Ed-Tech Policy

Number of Computers in Schools Doubles

By Thomas Toch — April 11, 1984 4 min read
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Microcomputers were added to thousands of public-school classrooms during the past year, according to a new survey.

The number of the nation’s 81,506 elementary and secondary schools using at least one microcomputer for instruction more than doubled from 24,690 (30 percent) in the fall of 1982 to 55,765 (68 percent) in the fall of 1983, according to a survey by Market Data Retrieval, a private marketing research firm.

The firm estimates in its report, “Microcomputers in Schools, 1983-84,” that there are a total of 325,000 computers distributed among the 55,765 school buildings using computers. That figure, according to the report, represents one computer for each 125 of the 40.6-million students enrolled in the public schools and one computer for each 92 students in the schools that reported having at least one computer.

On average, there are 5.8 microcomputers in each school that reported using them, according to the survey.

Apple Brand Dominant

The survey, the third in a series, was based on telephone calls to all school districts during the summer of 1983 and on 20,000 responses to a follow-up mail survey last fall.

Based on the data collected, the company estimates that Apple computers represent half of the total number of microcomputers in the schools, while Radio Shack has 21 percent of the market; Commodore 15 percent; and Atari, Texas Instruments, and International Business Machines together less than 10 percent.

According to the survey, Commodore computers are more likely to be used in affluent and suburban school systems, while Radio Shack brands are more likely to be found in poor and rural ones.

In a separate survey conducted during the 1982-83 school year, Market Data Retrieval found that computers are less commonly used for instruction in nonpublic schools than in public schools. Of the 9,416 Catholic schools in the United States, 23 percent reported using microcomputers for that purpose, compared with 26 percent of the non-Catholic private schools.

Differences Between States

The survey found wide disparities between the states in the use of computers in the classroom.

California, the largest state, has the largest number of computers in its schools--28,026.

Minnesota has the highest proportion of its schools using microcomputers (92.8 percent), followed by Oregon (92.4 percent), and Colorado (87.3 percent). Hawaii is the state with the smallest proportion of its schools using microcomputers (26.6 percent), followed by Mississippi (36.2 percent) and Alabama (42.3 percent).

Variations by School Type

In South Dakota, there is one computer for every 42.9 students, according to the survey, the lowest ratio of any state. The District of Columbia has a ratio of 54 to 1 and Montana has a ratio of 54.4 to 1. Hawaii has the highest ratio, 264.4 to 1, followed by South Carolina (162.8 to 1) and Alabama (157.1 to 1).

The survey also found variations in the use of computers among different types of schools, though the use of computers is increasing in all schools.

High schools, according to the survey results, have an average of 10.6 computers, while elementary schools have an average of 3.6. Similarly, elementary schools have an average of one computer for each 113 students, compared with one for each 91 students in junior high schools and one for each 75 students in high schools.

Computer ‘Gap’ Closing

Nonetheless, the proportion of elementary schools using computers has increased from 11 percent in 1981 to 62 percent in 1983, a much greater rate of increase than at the high-school level, where the number of schools using computers for instruction increased from 47 percent to 86 percent during the same period.

The survey also suggests that the much-discussed “computer gap” between affluent and poor schools is closing.

The proportion of “affluent” schools with computers rose from 30 percent in 1981 to 83 percent in 1983, while the proportion of “poor” schools with computers rose from 12 percent to 53 percent over the same period, a rate twice that of affluent schools.

The survey defines as “affluent” those schools with fewer than 5 percent of their students from families living below the federal poverty level; “poor” schools are those with 25 percent or more students below the poverty level.

Also, the proportion of often-affluent suburban schools using computers (75 percent) was not dramatically higher than that of the frequently less-affluent schools in rural (65 percent) and urban (67 percent) areas.

However, affluent schools were found by the survey to have an average of 7.2 computers, compared with 4.1 for poor ones.

In their survey, officials of Market Data Retrieval attribute the surge in the number of computers being used in the schools to a number of factors, including collaborative efforts by states and computer manufacturers to reduce the cost of computers to schools, the availability of federal block-grant funds to purchase computers, the creation of statewide instructional programs that utilize computers, and a belief that “the computer is a powerful tool that will increase the productivity of either learning or teaching.”

Pressure to Offer Instruction

“No doubt,” they add, “many parents and students have put local boards of education under pressure to offer instruction with computers.’'

In a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, some 1,000 teen-agers from different parts of the country ranked computer courses only slightly behind mathematics and English courses in importance. One in six of the students said they hoped to have a computer-related job.

A version of this article appeared in the April 11, 1984 edition of Education Week as Number of Computers in Schools Doubles


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