Reaching the Technology Goals
Archived Information

As we prepare to enter the new millenium, we are learning a new language. It will be the lingua franca of the new era. It is made of ones and zeros and bits and bytes. But as we master it, as we bring the digital revolution into our homes and schools, we will be able to communicate ideas and information with an ease never before thought possible. Let us master and develop this new language together.

-- Vice President Gore

Progress Report

In his State of the Union address in January 1996, President Clinton called for a national partnership to ensure that every classroom is "connected to the information superhighway with computers and good software and well-trained teachers." On February 8, 1996, the president signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which will help ensure that every child in every classroom in America will be connected to the information superhighway--opening up worlds of knowledge and opportunities. And on February 15, 1996, President Clinton and Vice President Gore announced the Technology Literacy Challenge, designed to energize the nation to make young Americans technologically literate by the turn of the century. The challenge is for communities, private companies, state leaders, and individuals--including students and their families--to work together to reach the technology goals.

Many local communities and states are already making substantial progress toward reaching these goals with the assistance of both the private sector and the federal government. Progress to date is discussed below in relation to each of the four goals.

Professional development issues are important issues and these are long-range, ongoing issues. Professional development must acknowledge what's going on in the classroom and what teachers need.

-- High School teacher, Far West Regional Forum

Goal 1: All teachers in the nation will have the training and support they need to help students learn using computers and the information superhighway.

Professional development is key to effective technology integration and to increased student learning. Teachers need access to technology and ongoing support while they learn. They need adequate time to acquire new skills to integrate technology into their schools' existing programs and activities. And teachers learn best with, and from, their colleagues. If there is a single overarching lesson that can be culled from research about teacher professional development and technology, it is that it takes more time and effort than many anticipate. For example, the Office of Technology Assessment estimate that it can take up to five years to effectively infuse technology into schools.49 All teachers need to be trained and supported over that period.

In recent years, rapid progress has been made toward the goal of training every teacher:

  • More than 50 percent of teachers owned a computer at home in 1993.50

  • New, challenging standards adopted in September 1995 by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education require that all students in teacher education programs take at least one course on the integration of technology into teaching and learning.

  • The state of North Carolina now requires all teachers to complete at least three courses in the use of technology in order to be recertified, and requires that 20 to 30 percent of technology funds be spent on training for teachers.

  • Through on-line networks, teachers are helping each other to learn new technological skills. For example, the Texas Education Network, an electronic resource used by more than a quarter of Texas teachers, enables teachers to share ideas and access a library of lesson plans. Its peak time of use is on Sunday evenings, as teachers prepare for the week ahead. By 1995, 38 states had established similar networks for teachers and other educators.51
Despite these promising developments, the nation has a long way to go:
  • Only 14 percent of public school teachers had more than 8 hours of training (in service or professional development programs) in the area of educational technology in the 1993-94 school year.52

  • As many as 50 percent of teachers have little or no experience at all with technology in the classroom.53

  • Much current professional development is in the form of one-shot seminars that are insufficient to bring the teaching profession up to speed with emerging technologies.54

  • Currently, only 18 states require training in technology for all teachers seeking certification, and only 5 require technology training for teacher in-service.55
Goal 2: All teachers and students will have access to modern multimedia computers in their classrooms.

To make technology a viable instructional tool requires schools to have enough computers to provide full, easy access for all students, including students with disabilities. Although the national student-to-computer ratio is currently 11:1, the ratio of students to powerful multimedia computers is only 35:1.56 In contrast, many studies suggest that full, easy access requires a ratio of about five students to each multimedia computer.57

To ensure that the wealth of opportunities afforded by state-of-the-art technologies is accessible to students with disabilities, researchers (in large part sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education) are making great strides in designing new technologies to meet the individual learning needs of students with disabilities. Department funded researchers worked closely with the developers of Windows 95, for example, to ensure that it included accessibility features for people with disabilities.

Here are some of the ways states, communities, and the private sector have approached the problem of access:

  • Voters in Maine approved a $15 million bond issue for technology in November 1995, and the Bethel School District in Oregon recently approved $3 million for technology in schools.

  • Kentucky has a master bid list that any school district can use to order computers, software, and other equipment, for bulk purchasing.

  • Several national and local organizations are matching companies with used equipment to school districts that can use it. Refurbishing, upgrades, and technical assistance to the schools are important elements of this strategy.

  • Several companies are currently working to develop lower-cost computers or new ways of networking computers within schools and districts that could dramatically increase the buying power of schools.
Problems remain, however:
  • The installed base of computers is largely composed of machines with fewer capabilities and functions than today's multimedia machines.58 Many of the older and less powerful computers in schools are unable to run the latest software or access the Internet.

  • Over half of schools still report that the majority of their computers are in computer labs.59 Only when computers are installed throughout a school building will students have regular access to them during the school day and in class.

  • While businesses, researchers, and non-profits are developing innovative strategies and tools to make technology accessible to students with disabilities at home, in school, and in the community, technology remains inaccessible for many students with disabilities. For example, icon-based systems on the World Wide Web are inaccessible to blind individuals.

From my perspective, technology is to today's classroom what paper and pencil were to yesterday's classroom--an essential ingredient in our age of information. In fact, technology is the paper, pencils, encyclopedia, dictionary, thesaurus, textbook, and library all rolled into one.

-- District Superintendent, Northwest Regional Forum

Goal 3: Every classroom will be connected to the information superhighway.

Connections to local area networks (LANs) and the Internet turn computers into versatile and powerful learning tools. Access to these networks introduces students and teachers to people, places, and ideas from around the world to which they might otherwise not be exposed. Surveys conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics in 1994 and 1995 indicate the progress made to achieve these connections:

  • In 1994, 35 percent of schools had access to the Internet; a year later, that number had grown to 50 percent.

  • In 1994, 3 percent of all instructional rooms (classrooms, labs, and media centers) in public schools were connected to the Internet; in 1995, this had grown to 9 percent.

  • Fifty-five percent of schools indicated that funding was a major barrier to the acquisition or use of telecommunications, down from 69 percent in 1994.

  • Of the 50 percent of schools that do not have Internet access, 74 percent have plans to secure access in the future.

  • In the 18 months from January 1995 to June 1996, the number of schools with World Wide Web sites on the Internet went from 134 to 2,850--an exponential rate of growth (Figure 1).

   1/1/95 |->         |==>   4/1/95 |->         |===>  7/1/95 |-->         |=====> 10/1/95 |--->         |============>  1/1/96 |----->         |=================>  4/1/96 |--------->         |====================================>  6/1/96 |--------------->         |==============================================>         +------+--------+--------+--------+--------+--------+         0     500     1000     1500     2000     2500     3000          ----->  Elementary Schools         =====>  High Schools  Source: Web66 International Registry of School Web Sites Stephen E. Collins, University of Minnesota 

Figure 1. The Exponential Growth of World Wide Web Sites in U.S. Schools

While progress toward the goal of connecting every classroom is rapid, much remains to be done:

  • In 1995, only half as many schools in poor areas (31 percent) had Internet connections compared with schools in the wealthiest communities (62 percent).

  • Small schools, high-poverty schools, and elementary schools are the least likely to have Internet connections, and the least likely to have plans for such connections.

  • Funding remains the number one barrier to widespread use of telecommunications. In addition, the two next largest barriers are directly related to funding. Forty-seven percent of schools cite too few access points within school buildings, and 40 percent cite the poor quality or lack of equipment.

We definitely need teachers to help identify good software--to put some models out there that producers can emulate. Teachers need to be involved in separating the wheat from the chaff.

-- Software Publisher, Far West Regional Forum

Goal 4: Effective software and on-line learning resources will be an integral part of every school's curriculum.

Computer software, video, distance learning courses, and on-line resources are expanding rapidly. For example, over 20,000 educational software titles have been developed, more than a million students take courses through distance learning networks every year, and every day hundreds of new home pages are added to the Internet's World Wide Web. These resources hold promise to improve learning, increase the amount of time students spend learning, and engage students in problem solving, research, and data analysis. There has been notable progress to date in making such opportunities available:

  • The academic standards completed in 1990 by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics have resulted in broad consensus among educators about what students should know and be able to do in mathematics at different grade levels. Software developers, in turn, are using these standards to develop new products that can be used in schools. Some school districts, as well, now link software to these standards so that teachers know what programs will help their students learn the appropriate concepts.

  • In the Springfield, Oregon schools, students with learning disabilities participate in regular earth science and chemistry courses through the use of videodisc software that teaches higher-order problem-solving skills and concepts in science. The software enables high school students with learning disabilities to score as well as their peers on an advanced-placement high school chemistry test.

  • The Internet provides many promising new learning opportunities. For example, San Francisco's Exploratorium offers on-line interactive exhibits for students. In addition, by using free video conferencing software developed at Cornell University, schools can see one another, demonstrate projects, and work collaboratively on-line.

  • Teachers and students are creating World Wide Web pages for their schools that include portfolios of best works, virtual tours, and special projects. In addition, several national efforts such as Midlink Magazine exist to publish student work on line.

  • In the future, digital libraries will provide access to huge databases of information. Collections such as those in the Library of Congress and the American Museum of Natural History in New York are being prepared for student use.
Projects that lend elementary students computers and modems to connect to school have increased the amount of time students spend learning, as well as increased family involvement.60

Despite the growth of resources, significant challenges remain:

  • Software that can be directly linked to the local curriculum and high standards, supplementing the traditional textbook, is still the exception. The best new software is mostly for reading and math in the early grades.

  • Educational software use by students at home is heavily skewed to higher-income families because wealthy families are many times more likely to own computers than poor families.61

  • Software companies avoid developing educational software for school use, because they can lose money even if they succeed in cornering the school market. They argue that the school market is too small from which to profit.62

  • Many states, schools, and families do not have a way to judge the effectiveness of software programs in increasing student achievement before purchasing them.

  • The quantity of information on the Internet is staggering and finding needed information quickly can be difficult. New, more effective "filters" to help teachers and students find accurate, up-to-date, high-quality information are necessary.

Cost of Meeting the Four Goals

Many communities across the country are responding to the demands of the digital age, and are already making substantial investments in technology for education. However, meeting the four goals of the technology literacy challenge by early next century will require an accelerated investment.

There is no one "formula" for integrating technology into the classroom and school curriculum. The nature and level of technology use will depend on the educational priorities of individual communities. Furthermore, the rapid pace of technological change and advancement would call into question any attempt to prescribe a formula. CD-ROMs and the Internet were virtually unheard of in schools three years ago. Change will continue to occur at a rapid pace, creating new opportunities and even potentially lowering costs. After all, the relative cost of computing power has halved about every three years since the 1950s, and on the not-too-distant horizon are lower cost computer terminals and wireless networking technologies.63

Schools, like private firms, need to develop an investment mentality for technology based on the understanding that new technologies involve not simply a one-time, up-front cost for equipment, but also ongoing, recurrent expenses. These recurrent expenses involve costs to upgrade hardware and software, maintain special furniture and cabling, replace materials and supplies, and continually upgrade the skills and competence of teachers and administrators.

Nationally, about $3.3 billion was spent on technology in the 1994-95 school year with projected annual growth ranging from 11 to over 15 percent per year. While exact data are unavailable, approximately one-fourth, or $800 million, comes from federal sources, including Title I (formerly Chapter 1), Title VI (formerly Chapter 2), the Eisenhower Professional Development Program, the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA), and other programs. Other sources are local funds (40 percent), state grants (20 percent), and business and other contributions (15 percent).64

Types of Costs

The kinds of costs for integrating technology into schools fall into several categories, some of them not immediately obvious:
  • Hardware, such as computers, printers, scanners, and other equipment, sufficient to give all students ready access to these tools.

  • Software and other educational content, such as remote databases of information, video programming, courses taught using distance learning technologies, and access to the Internet.

  • Internal connections between classrooms and within the school building. In older buildings, these connections can be expensive because they involve asbestos removal or the use of wireless networks.

  • Professional development so that teachers and other school staff can learn both how to use the technology and how to integrate it into their school's curriculum.

  • Ongoing technical support for teachers, many of whom are reluctant to use technology in their lessons unless they have access to immediate help, when necessary, during the school day.

  • External connections that require initial connection fees and ongoing telecommunications charges for a school's telephone lines, satellite connections, and cable connections, and fees for school Internet access.

  • Infrastructure improvements, such as increased electrical capacity to handle computer equipment, better ventilation and cooling systems, and additional telephone lines.

  • System maintenance and upgrading of hardware to preserve and ensure effective use of schools' investments in technology.

Cost Estimates

The estimates of the cost of meeting the President's four goals for technology in education vary considerably. This can be attributed to different visions of how schools should be equipped, the extent to which teacher training is required, and the different levels of preparedness of schools today. Some school buildings will require major and potentially costly improvements in electrical systems before computers can be used in all classrooms. Similarly, schools in rural areas face the prospect of higher costs for connections to the information superhighway.

A number of organizations have developed cost estimates based on varying models of technology deployment. Among these organizations is McKinsey and Company, which in 1995 completed the most comprehensive estimate to date of the costs of implementing technology in all of the nation's schools. Based on a model of one multimedia computer for every five students, connections to the information superhighway in every classroom, every teacher trained in the use of information technologies, and adequate software to help students meet high academic standards, McKinsey estimates the cost to be $109 billion over 10 years, or an average of approximately $11 billion per year.65

An analysis by the RAND Corporation of technology-rich schools estimates the combined initial and ongoing costs of technology at between $8 billion and $20 billion per year over five years, depending on the number of computers per student, the intensity of professional development, and other factors.66 The Telecommunications Industries Analysis Project (TIAP) developed another estimate, with seven students per computer, of $10 billion to $12 billion per year over five years.67

These cost estimates range from three to six times what is currently being spent for purchasing and supporting the use of educational technology in schools across the nation and would represent a significant increase in current discretionary expenditures for instructional materials, such as for books and other curriculum supplies. However, when viewed in the context of the total public elementary and secondary school enterprise, which serves more than 43 million elementary and secondary students, the costs seem more modest, ranging from 3 to 7 percent of total expenditures for the 1994-95 school year.

Funding Challenges

An examination of technology-rich schools provides several insights into the overall funding challenges faced by the nation (see Table 2). First, to integrate technology fully into students' learning experiences, schools need a much higher density of multimedia computers and related equipment than is currently present in schools. Even with rapidly falling hardware costs, this will mean substantial new investments for many schools. Many of the computers in schools today are more than five years old; some are ten years old. These computers will need to be replaced. Other, newer computers can be upgraded for a few hundred dollars each.

Table 2
Current School Technology Investments
Versus Those of Technology-Rich Schools69
Computer density 35 students per multimedia computer70 Fewer than 5 students per multimedia computer

Building infrastructure $220,000 per yer in average capital improvements per school (includes new construction and improvement)71 Up to $250,000 in one-time technology-related improvements per school

Professional development and ongoing support 9 percent of technology budget72 38 percent of technology budget

Annualized technology expenditures per student $70 per year $180-450 per year for initial five years of deployment

Total annualized expenditures for educational technology $3.3 billion73 $8.0 to 19.9 billion

Second, implementing technology means much greater investments for teacher training and ongoing support of teachers in the classroom. Many fully equipped schools have a full- or part-time technology coordinator whose job it is to maintain equipment, provide on-the-spot assistance to teachers in the classroom, and assist teachers with identifying technology-based resources (such as software, video programming, on-line databases, and use of the Internet). Today, schools spend an average of 9 percent of their technology budgets on training and support, while the experience of technology-rich schools suggests that more than 30 percent of much larger technology budgets should be invested in these areas.68

Third, schools, particularly older ones, face a need for significant building improvements. Figure 2 displays the proportion of schools responding to a 1995 General Accounting Office survey of the adequacy of the infrastructure in place to support technology as compared to the adequacy of infrastructure in central city schools. It shows that half of all schools do not have adequate electrical wiring (such as outlets) to handle their technology needs. More than half do not have sufficient telephone lines, and 60 percent consider the number of conduits for network cable unsatisfactory. Schools that have all of these infrastructure elements are clearly the exception to the rule. Strikingly, schools in large central cities are even less equipped to meet the demands of technology than other schools; more than 40 percent do not even have enough electrical power to use computers on a regular basis.

             Electrical power|--------->                            |============>                            |           Electrical wiring|-------------->                            |=================>                            |           Computer networks|---------------->                            |===================>                            | Conduits for network cables|------------------->                            |=====================>                            |                 Phone lines|-------------------->                            |======================>                            |           Fiber optic cable|----------------------------->                            |===============================>                            +------+------+------+------+------+                            0      20     40     60     80    100             ---> Percent of all schools reporting insufficiency            ===> Percent of central city schools reporting insufficiency  

Figure 2. Reported Infrastructure Insufficiency (1995)74

These estimates and analyses of the funding challenges communities face indicate that the costs of implementation are far greater than what schools currently spend, despite the rapid growth of expenditures in recent years. While the federal government and private sector can make contributions, local communities and state governments will be challenged to meet these costs.

Of course, some schools will reach these goals much sooner than others. Classrooms in older buildings, for example, may require expensive renovations to improve electrical systems before computers and networks can be installed, discouraging the community from making a commitment. Meeting the enormous cost of implementing technology in schools, then, raises some important questions about how to ensure that all American students get access to these vital tools of education.

No Community Left Behind

One of the most formidable challenges to meeting the nation's technology goals is ensuring that no community is left behind. All classrooms in all types of communities need updated technology and trained teachers if the nation is going to prosper.

Studies conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics reveal that, as compared to more affluent schools, schools with high concentrations of students who are poor are less likely to have access to computers and less likely to have access to the Internet.75 Furthermore, studies suggest that many schools in poor areas tend to use computers only in computer labs and merely to develop basic skills such as typing and word processing, while other schools have begun to integrate and use technology in more powerful ways, such as to access remote libraries and digital databases.76

    Rural Poor |====>              |   Urban Poor |=======>              |        Black |===========>              |     Hispanic |==============>              |        White |====================================>              +------+------+------+------+------+------+              0      5      10     15     20     25     30               ===> Computer Ownership (Percent of Households) 

Figure 3. Computer Ownership by Household and Ethnicity (1995)

For many children, the lack of access to computers at school is made up by the fact that many more families now own computers. But household possession and use of computers and network services is already reflective of a digital divide; it is heavily skewed toward middle- and upper-middle-class homes. Low-income citizens and black and Hispanic Americans, urban and rural, are much less likely to own computers than others. As Figure 3 demonstrates, white Americans are two to three times as likely to own computers as black or Hispanic citizens, and six to seven times more likely to own them than the rural poor, whatever their ethnic background. With attention to this issue, and by making high-quality resources available everywhere, technology can help all children reach their maximum potential.

          All Schools|============================>50                 |   POVERTY LEVEL:|                 |        Very High|=================>31                 |             High|===========================>47                 |         Moderate|==================================>59                 |              Low|====================================>62                 +-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+                 0     10    20    30    40    50    60    70                Percent of Schools with Access to the Internet  POVERTY LEVELS   % OF STUDENTS ELIGIBLE FOR FREE OR REDUCED PRICE LUNCHES  Low              less than 11 percent Moderate         11 to 30 percent High             31 to 70 percent Very High        71 percent or more  Source:  U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1996 

Figure 4. Access to the Internet is not Equal

It makes each of our schools larger. It makes each of our schools more effective. It lets us offer students experiences and information they wouldn't otherwise have.

-- Middle School Teacher, Midwest Regional Forum

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Last Modified: 08/23/2003