus and a C-minus.
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But some states stand out. Two received high marks for their technology leadership: West Virginia earned an A, and Virginia received an A-minus. A handful of states, meanwhile, lagged behind most of the pack. Minnesota, Oregon, and Rhode Island each received an overall grade of D. Nevada ranked last in the nation, with a D-minus.
To arrive at the final letter grades, the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center evaluated 14 separate indicators derived from the center’s 2006 state technology surveys and information obtained from Market Data Retrieval, or MDR, a research company in Shelton, Conn., that tracks the use of educational technology.
Internet Access Ubiquitous
A look at the data shows that while Internet-connected computers have become a fixture in the nation’s public schools, states still have a spotty record in adopting policies to make sure that educators and students can take advantage of that access.
In 1996, about two-thirds of public schools had Internet access, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. By 2003, virtually every public school could go online. Perhaps even more striking, high-poverty schools, as well as their low-poverty counterparts, could boast near-universal access to the Internet by that point.
After rapid early improvements, the trend toward increasing access to computers has slowed in the past few years, according to MDR data.
On average, there are 3.8 students for every instructional computer in the nation's public schools. In the two states leading the nation in access to computers, South Dakota and Maine, only two students share each computer. By comparison, the student-to-computer ratio passes the 5-to-1 mark in three states.
*Click images to see the full chart.
SOURCE: Market Data Retrieval, "The K-12 Technology Review 2005"
Gains in Access Level Off
Between 1999 and 2002, student access to computers improved dramatically in all types of schools. Since 2002, however, levels of access have been more or less stable.
Note: For this chart, high-poverty schools are those in which more than half the students are eligible for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program.
High-minority schools are those in which more than half the students belong to minority racial or ethnic groups.
From 1999 to 2002, student access to instructional computers improved dramatically in all types of schools. The ratio of students to computers dropped from about 5.7-to-1 to 3.8-to-1 during that period. The pace of improvement was somewhat faster in high-minority and high-poverty schools, a development that helped narrow the technology-access gap between such schools and those with lower concentrations of nonwhite and economically disadvantaged students.
But since 2002, the average level of access has barely budged, remaining close to four students per instructional computer.
Yet even though the overall level of access to instructional computers appears to have reached a plateau, striking differences exist from state to state.
In the average public school, 3.8 students share every computer used for instructional purposes, MDR data show. In some states, such as Maine and South Dakota, schools have an average of only two students for each computer. At the other extreme, the student-to-computer ratio exceeds the 5-to-1 mark in California, New Hampshire, and Utah, a level of computer access less than half of that found in the leading states.
Staff Technology Skills
Nationwide, 15 percent of public schools report that the majority of their teachers are at a "beginner" skill level in their use of technology. However, teacher skill levels vary tremendously from state to state. Only 3 percent of schools in South Dakota reported that most teachers were technology beginners. By contrast, at least one-third of schools in Mississippi and West Virginia reported a majority of beginners.
*Click image to see the full chart.
As access to technology within schools has expanded, less-dramatic change has been apparent in policies designed to improve the ability of teachers and administrators to use technology effectively.
The EPE Research Center found that 40 states have technology standards for teachers, holding steady from last year’s Technology Counts survey. But many states have not adopted licensure policies to ensure that teachers meet those standards.
Only 21 states require that teachers take one or more technology courses or pass a technology test before they can receive an initial teaching license. Teachers are required to demonstrate competence in technology or complete professional development related to technology before being recertified in just nine states, most of which do not include technology requirements as part of initial licensure.
In all, 26 states have policies in place to help ensure that teachers are competent in technology.
As of 2005-06, 22 states had established at least one virtual school, an education institution where instruction is delivered over the Internet. That marks a slight increase since 2003-04. The number of states with cyber charter schools is also on the rise.
*Click image to see the full chart.
SOURCE: EPE Research Center, 2004 and 2006
Innovative uses of technology continue to grow. During the 2005-06 school year, 21 states and the District of Columbia are offering computer-based assessments, compared with 16 last year.
The EPE Research Center found that it is less common for states to have standards for administrators that include technology. Thirty-three states have technology standards for administrators, one more state than last year.
Only nine states require administrators to complete technology coursework or pass a technology test before they can receive an initial license. An additional six states require administrators to demonstrate competence in technology or complete professional development related to technology before being recertified.
No state has adopted technology requirements at both the initial and continuing stages of certification for administrators. In total, 15 states have policies designed to ensure that administrators are competent in the use of technology.
Although many states have not yet created policies to ensure that educators become savvy users of technology, MDR data show that the percentage of schools where most teachers are considered “beginner” users of technology has substantially declined, from 35 percent in 1999 to 15 percent in 2005.
Nevertheless, during the 2004-05 school year, wide variations existed across the states. In South Dakota, for example, technology beginners made up the majority of teachers in just 3 percent of public schools, while in Mississippi and West Virginia, technology novices were in the majority in more than one-third of public schools. (The EPE Research Center does not include this indicator in states’ grades.)
Pushing the Boundaries
A majority of states have standards for what students should know about technology. But just four states actually test students’ knowledge of technology. Only 21 states require teachers to demonstrate technological proficiency before receiving an initial license, either by completing coursework, passing a test, or both.
*Click images to see the full charts.
Apart from promoting access to technology and training in its use, states are taking steps to help expand the use of educational technology both through standards for students and via efforts to push the boundaries of conventional schooling.
Just three states, Minnesota, Mississippi, and South Dakota, now lack technology standards for students. But only four states—Arizona, New York, North Carolina, and Utah—actually test students on the state technology standards.
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.
In the 2004-05 school year, according to MDR data, about 19 percent of public schools offered their own distance-learning programs for students. But those programs have taken root more strongly in some states than others. Likely in a reflection of the state’s vast size and many isolated communities, close to half of all public schools in Alaska offer distance learning, a rate nearly 2½ times the national average.
Vol. 25, Issue 35, Pages 50-53Published in Print: May 4, 2006, as Tracking U.S. Trends