When it comes to educational technology, many U.S. schools aren't keeping up.

When even the most innovative classrooms lag behind what’s possible, it’s almost unfair asking the school tech guy: What’s next?

Thirteen-year-olds at The Barstow School in Kansas City had just shown off a blitz of Google Docs and Glogster creations on convertible laptop-tablets in an eighth-grade writing class.

They’d popped out photos and posters depicting 1950s suburbia and the Cold War in their own multimedia introductions to Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.”

And then it was back to their compositions, reacting to margin notes posted by their teacher, Kelly Finn, that would continue in the days ahead—even though she was leaving for a conference in Chicago.

What’s next? Barstow’s tech guy, Scott Daniel, has ideas. (Imagine students surfing academic social networks on tablets, working through instructional programs that react to each student’s unique pace and needs.)

But the truth is that the possibilities in education are bounding ahead daily.

And here’s the more alarming truth: Many American schools aren’t keeping up.

Finn’s high-tech classroom is more the exception than the rule. The costs of equipment and tech support, on top of the many demands already monopolizing teachers’ time, keep most classes behind the digital curve. And even Finn’s class is just wading in the ocean of technology.

“We’re living in an extraordinary time,” said Karen Cator, director of educational technology for the U.S. Department of Education. Computer networks and keystroke-sensitive algorithms are capable of guiding students as if hooked to a GPS for learning, accessible to teachers, parents, and the students themselves, she said.

“We can know where they are, and how to help them move forward,” she said.

Yet many school systems remain mired in their past, said James Gee, professor of literacy studies at Arizona State University. They languish, beset by fears of technology, cyber bullying, distracted students, and prohibitive costs.