The percentage of public schools wired to the internet has increased to 98 percent—up from 95 percent last year—according to statistics released May 9, but education groups say more work still needs to be done.

Since 1994, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has surveyed approximately 1,000 public schools each year to find out how many are connected to the internet, so the U.S. Department of Education can measure the progress of our investment in technology.

According to the report, entitled “Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994 – 2000,” in the fall of 2000, 98 percent of public schools in United States had access to the internet, up from 35 percent in 1994.

The percentage of classrooms wired to the internet also has increased dramatically. In 2000, 77 percent of classrooms offered internet access, compared to 64 percent last year and three percent in 1994.

Unlike previous years, there were virtually no differences in access to the internet by school characteristics—such poverty level and metropolitan status—in 1999 or 2000, the report said.

For example in 1997, there was a gap of 24 points between the percentage of the wealthiest schools (86 percent) and poorest schools (62 percent) connected to the internet. In 2000, that gap was only 5 percentage points.

The overall ratio of students to instructional computers reached five to one last fall, better than six to one in 1999. Similarly, the ratio of students to instructional computers with internet access improved. It was nine to one in 1999 and seven to one in 2000.

Despite these advances, education advocates say the battle is not over yet.

“It’s great news and not so great news. We made tremendous strides in the highest-poverty schools, but we’re still not there yet,” said Norris Dickard, senior associate at the Benton Foundation. “There’s enough in this report to show that the job is not done yet.”

In the poorest schools, the ratio of students to internet-connected computers improved from 17 to 1 in 1999 to 9 to 1 in 2000. However, nine students to one computer is still higher than the national average of seven to one.

“We can’t assume we have won the war and declared victory,” said Keith Krueger, executive director of the Consortium for School Networking. “Certainly there are schools, classrooms, and teachers that don’t have 21st-century tools.”

Since the survey began, NCES has added new questions to the survey, such as the types of internet connections used, when access is permitted, and whether schools have acceptable-use policies.

According to the report, schools are opting for faster, dedicated internet connections. In 1996, three-quarters of internet-connected schools used dial-up connections, and by 2000, only 11 percent of schools used dial-up.

“Compared to the corporate environment, schools still lag behind in broadband internet access,” Krueger said.

In 2000, 54 percent of schools said their internet-connected computers were available for students to use after school hours. Of the 54 percent of schools making the internet available to students outside of regular school hours, 98 percent made it available after school, 84 percent before school, and 16 percent on weekends, the report said.

Of the 98 percent of internet-connected schools, more than 95 percent had acceptable-use policies. Of those schools with policies, 94 percent said the staff or teachers monitor student internet access, 74 percent used blocking or filtering software, 64 percent had honor codes, and 28 percent used their intranet. Considering the high number of schools reported to be using filters, it made Krueger wonder about the necessity of the Children’s Internet Protection Act.

“Congress in [its] wisdom last December thought schools needed the use of internet filtering mandated,” Krueger said. “It seems [lawmakers] did not consult reality—the actual statistics of what is happening today.”

“We can’t just do it now and say that’s it,” Dickard said of wiring schools and classrooms. Technology changes so much that it’s necessary to make constant investments in technology to keep up with the rest of the world, he said.

“There are other challenges that need to be done other than just getting the computers in the classroom,” Dickard said, citing professional development and integrating technology into the classroom.

Links:

Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994 – 2000
http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2001071

Consortium for School Networking
http://www.cosn.org

Benton Foundation
http://www.benton.org