Are We There Yet? For Schools Using Technology, The Answer Is ‘No’

June 6, 2002

Surprisingly, the survey reveals a key role for students in keeping their schools’ computers running and connected to the Internet, with more than half (54 percent) of districts relying on students for technical support. Moreover, in a trend that may mark the beginning of a sea change in learning and the relationship between students and teachers, school leaders project that students will receive considerably more instruction online in the next three years.

“With increasing pressures to improve student achievement and bridge the digital divide, school leaders need to better integrate technology into the curriculum as a major learning tool,” said Robin Thurman, director of the National School Boards Foundation (NSBF), at a press briefing in Washington, D.C. today. NSBF, an affiliate of the National School Boards Association, commissioned the survey, “Are We There Yet?”

“This data will help inform our development of education resources and content that meet school needs and capabilities,” said Robert T. Coonrod, president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), lead sponsor of the survey. “We want to be sure that as more and more people turn to the Internet, public broadcasting is there to serve them.”

Among the findings:

  • More than half (54 percent) of school leaders report that students are providing technical support in their districts. In some cases, they are assuming major responsibilities. In 43 percent of districts, students troubleshoot for hardware, software and infrastructure problems. In 39 percent of districts, students set up equipment and wiring. In more than one-third (36 percent) of districts, students take on technical maintenance.

  • Almost 30 percent of school leaders believe that at least one in five students will receive a substantial portion (one-third or more) of their instruction over the Internet in the coming three years. Still, schools have a long way to go before online learning is the norm. About 80 percent of school leaders report that the primary instruction use of the Internet today is for research, including teachers’ research for their lessons. School leaders say Internet use in subject areas is primarily for history/social studies (76 percent) and science (58 percent).

  • New teachers are unevenly prepared for using technology as a tool for teaching and learning. Forty-three percent of school leaders surveyed rate new teachers as only “average” when it comes to their competence in integrating the Internet into their instruction.

  • School leaders recognize that schools can help bridge the digital divide. Nearly half (49 percent) of the districts surveyed provide formal technology training to all students. More than 35 percent of the districts offer computers to families at free and reduced prices.

  • Despite the rapid increases in technology and the expected increase in online learning in the coming years, decisions on technology policies and budget allocations remain in the hands of a few. School leaders say the superintendent (42 percent), the school board (38 percent), and the technology director or department (18 percent) make final decisions on technology purchases and Internet use.

The bottom line: While school districts have made great progress in joining the digital age, they still have a long way to go to take full advantage of technology for teaching and learning in the classroom.

“Technology, the Internet, standards and accountability are transforming education,” said John Super, vice president, strategic planning at PLATO Learning, Inc., a sponsor of the survey. “This survey is not only an important measurement of where we are but also, more importantly, a powerful indicator of what more we have to accomplish to achieve success. No longer is it a question of getting technology into the school. Indeed, we are getting there. Now the question is, how can we use our technology more effectively? This survey helps solidify the critical issues important for educators, communities and parents everywhere.”

For school boards and school and community leaders, the survey provides insight into policies and practices that could help schools become more effective users of technology. Among NSBF’s key recommendations for school and community leaders: Invest significantly in professional training for teachers and broaden business and community involvement.

“It is important that the business community assist schools in closing the technology gap and making sure that teachers and students are properly trained in the use of technology,” Thurman said. “While school districts face increasing budget constraints, the results of this survey indicate they must not put technology training on the back burner.”

“Access to technology and education are key to economic success and lifelong learning in the 21st century,” added Marilyn Reznick, vice president, AT&T Foundation, a sponsor of the survey. “Today’s workforce demands not only literacy in the traditional sense, but technical literacy as well. We must ensure that students are prepared to enter this world of work and to sustain a lifetime of learning. To do this, we must continue our commitment to support teachers and schools in the effective, appropriate use of technology.”

About the Survey

The findings are based on telephone interviews with technology decisionmakers in 811 School districts, including 90 of the largest 100 districts (more than 25,000 students), 398 medium-sized districts (2,500 to 24,999 students) and 323 small districts (up to 2,499 students). Grunwald Associates, a leading market research firm specializing in technology, developed and managed the survey, with research assistance from Rockman et al.

An electronic version of the report and data are available at the National School Boards Foundation Web site,