School Web Access Soars, Digital Divide Still Remains

Internet access in U.S. public schools has grown from 3 percent in 1994 to 99 percent in 2002, but the digital divide still exists in homes with 41 percent of blacks and Hispanics using a computer at home compared to 77 percent of whites, according to two reports released by the U.S. Department of Education.

One of the reports concludes that only 31 percent of students from families earning less than $20,000 use computers at home, compared to 80 percent of those from families earning more than $75,000.

“The pace of technological change is truly astounding and has left no area of our lives untouched, including schools,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige. “These reports are good news and show how much progress has been made in connecting nearly every school in the nation to the Internet. But there are still big differences in home computer use that need to be addressed before we can declare the digital divide closed.”

Paige added, “We need to address the limited access to technology that many students have outside of school. There is much more we can do. Closing the digital divide will also help close the achievement gap that exists within our schools.”

The Dept. of Education surveys show many children are using technology to complete school work: 44 percent use computers and 77 percent use the Internet for their assignments. White students are more likely than black and Hispanic students to use computers for completing school assignments (58 percent vs. 28 percent vs. 27 percent).

However, racial and ethnic differences in the use of computers seem largely to be a function of home access. No significant differences in usage to complete homework assignments were detected between racial/ethnic groups who had computer access at home.

The other education report is an annual department survey conducted to report on the availability and use of technology in schools. Among its findings:

  • In 2002, the ratio of students to instructional computers with Internet access in public schools was 4.8 to 1, an improvement from the 12 to 1 ratio in 1998 when it was first measured.
  • In 2002, the ratio of students to instructional computers with Internet access was higher in schools with the highest poverty concentration than in schools with the lowest. Despite this gap, in schools with the highest poverty concentration, the ratio improved from 6.8 students per computer in 2001 to 5.5 in 2002.
  • In 2002, 53 percent of public schools with access to the Internet reported that they made computers available to students outside of regular hours (96 percent after school, 74 percent before school, 6 percent on weekends).
  • 86 percent of public schools reported that they had a Web site or Web page (75 percent in 2001).
  • 87 percent of public schools with Internet access indicated that their school or school district had offered professional development to teachers in the schools to help them integrate the use of the Internet into the curriculum in the 12 months prior to the survey.
  • Schools used various means to control student access to inappropriate material on the Internet. Nearly all (96 percent) used blocking software, 91 percent reported that teachers monitored students’ access, 82 percent had a written agreement that parents have to sign, 77 percent had contracts that the students had to sign, 41 percent had honor codes and 32 percent allowed access only to an intranet.

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