Public support for school computers is so strong, a National Public Radio (NPR) poll shows, that citizens say they’d pay higher taxes to put more technology in the classroom. But at the same time, NPR found, the public doesn’t see the lack of classroom computers as a top-tier problem for schools.
An overwhelming 81 percent of those surveyed said they would support placing more computers into classroomseven if it means higher taxes. But respondents also ranked “lack of computers and technology” near the bottom of a list of problems plaguing America’s schools.
The telephone survey, headed by Mark Rosenbaum, NPR’s education editor, randomly sampled the opinions of 1,422 parents and non-parents nationwide. It consisted of 47 questions, some of which had multiple parts.
Responses were returned from both listed and unlisted phone numbers and were weighted according to the overall representation in the population of various demographic groups. That means that if African-Americans represent 14 percent of the population, for example, and only 13 percent of those polled were African-Americans, their responses were given increased weight to compensate for the discrepancy.
The survey identified strong public support for educational reforms, even those that could cost more money and require additional tax dollars. Three out of four Americans said they would be willing to have their taxes raised by at least $200 a year to pay for specific measures to improve public schools in their communities; more than half (55 percent) said they would be willing to have their taxes raised by $500. Only 16 percent say they would not pay even an additional $100 for this purpose.
When given a short list of possible changes that could cost more money, 81 percent of respondents said they favor placing more computers into classrooms (61 percent strongly and 20 percent not strongly). Computers ranked third in support behind fixing run-down schools (92 percent) and reducing class sizes (86 percent).
When presented with a list of 12 problems schools in their communities might face, respondents also were asked to rank each choice as “a major problem,” “a minor problem,” or “not a problem.”
Of the parents and non-parents surveyed, only 24 percent said that a lack of computers and technology is a major problem in their community, 40 percent said it is a minor problem, and 32 percent said it is not a problem at all.
When asked how to rank the same list of problems in the nation’s public schools as a whole, the figures were slightly higher, with 30 percent calling lack of technology a major problem, 48 percent calling it a minor problem, and 19 percent saying it was not a problem at all.
To compare figures: 78 percent of respondents said that “lack of parental involvement” is a major problem in the nation’s schools; 69 percent identified students’ use of alcohol or illegal drugs as a major problem; 73 percent said students who are undisciplined and disruptive; 61 percent said overcrowded classrooms; and 64 percent listed violence and lack of school safety as a major problem.
In fact, lack of computers and technology ranked at or near the bottom of the list of problems for both parents and non-parents. Only “discrimination against children because of race or gender” was considered a national problem by fewer people.
Interpreting the figures
When asked to interpret the survey’s findings, Rosenbaum said, “I’m not sure technology is such a small problem. We started with 35 possible education issues and narrowed the list to 12 because of time. [Lack of technology] may have been last on the list of 12, but there were some really big issues addressed on that list.”
Still, to proponents of educational technology, it’s clear that school leaders have their work cut out for them to show how technology is integral to overall school reform efforts.
“People don’t realize the disparity between the level of technology in schools and in the business world,” said Allen Schmieder, vice president of K-20 education at JDL Technologies. “Computers are seen by most people as tools rather than what they are: an integral part of our lives. They are changing the way we do everything.”
Schmieder said the reason many parents might not recognize the dire need for technological advancement in the nation’s schools is because they are influenced by the general press, which “gives a lot of attention to other issues.”
Given the concerns about a variety of issues in K-12 education, policy makers and school leaders might have to rethink their approach to selling technology to the public, said Al Zeisler, president of Integrated Technology Education Group.
According to Zeisler, among the conclusions that could be reached from the survey is that to continue to obtain support for multibillion dollar school technology spending, the investment must be shown to offer solutions to a broad spectrum of problems people think schools now face.
“We must expand our thinking of how to use technology to encompass all the challenges that a school system may encounter,” Zeisler said. “We must not only emphasize the use of technology to support curriculum, but show how it can take on a more strategic role in the schools and the community at large.”