Equity & Diversity

Study Finds Disparity in Internet Use

By Mary Ann Zehr — May 24, 2000 1 min read

Schools are closing the gap between minority and white students in their use of computers in the classroom, but discrepancies persist in the ways they use them, a new study suggests.

For More Information

Read “The Digital Divide in Educating African-American Students and Workers,” (requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader), from the Industrial Relations Section, Princeton University.

In 1997, only 12 percent of Hispanic students and 15 percent of black students used computers to get access to the Internet in school, compared with 21 percent of white students, according to “The Digital Divide in Educating African-American Students and Workers,” written by Princeton University economics professor Alan B. Krueger.

The disparity showed up even though all three groups were more likely to use computers in school that year than in 1993. In fact, at the high school level, a slightly higher percentage of black students used computers in school in 1997 than white students, at 73 percent and 72 percent, respectively. Hispanic students lagged behind at 65 percent.

In the 1st through 8th grades, white students were still much more likely to use computers than blacks and Hispanics.

Mr. Krueger’s study was based on data from the October Current Population Survey School Enrollment Supplement conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1984, 1989, 1993, and 1997. The agency surveyed nationally representative samples of students living in 55,000 households.

The survey didn’t attempt to determine how often students used computers in school. It simply asked, “Do you directly use a computer at school?”

Mr. Krueger’s study also did not take into account the progress that schools have made in linking students to the Internet since 1997.

Beyond Access

Mr. Krueger declined to speculate on the educational importance of the gaps he described, stating that there hasn’t been enough research on the effectiveness of computers in schools.

But from an economic point of view, the divide is worrisome, he said. “Having the ability to use computers and information technology is rewarded in the labor market quite well,” he noted.

Cornelia Brunner, the associate director of the Center for Children and Technology in New York City, said the study highlights the point that there’s more to using technology well than simply giving students access to computers.

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A version of this article appeared in the May 24, 2000 edition of Education Week as Study Finds Disparity in Internet Use

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