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Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994 - 2001

Introduction

Selected Findings

School Connectivity

Students and Computer Access

Operating Systems, Memory Capacity, and Disk Space

Special Hardware and Software for Students with Disabilities

The Internet as a Way to Communicate with Parents and Students

Technologies and Procedures to Prevent Student Access to Inappropriate Material on the Internet

Related Information

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List of Tables


Full Report (PDF)
line Students and Computer Access

According to a recent study, more school-age children in the nation use computers at school than at home (Newburger 2001). The survey "Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools, Fall 2001" obtained information on various measures of student access to computers at school, such as the ratio of students to instructional computers with Internet access, student access to the Internet outside of regular school hours, and laptop loans to students.

Students Per Instructional Computer With Internet Access

  • The ratio of students to instructional computers with Internet access was computed by dividing the total number of students in all public schools by the total number of instructional computers with Internet access in all public schools (i.e., including schools with no Internet access)3. In 2001, the ratio of students to instructional computers with Internet access in public schools was 5.4 to 1, an improvement from the 12.1 to 1 ratio in 1998, when it was first measured (table 5). This level of access corresponds to the 4- to 5-students-per-computer ratio that many experts consider reasonable for effective use of computers in schools (President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology 1997).
  • However, as in previous years (Cattagni and Farris 2001), there were differences by school characteristics in 2001. For example, the ratio of students to instructional computers with Internet access was higher in schools with the highest poverty concentration (6.8 to 1 compared with 4.9 or 5.6 to 1 in other schools) (table 5). Despite this gap, the ratio improved from 9.1 students in 2000 to 6.8 students per computer in 2001 in schools with the highest poverty concentration.

Availability of Computers With Internet Access Outside of Regular School Hours

In 2000, 21 percent of children in the nation used the Internet at home for school-related tasks (Newburger 2001). Making the Internet accessible outside of regular school hours allows students who would not otherwise have access to the Internet to use this resource for school-related activities such as homework.
  • In 2001, 51 percent of public schools with access to the Internet reported that they made computers with access to the Internet available to students outside of regular school hours (table 6). Differences by school characteristics were observed for instructional level and school size. Secondary schools were more likely to make the Internet available to students outside of regular school hours than were elementary schools (78 percent compared with 42 percent). Similarly, large schools (enrollments of 1,000 students or more) reported making the Internet available to students outside of regular school hours more often than did medium-sized and small schools (82 percent compared with 47 percent each for medium-sized and small schools).
  • Among schools providing computers with access to the Internet to students outside of regular school hours in 2001, 95 percent made them available after school, 74 percent before school, and 6 percent on weekends (table 6). Availability of computers with Internet access before school decreased as minority enrollment increased-from 84 percent of schools with the lowest minority enrollment to 66 percent of schools with the highest minority enrollment. A similar pattern occurred by poverty concentration of schools for the availability of computers with Internet access before regular school hours.
  • The percentage of schools providing students with Internet-connected computers after school ranged from 91 percent (small schools and schools with 50 to 74 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch) to 98 percent (large schools and schools with the lowest poverty concentration) (table 6).

Laptop Computer Loans

In addition to asking about the availability of computers with Internet access outside of regular school hours, the survey asked whether the schools lent laptop computers to students, how many laptops were available for loan, and the maximum length of time for which they could be borrowed.
  • In 2001, 10 percent of public schools lent laptop computers to students (table 7). Schools in rural areas (14 percent) were more likely than city schools (6 percent) and urban fringe schools (7 percent) to lend laptops.
  • Schools lending laptop computers to students had, on average, 10 laptops available for loan (not shown in tables). About half (53 percent)4 of the 10 percent of schools lending laptop computers reported that students could borrow them for 1 week or more (see table 8). Of these schools, 22 percent of schools reported lending laptops for the entire school year (table 8).
3 This is one method of calculating students per computer. Another method involves calculating the number of students in each school divided by the number of instructional computers with Internet access in each school and then taking the mean of this ratio across all schools. When "students per computer" was first calculated for this NCES series in 1998, a decision was made to use the first method; this method continues to be used for comparison purposes. A couple of factors influenced the choice of that particular method. There was (and continues to be) considerable skewness in the distribution of students per computer per school. In addition, in 1998, 11 percent of public schools had no instructional computers with Internet access.
4 This estimate is derived from the percent of public schools indicating that students could borrow laptop computers for 1 week, 1 month, 1 semester, the entire school year, or for another length of time. Although estimates for the details are shown in table 8, the total in the text is based on the raw data and because of rounding, it differs trivially (i.e., 1 percent) from the estimate that would be obtained by adding details directly from the table.

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