Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994-2003
NCES: 2005015
February 2005


The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has employed its Fast Response Survey System (FRSS)1 to track access to information technology in schools and classrooms since 1994. Each year, NCES has conducted a new nationally representative survey of public schools to gauge the progress made in computer and Internet availability, based on measures such as student-to-computer ratio and the percentage of schools and classrooms with Internet connections. As computers and the Internet became increasingly available in schools, the FRSS surveys were modified to address new and continuing issues, such as the use of new types of Internet connections to enhance connectivity. Recent FRSS surveys on Internet access have been expanded to address other emerging issues. The 2002 survey, for instance, included items on the use of technologies or procedures to prevent student access to inappropriate material on the Internet, the availability of computers outside of regular school hours, and the availability of teacher professional development on technology use in the classroom.

This report presents key findings from the 2003 FRSS survey on Internet access in U.S. public schools and selected comparisons with data from previous FRSS Internet surveys. The 2003 survey, designed to update data on all of the questions asked in 2002, covered the following topics:

  • school connectivity, including school and classroom access to the Internet, types of connections, and computer hardware, software, and Internet support;
  • student access to computers and the Internet, including student-to-computer ratio, computer availability outside of regular school hours, the provision of hand-held computers, and laptop computers available for loan;
  • school websites;
  • technologies and procedures to prevent student access to inappropriate material on the Internet; and
  • teacher professional development on how to integrate the use of the Internet into the curriculum.

Questionnaires for the survey "Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools, Fall 2003" were mailed to a representative sample of 1,207 public schools in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The sample was selected from the 200102 NCES Common Core of Data (CCD) Public Elementary/ Secondary School Universe File, the most current available at the time of selection. Over 95,000 schools are contained in the 200102 CCD Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe File. The sampling frame includes 83,842 regular elementary and secondary/combined schools. The estimated number of schools in the survey universe decreased to an estimated 82,232 because some of the schools were determined to be ineligible for the FRSS survey during data collection. Data have been weighted to yield national estimates. The unweighted response rate was 91 percent, and the weighted response rate was 92 percent. Detailed information about the survey methodology is provided in appendix A, and the questionnaire can be found in appendix B. The primary focus of this report is to present national estimates for selected topics in 2003 and statistically significant findings over time. In addition, selected survey findings are presented by the following school characteristics:

  • instructional level (elementary, secondary);
  • school size (enrollment of less than 300, 300 to 999, 1,000 or more);
  • locale (city, urban fringe, town, rural);
  • percent minority enrollment (less than 6 percent, 6 to 20 percent, 21 to 49 percent, 50 percent or more); and
  • percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (less than 35 percent, 35 to 49 percent, 50 to 74 percent, 75 percent or more), which is used as a measure of poverty concentration at the school. For the remainder of this report, we will refer to the percent of free or reduced-priced lunch as poverty concentration.

In general, comparisons by these school characteristics are presented only where significant differences were detected and follow meaningful patterns. It is important to note that many of the school characteristics may also be related to each other. For example, enrollment size and instructional level of schools are related, with secondary schools typically being larger than elementary schools. Similarly, poverty concentration and minority enrollment are related, with schools with a higher minority enrollment also more likely to have a higher concentration of poverty. Other relationships may exist between the school characteristics used for analysis. However, this E.D. TAB report focuses on bivariate relationships between school characteristics and the data gathered in the survey, rather than more complex analyses, to provide descriptive information about Internet access in public schools.2

All specific statements of comparison made in this report have been tested for statistical significance through trend analysis tests and t-tests adjusted for multiple comparisons using the Bonferroni adjustment,3 and are significant at the 95 percent confidence level or better. However, only selected findings are presented for each topic in the report. Throughout this report, differences that may appear large (particularly those by school characteristics) may not be statistically significant. This is due in part to the relatively large standard errors surrounding the estimates and the use of the Bonferroni adjustment to control for multiple comparisons. A detailed description of the statistical tests supporting the survey findings can be found in appendix A.

1FRSS is designed to administer short, focused, issue-oriented surveys that place minimal burden on respondents and have a quick turnaround from data collection to reporting.

2E.D. TAB reports focus on the presentation of selected descriptive data in tabular format. The analyses did not control for interrelationships between the school characteristics.

3The Bonferroni adjustment was also used for previous FRSS Internet reports. The Bonferroni adjustment is appropriate to test for statistical significance when the analyses are mainly exploratory (as in this report) because it results in a more conservative critical value for judging statistical significance.