Computer Access at School Improves

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The Editorial Projects in Education Research Center recently released its 10th anniversary report of Technology Counts. The 2007 report continues providing information about policies and practices in K-12 educational technology in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, but also examines trends over the years. This week's Stat of the Week examines how students' access to instructional computers in public schools improved from 1998, which is the first year the EPE Research Center reported on this data collected by Market Data Retrieval, to 2006.

In 1998, instructional computers in public schools were far less numerous than today. On average, the ratio of students to computers was about six (6.3) to one. Students in high poverty schools had even less access, with close to seven students (6.7) per instructional computer. Students in schools with a high proportion of minority students had still fewer computers with a ratio of more than seven students (7.1) to one computer. Thus, in addition to the overall scarcity of instructional computers, there was also an observable gap in students' access to them by demographic characteristics of the school population.

Eight years later, in 2006, students in all types of schools have gained much better access to instructional computers, and the "digital divide" has substantially diminished over time. On average, 3.8 students share a single instructional computer, while the ratio for students in high-minority schools is only slightly less favorable at four students to a computer. The ratio for students in high-poverty schools is 3.7, which is slightly better than the national average.

Although the national figures show overall improvement, a look at the data by state reveals variability in terms of the degree of this progress. In 2006, South Dakota provided their students the best access to instructional computers among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. In that state, the ratio of about two students per instructional computer was close to half of the U.S. average (3.8). In contrast, students in Utah had the least access, with 5.4 students sharing a single instructional computer.

There are also differences in states' efforts to facilitate access to instructional computers even further through laptop initiatives. In 2007, only 11 states have in place laptop-computer programs that are state financed. They are Alaska, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota. Among them, Maine stands out in that it provides every 7th and 8th grade student and teacher with one-to-one access to wireless notebook computers and the Internet.

Get more information on educational technology indicators from our Education Counts database.

Better Access for All

Students in all types of schools have gained better access to computers between 1998 and 2006. In 2006, for the first time in that time span, students in high-poverty schools had better access to computers than students in the average school. Despite improvements over time, levels of access in high- minority schools continued to lag behind the national average. Student per instructional computer ratios improved slightly in both high-poverty and high-minority schools between 2005 and 2006.

Students Per Instructional Computer in 2006

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