Overall spending on school technology probably will decline in the current school year, according to two reports from market research firm Quality Education Data (QED), but more teachers are using the internet in the classroom than ever before, and most school districts now have at least some broadband internet access.

The reports, part of QED’s annual School Market Trends series, reveal the emerging state of technology in education.

According to “District Technology Forecast: 2001-2002,” which is based on telephone interviews with 750 technology coordinators from across the country, school technology spending could dip for the third straight year to as low as $6.2 billion (including eRate spending), down from $7 billion last year.

Although QED predicts a decline, the firm acknowledged the possibility that spending actually could increase by nearly a billion dollars. When adjusted using historical data, this figure could be anywhere from $6.2 billion to $7.9 billion, said Cynthia Perry, market research manager at QED.

In previous years, spending has surpassed $8 billion. QED President Jeanne Hayes suggests that the slowdown is caused by a maturing market.

“There’s a more business-like approach to purchasing computers for schools,” Hayes said. School officials are concentrating more on how to keep a network up and increase technical support rather than providing equal access to computers, she said.

Sometimes the numbers are “artificially high” because of one-time grant monies and expenses like the year 2000 problem. “A lot of districts are getting one-time grants, so once they get [the money] and spend it, that’s it. Their spending the next year is less,” said Perry.

Interestingly, the report found that larger districts are more likely to increase their technology spending this year, while smaller districts are more likely to decrease spending.

Larger school districts often represent highly populated, urban areas, Hayes said, meaning they often have more disadvantaged students than smaller districts. As a result, they qualify for more grants and government assistance programs.

“Smaller districts also have fewer resources,” she noted. Fewer students mean fewer dollars, and that ultimately leads to less spending.

The gap in spending between larger and smaller districts has some education leaders concerned.

“School districts are increasingly finding that networks are expensive and they are not a one-time cost,” said Keith Krueger, executive director of the Consortium for School Networking. This may cause some districts, particularly smaller ones, to pull back.

“If your computers are getting old and there’s no strong political leadership … or professional development to leverage that investment, you may see some pulling back,” Krueger said. Small districts may have problems filling out complicated grant forms and dealing with government bureaucracy, he added.

For technology to work, school districts have to make continuous investments and they have to ensure a reliable network so teachers can trust the tools on a daily basis. “These are management issues school districts are struggling with right now,” Krueger said.

Computer hardware and software

Nine out of 10 United States schools own PCs, and approximately two-thirds of U.S. schools own Macintosh computers, QED reported.

Macintosh continues to be the most pervasive single brand of computer installed in schools, according to QED: Technology coordinators reported that 32 percent of their installed computers were Macintosh, 17 percent were unbranded or custom machines, 15 percent were Dell, 9 percent were Compaq, 7 percent IBM, 6 percent Gateway, 2 percent Hewlett-Packard, and 12 percent other.

For the 2001-2002 school year, QED predicts Macintosh computers will continue to be the largest-selling single brand, but districts will purchase fewer Macs this year than last year, continuing a downward trend. Only 27 percent of computer purchases will be Macs this year, according to QED, compared with 30 percent last year and 37 percent the year before.

In terms of which software programs are most prevalent in schools, an estimated 72 percent of schools have installed instructional software from the Learning Co., followed by Scholastic (63 percent), Grolier (57 percent), and Tom Snyder (52 percent). Microsoft and Adobe rate as the top productivity titles, the report said.

For the first time, districts were asked about their use of personal digital assistants (PDAs) and broadband internet access.

Twenty-two percent of districts reported using PDAs for personal use. They are most commonly given to district technology coordinators and school principals; only 22 percent of districts said they give them to teachers.

Eighty-five percent of districts say they connect to the internet through a T1 or T3 line, meaning most schools now use broadband connections to bring the internet into their buildings.

Although many districts report having high-speed internet access, this doesn’t mean it’s ubiquitous. “Just because a district is using broadband doesn’t mean every class has broadband [access],” Perry said.

Internet use

The second report, titled “Internet Use in Teaching 2001-2002,” found that 84 percent of public-school classrooms are now connected to the web. In addition, nearly three-fourths (74 percent) of teachers in schools with internet access say all 100 percent of their schools’ classrooms are wired.

The percentage of classrooms connected to the internet now is astounding, Hayes said. “We’re certainly not in Nirvana yet, but we have tremendous amount of outreach,” she said.

Ninety percent of teachers say they use the internet as a teaching resource.

Among teachers who use the web as a teaching tool, 74 percent say their students spend at least an hour per week using the internet hands-on at school. Fifty-nine percent say their students use the web from one to two hours per week, up from 47 percent last year.

Research continues to be the No. 1 reason for using the internet at school; only 9 percent of teachers say their students use the web for online coursework.

“The good news is technology is getting wider deployment, it’s getting into the classroom, it’s getting routine,” Krueger said. “The bad news is that it’s not [radically] changing or transforming the way people do things.”

Links:
Quality Education Data
http://www.qeddata.com

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