With more than 90 percent of the nation's schools connected to the Internet and number of students per computer dropping from 21 in 1997 to 5.7 in 1999, the issue for educators is no longer how to bring technology to America's students. The question now is how to best put it to use. According to a report released Thursday by the national news journal Education Week, schools and teachers have a long way to go before the Internet and computers become critical tools in improving student learning.
The report indicates that teachers are still only making modest use of the technology available in their classrooms. Only slightly more than half, 53 percent, use software to enhance instruction in their classrooms and only 61 percent use the Internet for this purpose.
Nearly four in 10 teachers say their students do not use classroom computers at all during a typical week.
"The results add some badly needed data to educators' and policymakers' understandings of these issues, which until now have been dominated by anecdotes and small-scale observations," said Erik Fatemi of Education Week.
A lack of time to prepare or try out educational software is the most frequently cited reason why teachers don't use the programs for instruction. The survey also points to a lack of training as the most important obstacle inhibiting the use of digital content.
Teachers who received technology training in the previous year were more likely than teachers who hadn't to say they feel "better prepared" to integrate technology into their lesson plans.
They were also more likely to use and rely on digital content for instruction and to spend more time searching the Internet for useful information, the report said.
Of the teachers in the survey who currently use instructional software, 24 percent gave it an "A" for overall quality and 48 percent gave it a "B." Teachers were particularly impressed with software's ability to help students master basic skills and foster higher-level thinking skills.
But many teachers found that the software was often incompatible with the requirements for state performance tests which increasingly rely on rote memorization and linear thinking, the report said. Fifty-nine percent of teachers gave software programs a "C" or lower in this area.
"Technology Counts '99: Building the Digital Curriculum" is the journal's third annual survey on the state of educational technology across the country. The project, underwritten by the California-based Milken Family Foundation , was based on a nationwide survey of 1,400 teachers.
While the report does not give overall state grades, it does feature extensive state-by-state data and allows for comparisons between states as well as to national averages.
Among other findings:
The full text of the report can be found online at: http://www.edweek.org/sreports/tc99/
The state data can be found at: http://www.edweek.org/sreports/tc99/states/usmap.htm