Despite heavy investments in technology and efforts to narrow the digital divide, classroom technology is not used to its full potential because new teachers are unevenly prepared to use it, according to a survey released June 5 by the National School Boards Foundation.

“There’s been a lot of progress, but there are still a lot of barriers,” said Peter Grunwald, president of Grunwald Associates, the educational technology research and consulting firm that developed and managed the survey.

Forty-three percent of school leaders surveyed rate new teachers as only “average” when it comes to their competence in integrating the internet into their instruction, the report said.

“It’s still teacher expertise that is holding us back. It’s no longer bandwidth, it’s no longer hardware,” said Don Knezek, chief executive officer of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), who participated in a panel discussion on the survey results and their implications for schools.

Knezek described the lack of competent, qualified teachers as a national crisis. “The technology environment we’ve created in schools has redefined what ‘competent’ and ‘qualified’ mean,” he said.

President Bush’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2003 would eliminate funding for a federal program that provides teacher colleges with money to train new teachers in how to integrate technology effectively into the classroom.

“If you decide you are no longer going to support new teachers being comfortable with technology, how do you expect them to use it?” said Knezek, who oversaw ISTE’s Center for Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology before being promoted to chief executive of ISTE.

In response, Bush administration officials say the 2003 budget contains nearly $2 billion for improving teacher quality, though none of the funds are earmarked specifically for technology training.

Robin Thurman, director of the National School Boards Foundation, said the business community can play a role in properly training teachers in the use of technology. “While school districts face increasing budget constraints, the results of this survey indicate they must not put technology training on the back burner,” Thurman said.

School leaders also cited funding as a major barrier to distributing technology equitably. Thirty-three percent said they lack funding for hardware, and 16 percent said they lack funding for software. Another 16 percent said they lack the time to train staff.

The survey also found that students play a large role in the overall operation of a school district’s technology infrastructure.

More than half (54 percent) of those surveyed said students provide technical support in their districts. Students troubleshoot for hardware, software, and infrastructure problems; set up equipment and wiring; and perform technical maintenance.

Having students take responsibility for a school’s technology infrastructure changes the traditional school culture, Grunwald said. “It means that the provider of knowledge and guidance is not always at the front of the class,” he said.

Although students appear to be putting their technical knowledge to good use, schools should employ professionals to handle major issues such as network outage problems, the report says.

“If you’re just solely relying on students, there is a problem,” said John Bailey, the Bush administration’s director of education technology.

Teachers use the internet mostly for searches (74 percent) or research (72 percent), followed by lesson planning (38 percent) and presentations (18 percent), according to the study. The internet is used the most in social studies classes (76 percent), followed by science (58 percent).

Here are other key findings:

• Sixty-three percent of districts provide internet-based professional development.

• Thirty-five percent of districts offer computers to families for free or at reduced prices.

• Ninety-one percent of districts report using internet filters, and 78 percent also use teacher supervision to keep students from viewing inappropriate material online.

• Forty-nine percent of districts provide formal technology training to all students.

Sponsored by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Plato Learning Inc., and the AT&T Foundation, the report is based on telephone interviews with technology decision-makers in 811 school districts, including 90 of the largest 100 districts.

Related links:
National School Boards Foundation

Grunwald Associates

International Society for Technology in Education

Corporation for Public Broadcasting