States Make Headway Closing Digital Divide

States are making progress closing the digital divide by putting more computers into the schools, but this won't fix the way teachers and students use technology to teach, says a report entitled "Technology Counts 2001" the fourth annual state-by-state ranking by Education Week.

Although more students have access to computers, poor schools with minority students are still far less likely to have machines in the classroom, the study shows.

"We have blasted ahead in computer penetration in the last few years," Norris Dickard, with the Benton Foundation a group working to bridge the digital divide told Education Week. "The real challenge now that we've focused on infrastructure is using that infrastructure to maximize impact."

Nationally, there are nearly 8 students per Internet-connected computer. But the average is deceiving, for instance, in Iowa wealthy schools average 5.6 students per computer, but in impoverished areas the number jumps to 15.6 students. Yet in Missouri there is almost no difference between rich or poor school districts the number hovers around 7 students per computer.

Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, Kansas and North Dakota have the best student to computer ratios. California, Louisiana, Rhode Island, Mississippi, Nevada and New Hampshire have the least number of computers for students.

The study also picked up on more subtle "digital discrimination" such as the willingness of teachers to infuse technology into lessons in classes with high achieving students.

"Too many students have been left on the wrong side of the digital divide because teachers haven't quite figured out how to use technology effectively with low achievers in ways that bolster academic learning," the study says.

Researchers agree that when teachers use specially designed software aligned to standards of learning, to instruct, student achievement improves.

More than 75 percent of teachers use computers to plan or to teach, but 82 percent of teachers say they don't have enough time to learn how to use computers with students, according to the study and the National Center for Education Statistics.

Idaho, Michigan and North Carolina require prospective teachers to take a technology test, but only half the states require teachers to be trained in technology before being licensed.

Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee and West Virginia are requiring schools to set aside time for technology related professional development and 15 states provide financial incentives to encourage teachers to use technology.

Thirty-five states have written standards of learning in technology for students. Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia are including technology questions in their statewide tests.

When middle and high school students were asked what they use computers for nearly all of them said research or writing papers. More than half of the students said they use technology to visualize lessons or to do homework, but very few report taking tests on computers.

Tags: Education