This report examines the extent to which computers and the Internet have been introduced in U.S. private schools. While the term “advanced telecommunications” refers to all modes of communication used to transmit information from one place to another, the focus of this report is on computers and the Internet. Specifically, this report explores the progress private schools have made since 1995 in making computers and the Internet available for teaching and learning. To address some key issues in advanced telecommunications, the report also examines the extent to which those resources are actually used (including school support to encourage the effective use of computers and the Internet), and types of federal and other support for the expansion of advanced telecommunications in schools.
In the 1998-99 school year, private schools reported six students per computer, including computers used for administrative purposes. This represented a lower level of computer availability than is recommended by some to allow for adequate access—four to five students per computer (President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology 1997)— but a higher level of availability than in fall 1995 when private schools reported nine students per computer. Considering computer and Internet availability for instructional purposes in the 1998-99 school year, there were 8 students per instructional computer and 15 students per Internet-connected instructional computer. The proportion of private schools connected to the Internet has also increased within recent years— from 25 percent in fall 1995 to 67 percent in the 1998-99 school year. Moreover, if the future plans for Internet access are realized, most private schools (80 percent) would be connected to the Internet by the end of this year. However, 19 percent of private schools are not connected to the Internet and do not have plans to connect in the future.
Having two-thirds of private schools connected to the Internet does not reflect the extent to which advanced telecommunications might be available for instruction. Therefore, private schools were asked to report 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. In the 1998-99 school year, 25 percent of all instructional rooms in private schools were connected to the Internet, compared with 5 percent in 1995. Although dial-up connections were the most common means of connecting to the Internet in 1998-99, private schools have increased the availability of higher speed connections using dedicated lines. Almost two-thirds of private schools reported having e-mail and WWW availability. However, e-mail was more likely to be available to administrators than teachers and least likely to be available to students. Moreover, the WWW was more likely to be available to administrators and teachers than students.
Issues in advanced telecommunications that have become increasingly important within recent years relate to whether teachers and students are making use of advanced telecommunications already available, and the extent to which schools have support mechanisms in place to encourage effective use of these technologies. Overall, 45 percent of all private school teachers in the 1998-99 school year regularly used computers and/or advanced telecommunications for teaching. Moreover, virtually all private schools with Internet access reported at least some use of e-mail and the World Wide Web by students, teachers, and administrative staff, although relatively fewer reported that these Internet capabilities were used to a large extent. For example, 24 percent of the schools reported that the WWW was used by teachers to a large extent, and 31 percent indicated that it was used by students to a large extent.
The 1998-99 data suggest that private schools are recognizing the need for school support for advanced telecommunications use, including the need for technology training and technical support. A majority (64 percent) of the schools provided or participated in some type of advanced telecommunications training for teachers. While the most common type of training was on the use of computers (60 percent), about half the schools offered or participated in training on the integration of technology in the classroom, and 43 percent provided or participated in training on the use of the Internet. Among those 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, while a large majority of those schools (70 percent) relied solely on one individual for technical assistance. Among schools with at least one individual responsible for providing advanced telecommunications support, 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. Moreover, 42 percent of the schools reported that network technical support was provided to a large or moderate extent.
Given the high costs associated with advanced telecommunications expansion, private and public schools often have to rely on a range of support (including federal and private sources) to expand technology programs. In the 1998-99 school year, private schools indicated that advanced telecommunications in the school was supported by many sources, including several 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 federal E-rate program, which is designed to make advanced telecommunications more affordable to all eligible private and public schools. Moreover, the data suggest that relatively few private schools participated or intended to participate in the E-rate program: 24 percent applied for the 1998 E-rate discounts, and a slight majority of the schools (57 percent) reported that they were not going to apply for 1999-2000 discounts.
The proportion of private schools reporting computer and Internet availability varied somewhat by instructional level. For example, secondary schools (90 percent) were more likely than elementary or combined schools (64 percent) to be connected to the Internet. Secondary schools were also more likely to report e-mail and WWW availability to students and the availability of high-speed connections using dedicated lines. Moreover, the ratio of students per instructional computer with Internet access was lower at secondary and combined schools (10 to 1) than elementary schools (24 to 1).
Catholic schools differ in some important ways from other religious and nonsectarian schools in the availability and use of advanced telecommunications. For example, Catholic schools (83 percent) were more likely than other religious (54 percent) or nonsectarian (66 percent) schools to be connected to the Internet, and they were also more likely to plan to gain access by the end of this year. Moreover, a higher proportion of Catholic than other religious or nonsectarian schools reported having e-mail and WWW capabilities; they were also more likely to indicate that students used the WWW to a large extent.
In addition, Catholic schools were more likely than other religious or nonsectarian schools to report that they offered or participated in any advanced telecommunications training for teachers, and specifically in three types of training— use of computers, use of the Internet, and integration of technology into the curriculum. They were also more likely to mandate training for teachers. Moreover, compared with other religious and nonsectarian schools, Catholic schools were more likely to report that they applied for the 1998 E-rate program. They were also more likely to indicate that they had applied or plan to apply for the 1999 discounts. Finally, a higher proportion of Catholic than other religious or nonsectarian schools indicated that support for advanced telecommunications in the school came in the form of funds, hardware, training, and technical assistance.
Private schools continue to be outpaced by public schools in making computers and the Internet available to students. For example, private schools reported more students per instructional computer with Internet access than the ratio for public schools (15 versus 12). In addition, private schools (67 percent) were considerably less likely than public schools (89 percent) to be connected to the Internet, and private schools reported proportionately fewer instructional rooms with Internet access (25 versus 51 percent). Moreover, private schools were less likely than public schools to report higher speed Internet connections; for example, 21 percent of private schools with Internet access compared with 65 percent of public schools were connected to the Internet using dedicated lines. However, private schools have made considerable gains since fall 1995, some comparable with the gains made by public schools. For instance, the percentage increase in the proportion of Internet-connected private schools between fall 1995 and the 1998-99 school year is comparable to the increase for public schools during this period (an increase of 42 percentage points for private schools and 39 percentage points for public schools).