Throughout the past decade, there have been a number of federal, state, and private initiatives to expand computer and Internet use in schools. These initiatives have been rooted in the national technology goals to make computers accessible to every student, connect every classroom to the Internet, integrate educational software into the curriculum, and train teachers to integrate technology into the classroom (U.S. Department of Education 1998a). In 1994, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) launched a series of annual surveys to track changes in the availability of computers and Internet access in public schools.
In fall 1995, NCES also conducted a survey of advanced telecommunications in private schools to provide baseline data on computer and Internet availability, and allow for comparisons with public schools (U.S. Department of Education 1997a). To revisit the issue of computer and Internet availability in private schools and measure changes since 1995, NCES, through its Fast Response Survey System (FRSS), administered a second nationally representative survey of advanced telecommunications in private schools during the 1998-99 school year.
Specifically, the 1998-99 survey focused on (1) computer and Internet availability, including the extent to which those resources were available for instruction; (2) selected issues in the use of computers and the Internet, including instructional use of those resources, provision of teacher training, technical support for advanced telecommunications use, and barriers to the acquisition and use of advanced telecommunications; and (3) the E-rate program and other external support for advanced telecommunications in schools.
Computer and Internet Availability
Making available sufficient and adequate hardware is a critical first step toward ensuring student access to computers. In the 1998-99 school year, private schools reported six students per computer, a lower level of availability than recommended by some technology experts- four to five students per computer (President"s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology 1997). Considering computer and Internet availability for instructional purposes, there were 8 students per instructional computer and 15 students per Internet-connected instructional computer in private schools.
Private schools have made considerable strides in computer and Internet availability since 1995. For example:
- The number of students per computer (including computers used for administrative purposes) was six in the 1998-99 school year compared to nine students in fall 1995.
- The proportion of private schools connected to the Internet increased from 25 percent in 1995 to 67 percent in 1998-99. An additional 13 percent of private schools indicated they had plans for Internet connection by the end of 2000; if these plans are realized, then about 80 percent of all private schools are currently connected or will have Internet connections by the end of 2000. However, 19 percent of private schools reported not being connected to the Internet and having no plans to do so. School-level access to the Internet does not reflect the extent to which that resource might be available for instruction. Therefore, private schools also reported on the number of instructional rooms with Internet connections, types of connection, and the extent to which the World Wide Web (WWW) and electronic mail (e-mail) were available to various members of the school community. Findings from the 1998- 99 survey indicate the following:
- Twenty-five percent of all instructional rooms in private schools were connected to the Internet in the 1998-99 school year, compared with 5 percent in fall 1995.
- Although dial-up connections were the most common means of connecting to the Internet in 1998-99 (65 percent of private schools with Internet access reported using this connection), private schools have increased the availability of higher speed connections using dedicated lines.
- About two-thirds of private schools reported having e-mail or WWW availability. However, e-mail was more likely to be available to administrators than teachers and least likely to be available to students.
- Comparisons on the availability and use of computers and the Internet were focused mainly on differences by religious affiliation and instructional level of the school. The results of the 1998-99 survey indicate the following:
- Nonsectarian schools had fewer students (six) per instructional computer than Catholic (eight) or other religious schools (nine). While Catholic schools were more likely than nonsectarian or other religious schools to be connected to the Internet and to report having e-mail and WWW availability, nonsectarian schools reported a higher proportion of instructional rooms with Internet access.
- Secondary schools were more likely than elementary or combined schools to be connected to the Internet and to report the availability of high-speed connections using dedicated lines. They were also more likely to report e-mail and WWW availability to students. Moreover, the ratio of students per instructional computer with Internet access was lower at secondary and combined schools than elementary schools.
Use of Advanced Telecommunications and School Support
Issues in advanced telecommunications that have become increasingly important within recent years relate to whether teachers and students are making use of available advanced telecommunications, and the extent to which schools have support mechanisms in place to encourage effective use of those resources. The results of the 1998-99 survey indicate the following:
- Forty-five percent of all private school teachers in the 1998-99 school year regularly used computers and/or advanced telecommunications for teaching.
- Among private schools with Internet access, virtually all reported some use of e-mail and the WWW by students, teachers, and administrative staff. However, relatively fewer schools reported that these Internet capabilities were used to a large extent; for example, 31 percent reported that students used the WWW to a large extent and 24 percent indicated that teachers used the resource to a large extent.
To explore the issue of school support for computer and Internet use, the survey asked whether schools (1) offered or participated in various advanced telecommunications training for teachers, (2) used various approaches to encourage teacher participation in technology training, and (3) provided technical support for advanced telecommunications use. The 1998-99 survey data indicate the following:
- Sixty-four percent of private schools offered or participated in some type of advanced telecommunications training for teachers, with the most common type of training being in the use of computers. About half of the schools offered or participated in training on the integration of technology in the classroom, and 43 percent provided training on the use of the Internet.
- Of the schools that offered or participated in some type of training, 55 percent left it up to teachers to initiate the training, while fewer schools either mandated (16 percent) or actively encouraged teachers through incentives (22 percent) to participate in technology training.
- Most private schools (80 percent) indicated that one or more individuals were primarily responsible for supporting advanced telecommunications in the school. Of these schools, 41 percent indicated that the technology coordinator or other technical staff helped teachers to integrate technology into the curriculum to a large or moderate extent, and 42 percent reported that network technical support was provided to a large or moderate extent.
E-rate and Other Support for Advanced Telecommunications in Schools
Expanding the use of advanced telecommunications comes with high costs, and private and public schools often have to rely on a range of support (including federal and private sources) to address their technology needs. Therefore, schools were asked about the support for advanced telecommunications from various sources during the 1998-99 school year.
- Private schools indicated that several sources supported advanced telecommunications in the school, including various federal programs (ranging from 2 to 15 percent) and business or industry (22 percent).
- The most frequently cited source of support was parents or other community members (57 percent), although the survey did not collect data on the extent of such support. Relatively few private schools (13 percent) reported support for advanced telecommunications from the E-rate (Education rate) program.
- The Schools and Libraries Universal Service Fund, better known as the E-rate program, is designed to make telecommunications services more affordable to all eligible schools and libraries. The program provides discounts (ranging from 20 to 90 percent) that can be used for internal connections, telecommunications services, and Internet access (U.S. Department of Education 1999b). The 1998-99 survey findings indicate the following:
- About one-fourth (24 percent) of all private schools applied for the 1998 E-rate discount program. Catholic schools were more likely than other religious and nonsectarian schools to apply for the discount; elementary and secondary schools were more likely to apply than combined schools; and schools with Internet access were more likely than those without access to submit 1998 E-rate applications.
- When asked if they intended to apply or had already applied for the 1999-2000 E-rate discount program, 39 percent of all private schools indicated that they did, while 57 percent reported that they would not apply.
Selected Comparisons with Public Schools
Some of the gains made by private schools since 1995 have been comparable to those made by public schools. For example, the percentage point increase in private schools with Internet access between fall 1995 and the 1998-99 school year (42 percentage points) is comparable to increases for public schools (39 percentage points) during this period. Nevertheless, in the 1998-99 school year, private schools continue to be outpaced by public schools on some important indicators of the availability of advanced telecommunications-ratio of students to instructional computer, the proportion of Internet-connected schools, the proportion of instructional rooms with Internet access, and types of Internet connection. For example:
- Compared with public schools, private schools reported more students per instructional computer (8 versus 6), and more students per instructional computer with Internet access (15 versus 12 students).
- Private schools (67 percent) were considerably less likely than public schools (89 percent) to be connected to the Internet, and they also reported proportionately fewer instructional rooms with Internet access (25 versus 51 percent).
- Private schools were less likely than public schools to report higher speed Internet connections; for example, 21 percent of private schools compared with 65 percent of public schools were connected to the Internet using dedicated lines.