Rural States Plug Into Classroom Technology

By: - May 7, 2004 12:00 am

South Dakota and Oklahoma lead the way in providing students with computer and Internet access, according to a new national survey. But the survey is bad news in one regard: it shows that the United States lags far behind other developed nations in using technology to enrich education.

The state-by-state survey, Technology Counts, was conducted by the weekly trade paper Education Week and released Thursday (March 6).

In South Dakota, it said, there is an Internet-connected classroom computer for every 3.8 students. The ratio in Oklahoma was one such device for every 5.8 students, making the Sooner State second.

Smaller schools, especially in rural states, are using computers and the Web to provide students a greater variety of courses, particularly more advanced classes in mathematics and science, Ron Skinner, one of the survey’s project directors, said. It’s hard for such schools to attract and retain teachers with the kind of specialized degrees and training needed to provide these classes.

Arkansas, Ohio, the District of Columbia, Kansas, Idaho, Wyoming, Massachusetts and Texas round out the top 10 for classroom Internet access.

Internationally, the United States has a student-to-computer ratio of 5 to 1: Tied for first with Australia and Latvia, according to the report. But the U.S. trails the developed world in several technology measures, including how often students use computers at school and how many of those computers are connected to the Internet. Nearly 26 percent of 15-year-old U.S. students use a school computer several times a week, compared with 43 percent in Korea, 38 percent in Australia, 36 percent in the United Kingdom and 34 percent in Italy. Nationally, 39 percent of school computers have Internet access, compared with 80 percent of school computers in Australia, 84 percent in Finland and 83 percent in Iceland.

The survey also ranked the 50 states on the ratio of teacher training in technology use and the number of virtual classes and schools. South Dakota also had the lowest number of teachers who were beginning computer users, and ranked eighth among the states where most teachers use a computer daily for planning or teaching.

While technological access increased across the country, spending for new computers and software declined in the U.S. by 24 percent from 2002 to 2003, according the report. Most of that money was cut from hardware purchases, Skinner said, and was probably due to tighter state budgets.

States and educators still have to answer the question of how much academic bang they are getting from their technology bucks, Skinner said. Past studies have shown some benefit for specific kinds of software in a single course of study, but most of the positive evidence is still anecdotal, he said.

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