A startling new study shows that less than one-quarter of the teachers surveyed said they were prepared to use computers in their classrooms. The teachers who were surveyed said they weren’t ready to cope with technology as part of their curriculum, and education officials and advocates are calling for more training measures.

“Teacher education and professional development programs are not addressing the realities found in today’s classrooms,” said Education Secretary Richard W. Riley.

A department survey of 3,560 teachers in kindergarten through 12th grade classrooms found that only one out of five teachers felt “very well prepared” to use computers in their classrooms.

That’s about the same number as said they felt confident in teaching bilingual or special education children in their classrooms.

The survey, released Jan. 18, asked teachers about their college studies, professional certificates, on-the-job training and support from parents and colleagues.

The survey also showed that the way teachers are trained has a lot to do with how ready they feel to use what they’ve learned in the classroom. Nearly 80 percent of teachers reported having received training in technology. But just 20 percent of those who had been through some training felt very well prepared to use it in their classrooms.

The amount of time teachers spent on their training seems to be a significant factor in how prepared they feel. Teachers who participated for more than eight hours in technology training were three times more likely to say that it improved their teaching “a lot” than teachers who participated for only one to eight hours.

The survey illustrates the need to change how teachers are trained for changing classrooms, Riley said.

“One-shot workshops … carry little relevance to teachers’ work in the classroom,” Riley said. He said he will present details of President Clinton’s proposals for change in a March speech in Long Beach, Calif.

The study also looked at how teachers had been trained in college. Overall, 38 percent of the teachers had bachelor’s or master’s degrees in a specific field, 37 percent had majored in general education and 18 percent had degrees in such subjects as math education.

After graduation, they were more likely to be trained in state or district curricula (81 percent) than in special education (48 percent) or bilingual and diversity education (31 percent).

The department mailed out the surveys early last year; about 92 percent of recipients responded. The typical margin of error for the questions asked was plus or minus three percentage points.

Tougher teacher standards

In recent years, the focus has shifted from student standards to teacher standards. States such as Florida now have incentives for teachers seeking better credentials.

In recent weeks, Clinton proposed spending more than $245 million to hire new teachers, train teachers for impoverished school districts and recruit teachers for areas heavily populated by American Indians.

National Center for Education Statistics