The latest analysis by education research firm Market Data Retrieval (MDR) finds that training courses are taking up an increasing percentage of school district technology funding—but spending on professional development still trails both hardware and software spending. More importantly, it is still far behind the levels recommended by education experts.

MDR estimates that just under $5.7 billion was spent by public schools in the 1999-2000 school year on technology. Just under $1 billion, or 17 percent, was spent on teacher training. This is far below the 40 percent that the National Education Association (NEA) recommends. Others suggest even higher percentages, especially if training is tied to major educational reform projects.

Although training is gaining ground, funding for training programs still trails that of software (20 percent of 1999-2000 spending) and hardware (63 percent). The result: Just 46 percent of schools report that “a majority” of teachers use technology at an intermediate skill level, and only eight percent rate the majority of teachers as “advanced.” Twenty-eight percent say most of their teachers are still beginners.

Getting teachers to use technology is not merely a matter of training, experts say. It’s also showing them how technology will make them better teachers and more efficient administrators of their classrooms. Automating grading and attendance records is a simple example that would encourage teachers to demand more training.

NEA is encouraging local bargaining units to ask for in-service time for teachers to receive technology training, and it and other groups are lobbying nationally and locally for districts to spend more on training.

But there are major hurdles yet to overcome. For example, schools can see their investment in hardware, but it’s harder to quantify the benefits of technology training, said MDR’s director of product development.