The percentage of US public schools with Internet access increased from 35 percent in the fall of 1994 to 78 percent in the fall of 1997, according to the US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.
Smaller schools and those with more minority students are lagging behind in gaining access to the Internet. In 1997, schools with 50 percent or more minority students enrolled trailed schools with 20 percent or fewer minority students, as did smaller schools (those with fewer than 1,000 students, which are more likely to be elementary schools rather than high schools). Also lagging behind in Internet capabilities were schools with 71 percent or more poor students (based on the number of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch); 63 percent of these schools were online.
From 1996 to 1997, the percentage of schools with Internet access in five or more instructional rooms increased from 25 percent to 43 percent.
Those schools that aren’t connected to the Internet are hoping to be connected by the end of the century. Data from 1996 indicated that 87 percent of schools that lacked Internet capabilities reported planning to obtain Internet access by 2000. If these schools do indeed obtain access to the Internet, the US Department of Education says that 95 percent of all schools will have access by 2000, and 91 percent of schools where more than half the students are minorities will have access.
As for the effect that this increase in “wired” schools will have on the number of children on the Internet, Jupiter Communications estimates that although only 2.7 million children aged 2 to 12 were online in 1997, 20.9 million will be surfing in 1998, due in part to an enormous influx of federal funding to wire schools and libraries. Children have proven to be the most difficult group to track online because of their short attention spans and because they don’t usually own their own computers.