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Science and Engineering Indicators 2004
  Table of Contents     Figures     Tables     Appendix Tables     Presentation Slides  
Chapter 1:
Student Performance in Mathematics and Science
Mathematics and Science Coursework and Student Achievement
Curriculum Standards and Statewide Assessments
Curriculum and Instruction
Teacher Quality
Teacher Induction, Professional Development, and Working Conditions
Information Technology in Schools
Transition to Higher Education
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Figure 1-31

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Figure 1-32

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Figure 1-33

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Figure 1-34

Elementary and Secondary Education

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Information Technology in Schools

IT Access at School
IT in Math and Science Instruction
Teacher Preparation and Training in Using IT
IT Access at Home

As IT becomes more pervasive in U.S. society, unfamiliarity with IT will increasingly limit students' economic and educational opportunities. Data on student access to IT at home and at school provide indications of the degree to which Americans become acquainted with IT and the Internet during their school years, including the degree to which exposure varies with demographic characteristics.

Schools have sought to take advantage of IT to improve education. Much remains to be learned about how IT can be used to help students learn mathematics and science, and much experimentation is under way. The NCLB Act authorizes funds for states and districts to increase IT use, and it places particular emphasis on equalizing access for students in all schools.

This section describes data on student access to IT in school, ways in which schools currently use IT for instruction in mathematics and science, and teacher preparation for its use. It also looks at student access to IT at home.

IT Access at School top of page

A vast majority of students now study in schools and classrooms with computers and at least some form of Internet access. Where differences in school access persist, they concern student-computer ratios, teacher preparation for using IT, and ways in which teachers use IT. These issues go beyond sheer access to encompass quality and effectiveness in IT use.

Access to computers and the Internet has increased rapidly during the past decade. Virtually all schools have Internet access in at least one location; in fact, most classrooms have access. By fall 2001, an estimated 99 percent of public schools and 87 percent of instructional rooms had Internet connections. (Instructional rooms include classrooms, computer and other labs, library/media centers, and any other rooms used for instructional purposes.) This represents a dramatic increase over 1994, when only 35 percent of public schools and 3 percent of instructional rooms had Internet connections (Kleiner and Farris 2002).

Schools with high concentrations of students eligible for the Free/Reduced-Price Lunch Program or with high minority enrollment tend to have somewhat less access. Classrooms in these schools were less likely to have computers and the number of students per Internet-accessible instructional computer was higher. In schools with 75 percent or more students eligible for the Free/Reduced-Price Lunch Program, the ratio of students to Internet-accessible computers reached 6.8:1, compared with 4.9:1 in schools with fewer than 35 percent eligible students. The figures for minority enrollments show a similar difference: a 6.4:1 ratio for schools with 50 percent or more minority enrollment versus a 4.7:1 ratio in schools with 5 percent or less minority enrollment. However, access in low-income and minority schools increased between 2000 and 2001. The proportion of instructional rooms with Internet access rose from 60 to 79 percent in schools with the highest concentration of poverty, and from 64 to 81 percent in schools with the highest minority enrollment (Kleiner and Farris 2002).

IT in Math and Science Instruction top of page

As early as kindergarten, a majority of students have access to IT at school. According to the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS), in spring 1999, most kindergartners used computers in the classroom at least weekly to learn mathematics (61 percent), and some used them to learn science (20 percent) (Rathburn and West 2003).

At the high school level, large majorities of public school teachers in all fields report using computers for instructional purposes (appendix table 1-18 Microsoft Excel icon). Teachers who had used computers in classes during the previous 2 weeks were asked to select one of their classes and indicate how often they used computers for various purposes in that class. Teachers reported using computers for practicing skills, solving problems, learning course materials, and working collaboratively more often than they reported using them to produce multimedia projects or correspond with experts or others outside the school. In this respect, mathematics and science teachers did not differ greatly from their colleagues who teach other subjects.

NAEP data show substantially increased use of computers in mathematics and science classes between 1996 and 2000. In 2000, the percentage of mathematics teachers in grades 4, 8, and 12 who reported that their students had access to computers in their classrooms at all times increased at least 20 percentage points above the 1996 level. Computer use in fourth and eighth grade science classes also increased during this period. NAEP did not collect data on 12th grade science classes (NCES 2001c and 2003b).

In 2000, more than half of 12th grade science students used computers in each of the following ways: collecting data, analyzing data, downloading data and related information from the Internet, and using lab equipment that interfaces with computers. Almost half reported using the Internet to exchange information with other students or scientists about experiments (NCES 2003c). Educators are currently exploring a variety of new uses of IT (see sidebar "New IT Forms and Uses").

High school mathematics and science teachers in schools with a high percentage of minority students who had used computers within the previous 2 weeks reported somewhat different use patterns than their counterparts in other high schools. These teachers were more likely to use computers to practice skills, solve problems, and teach course material in more class periods than teachers in schools with a lower percentage of minority students.

Teacher Preparation and Training in Using IT top of page

Advocates for IT in schools stress that teachers need both targeted and meaningful professional development and timely, accessible, and ongoing technical support to help them use IT effectively in their teaching (Bray 1999, CEO Forum on Education and Technology 1999, and Hruskocy et al. 1997). The NCLB Act requires each local education agency receiving formula funds from state technology grants (Title II, Part D, Subpart 1) to allocate 25 percent of its funds for high-quality professional development toward integrating technology into instruction.

Recent large-scale studies indicate that teachers want more support in integrating IT into everyday classroom practice. In 1999, two-thirds of teachers listed inadequate teacher training as a barrier to effective IT use. However, new teachers (those with 3 or fewer years of teaching experience) were less likely to report that they were not at all prepared to use computers and the Internet for classroom instruction (10 percent) than teachers with 10 to 19 years of teaching experience (14 percent), or with 20 or more years (16 percent). In addition, teachers in this survey identified other barriers to using IT effectively as being as important as lack of training: lack of release time (82 percent), lack of scheduled time for students to use computers (80 percent), insufficient computers (78 percent), lack of good instructional software (71 percent), outdated computers with slow processors (66 percent), and difficulty accessing the Internet connection (58 percent) (NCES 2000c).

States are addressing the need for computer literacy among teachers. As of 2002, 26 states and the District of Columbia required IT training or coursework before initial teacher licensure. In seven states, teachers must demonstrate their technological skill in order to receive a license. Thirteen states offer various incentives, such as free laptop computers or continuing education credits, to encourage teachers to use IT in their classrooms. In 2002, 22 states offered incentives for principals and administrators to use IT in schools, up from 11 states in 2000 (Editorial Projects in Education 2002).

Teachers who participate in IT-oriented professional development activities appear likely to increase their use of IT (Becker 1999, Fatemi 1999, and Wenglinsky 1998). Teachers who spent 9 or more hours per year on professional development in this area felt substantially better prepared to use computers and the Internet in class than those who had spent less time (NCES 2000c).

In addition to classroom applications, the Internet also provides teachers with the opportunity to expand their professional learning communities and to share curricula and instructional strategies with other teachers. Databases of curriculum materials and electronic discussion lists provide teachers with access to a broad range of resources and colleagues. Telementoring has become a popular way of providing effective coaching and training for teachers, especially in technology integration (Harris 1999). The Internet also facilitates schools' partnerships and communications with external organizations, parents, and the community. Industry partners sometimes help train teachers in how to use IT effectively or provide schools with financial resources and equipment (CEO Forum on Education and Technology 1999; Means 1998; and Rocap, Cassidy, and Connor 1998).

IT Access at Home top of page

Because Internet access provides educational and social opportunities that can be increasingly important for school-aged children, it is important to look at access to this relatively recent technology outside the classroom. Approximately 77 percent of preteens (ages 10–13) and 86 percent of teens (ages 14–17) use the Internet when doing their school-work (figure 1-31 figure).

Families with children more often have computers and Internet connections than do other households. According to a National Telecommunications and Information Administration report (NTIA 2002) based on September 2001 Current Population Survey (CPS) data, 70 percent of such families had computers compared with 59 percent of families with no children and 39 percent of nonfamily households.[19] Similar differences existed in Internet access, at 62 percent access for family households with children under the age of 18, 53 percent for family households with no children, and 35 percent for nonfamily households. Home access is much more unequally distributed than school access. Low-income (figure 1-32 figure) and minority (NTIA 2002) children are much less likely than their peers to have Internet access at home.

Approximately one-third of children ages 10-17 in the lowest income category have home access to computers, but access in the highest income group is nearly universal. Overall computer use at school is much more equal, at 80 percent for children in the lowest income category and 89 percent for those in the highest income category. As a result, reliance on school for access is common for children in the lowest income category, where 52 percent use computers at school but not at home. However, it is rare in the highest income category, where the corresponding figure is 6 percent. Although schools do play a role in equalizing access, figure 1-32 figure also shows that the lower a family's income, the more likely it is that the children do not use computers at all.

NAEP data present similar findings about the relationship between income and home computer access. Overall, 78 percent of fourth graders and 84 percent of eighth graders reported having a computer available at home. Among students eligible for the Free/Reduced-Price Lunch Program, however, only 62 percent of fourth graders and 67 percent of eighth graders had computers at home (Editorial Projects in Education 2002) (figure 1-33 figure).

Home access to the Internet is likewise strongly associated with family income. Figure 1-34 figure shows that 22 percent of children in the lowest income category use the Internet at home compared with 83 percent in the highest income category. A substantially larger disparity related to income exists in children's access to the Internet at school (35 percent of children in the lowest income households versus 63 percent of children from the highest income households) compared with the disparity for school computer access overall. As a result, a much greater difference exists in Internet use between children in the highest and lowest income groups (42 percentage points) than exists for computer use overall (13 percentage points) (figures 1-32 figure and 1-34 figure). Thus, although schools have helped reduce the disparities associated with family income in children's overall access to computers, they appear to do much less to reduce income-related disparities in children's access to the Internet.

Racial and ethnic differences are also big. Black and Hispanic students lag far behind their white and Asian/Pacific Islander counterparts when it comes to home computer access, with 45 percent of black children and 39 percent of Hispanic children having access to a home computer compared with 79 percent of whites and 74 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders (U.S. Bureau of the Census 2001).

At almost every income level, fewer households in rural areas own computers compared with those in urban or central city areas (NTIA 1999).


[19]  Conducted by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Census Bureau, CPS provides a very reliable measure of computer and Internet access because it surveyed approximately 57,000 households containing more than 137,000 individuals in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

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