Schools That Are Using the Internet: Who Are They?

Over one-third of all public schools are known to be using the Internet according to preliminary numbers from Market Data Retrieval’s (MDR) 1996 K-12 technology survey. In addition, almost three-quarters of all districts have at least one school on the Internet.

From November 2000 until June 2005, MDR surveyed 10,400 public school districts concerning the specific types of technologies being used by each of their individual schools. In total, about 67,000 public schools were surveyed. The survey utilized a combination of direct mail and phone techniques and in all cases the contact person was the district-level or school-level technology coordinator.

The results we will share with you are preliminary as the survey was in the final stages when this information was assembled. The data shown reflects a 40% response rate or information on just shy of 27,000 schools. The respondent schools house 38% of the 44.4 million students that attended public schools during the 1995-96 school year. MDR anticipates receiving information on 30,000 schools when the survey is completed.

Since the Internet is accessed through a computer, understanding a few basic statistics relating to the presence of computers in public schools will be beneficial. There are 5 million computers currently being used in K-12 schools for instructional purposes, and the national average for computer intensity (the number of students per instructional computer) is nine. Ten years ago, during the 1985-86 school year, those same figures were 843,000 and 45 respectively. The numbers verify the dramatic growth in the presence of computers in public schools during the last decade. While there is a continued focus on improving the student to computer ratio, schools are also looking to replace aging computers with newer, more powerful models that can run the latest multimedia software. There is also a focus on cost-effective solutions such as networking systems, distance learning, and a host of newer technologies including accessing the Internet.

If one-third of all public schools are using the Internet, which third is it? The largest schools? The rural schools? Let’s quit guessing and instead take a closer look at the demographic makeup of the schools who are cruising the information highway.

When we examined schools by the type of metropolitan area they were located in (urban, suburban, rural), we found no significant variance. When we looked at the penetration in schools based on their yearly per-pupil spending level for all instructional materials (a reliable expenditure measure), we again found very little difference. From a geographical point of view, we found above-average penetration rates in schools located in the New England, Mountain, Northern Central, and Pacific Northwest states.

The charts shown below illustrate the school demographic variables which proved to be the most significant. The information contained in the charts allows us to gain an in-depth understanding of the specific types of public schools that are using the Internet. In our survey, schools could be accessing the Internet either through a commercial online service or through an alternative provider.

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School Type

Forty-three percent of all senior high schools use the Internet while less than 30% of elementary schools do.
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School Enrollment

The larger the school, the more likely it is to be using the Internet. Those schools with 500+ enrollment have access to the Internet at an above-average rate.
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School Poverty Level

Schools that are in districts with low poverty rates, and thus high incomes, have Internet access at an above-average rate. The greater the concentration of poor students in the district, the less likely the school are to have access to the Internet.
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School-Students Per Computer

The more favorable the student to computer ratio, the more likely the school is to have Internet access. Those schools at or better than the national average of nine students per computer have Internet access at an above-average rate.

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School Minority Enrollment

Those schools with low-medium minority (non-white) enrollments tend to have Internet access at an above average rate. Those schools with the highest levels of minority enrollment are the least likely to have access to the Internet.
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School Computer Quantity

Over 41% of schools with 50-plus computers are using the Internet versus only 13% of schools with 0-4 computers. There is a very strong correlation between the total number of computers in a school and the rate of Internet access.
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District Metro Area

On the district level, unlike the school level, we can see a trend when looking at metropolitan areas. Almost all districts located in urban areas have at least one school using the Internet whereas less than two-thirds of rural districts have at least one school on the Internet.
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On-Line/Internet District Applications

Now that we know which schools are using the Internet, the next logical question is – what are they using it for? On the district version of our survey only, we asked the district-level technology coordinator to tell us about the various applications which the Internet was being used for within their district. While information research was most often cited, we can see that over 60% of all districts are using the Internet for communication purposes. Over one-third have integrated this tool into the curriculum as well. Multiple answers were allowed on this question.

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A SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT for Technology Connection, The Book Report, and Library Talk readers, September 2006.
For more information or a sample copy of Technology Connection, The Book Report, or Library Talk: (800)786-5017 or humain@aol.com

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