Since 1994, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has surveyed public schools to measure what proportion of them are connected to the Internet. These annual surveys enable the U. S. Department of Education to monitor the progress made by public schools in providing access for all students and teachers to information technology in their classrooms and schools. In the fall of each academic year, a new nationally representative sample of approximately 1,000 public schools has been surveyed about Internet access and, since 1996, about the types of Internet connections used. In 2000, questions were also asked about access to the Internet at times outside of regular school hours and on "acceptable use policies."
By the fall of 2000, almost all public schools in the United States had access to the Internet: 98 percent were connected. In comparison, 35 percent of public schools had access to the Internet in 1994 (Table 1). Unlike in previous years, there were virtually no differences in school access to the Internet by school characteristics (e. g., poverty level 1 and metropolitan status) in 1999 or 2000.
The increase in Internet access over the years may have been aided by the allocation of funds through the Education rate (E-rate) program. The E-rate program was established in 1996 to make services, Internet access, and internal connections available to schools and libraries at discounted rates based upon the income level of the students in their community and whether their location is urban or rural. 2 As of February 28, 2001, $5.8 billion has been committed to E-rate applicants throughout the nation. 3
Another key measure of Internet access in schools is the proportion of instructional rooms connected to the Internet. 4 Since 1994, when 3 percent of instructional rooms had computers with Internet access, public schools have made consistent progress in this area: in fall 2000, 77 percent of instructional rooms were connected to the Internet, up from 64 percent in 1999 (Table 2). However, in 2000, as in previous years, there were differences in Internet access in instructional rooms by school characteristics. For example, in schools with the highest concentration of students in poverty (75 percent or more students eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch), a smaller percentage of instructional rooms were connected to the Internet (60 percent) than in schools with lower concentrations of poverty (77 to 82 percent of instructional rooms). A similar pattern occurred by minority enrollment. In schools with the highest minority enrollment (50 percent or more), a smaller percentage of instructional rooms had Internet access (64 percent) than in schools with lower minority enrollment (79 to 85 percent of instructional rooms). Despite these continuing differences, however, the percentage of instructional rooms with Internet access increased between 1999 and 2000 in these schools: from 38 to 60 percent in schools with the highest concentration of poverty, and from 43 to 64 percent in schools with the highest minority enrollment.
By the fall of 2000, the ratio of students to instructional computers in public schools had decreased to 5 to 1, the ratio that "many experts consider . . . a reasonable level for the effective use of computers within the schools" (President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology 1997, p. 14). The ratio improved from a national average of 6 to 1 in 1999 (not shown in tables). Similarly, the ratio of students to instructional computers with Internet access in public schools improved from 9 to 1 in 1999 to 7 to 1 in 2000 (Table 3). However, differences by school characteristics persisted. For example, the ratio of students to instructional computers with Internet access was still greater in schools with the highest concentration of students in poverty than in schools with the lowest concentration of poverty (9 to 1 compared with 6 to 1). Nonetheless, in schools with the highest concentration of poverty, the ratio of students to computers with Internet access improved from 17 to 1 in 1999 to 9 to 1 in 2000.
Over the years, changes have occurred in the type of network connections used by public schools and the speed at which they are connected to the Internet. In 1996, dial-up Internet connections were used by almost three-fourths (74 percent) of public schools having Internet access (Heaviside, Riggins, and Farris 1997). By 2000, schools tended to use faster dedicated-line Internet connections, such as 56Kb, T1/ DS1, fractionalized T1, T3/ DS3, and fractionalized T3 lines (Table 4). Seventy-seven percent of the nation's public schools that were connected to the Internet used dedicated lines, 11 percent used dial-up (not continuous) connections, and 24 percent of schools used other (continuous) connection types, including ISDN, wireless connections, and cable modems. 5 There were differences by instructional level; secondary schools (86 percent) were more likely to use dedicated lines than elementary schools (74 percent).
1 Throughout this report, poverty level is measured by the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced price lunch.
2 The poorest applicants receive the largest discounts (90 percent), and rural communities receive up to a 10 percent additional discount.
3 The E-rate program funding commitment data were found at the Web site of the School and Libraries Division (SLD), Universal Service Administrative Company (http://www.sl.universalservice.org/whatsnew/).
4 Instructional rooms include classrooms, computer and other labs, library/media centers, and any other rooms used for instructional purposes.
5 Percentages add to more than 100 because schools may use more than one type of connection.