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

Selected Findings

The findings are organized to address the following issues: school connectivity, student access to computers and the Internet, 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.

School Connectivity

The FRSS surveys on Internet access collected information on several key measures of school connectivity. Schools were asked whether they had access to the Internet. Schools with Internet access were also asked about the number of instructional rooms that had at least one computer with Internet access, the types of Internet connections used, and the staff position of the person primarily responsible for computer hardware, software, and Internet support at the school. Information on the number of instructional rooms with Internet access was combined with information on the total number of instructional rooms in the school to calculate the percentage of instructional rooms with Internet access.4

School and Instructional Room Access

  • In fall 2003, nearly 100 percent of public schools in the United States had access to the Internet,5 compared with 35 percent in 1994 (table 1). In 2003, no differences in school Internet access were observed by any school characteristics, which is consistent with data reported previously. There have been virtually no differences in school access to the Internet by school characteristics since 1999 (Kleiner and Lewis 2003).
  • Public schools have made consistent progress in expanding Internet access in instructional rooms. In 2003, 93 percent of public school instructional rooms had Internet access, compared with 3 percent in 1994 (figure 1 and table 2). Across school characteristics, the proportion of instructional rooms with Internet access ranged from 90 to 97 percent.

Type of Connection

The types of Internet connections used by public schools and the speed at which computers are connected to the Internet have changed over the years. In 1996, dial-up Internet connections (a type of narrowband connection) were used by about three-fourths (74 percent) of public schools having Internet access (Heaviside, Riggins, and Farris 1997). In 2001, 5 percent of public schools used dial-up connections, while the majority of public schools (55 percent) reported using T1/DS1 lines (a type of broadband connection), a continuous and much faster type of Internet connection than dial-up (Kleiner and Farris 2002). Because of the increasing complexity of detailed information on types of connections, the 2002 and 2003 surveys directly asked whether schools used broadband and narrowband connections.6 Schools also reported whether they used wireless connections to the Internet, the types of wireless connections used, and the number of instructional rooms with wireless connections.

  • In 2003, 95 percent of public schools with Internet access used broadband connections to access the Internet (table 3). In 2001 and 2000, 85 percent and 80 percent of the schools, respectively, were using broadband connections.
  • In 2003, as in previous years (Kleiner and Lewis 2003), the likelihood of using broadband connections increased with school size, from 90 percent for small schools to nearly 100 percent for large schools7 (table 3). In addition, rural schools were less likely than both town and urban fringe schools to have Internet access using this type of connection (90 percent compared with 98 and 97 percent, respectively).
  • Thirty-two percent of public schools with Internet access used wireless connections in 2003, an increase from 23 percent in 2002 (table 4).8 In 2003, the proportion of public schools with wireless Internet connections increased with school size but decreased as poverty concentration (percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch) increased. For example, 36 percent of schools with the lowest poverty concentration had wireless connections, compared with 25 percent of schools with the highest poverty concentration. In addition, secondary schools were more likely than elementary schools to use wireless Internet connections (42 percent compared with 29 percent).
  • Of the schools using wireless Internet connections in 2003, 92 percent indicated that they used broadband wireless Internet connections (table 4). Across all school characteristics, the percentage of public schools with wireless connections using broadband wireless Internet connections ranged from 88 percent to 96 percent.
  • In 2003, 11 percent of all public school instructional rooms had wireless Internet connections (table 5). This represents a decrease from the previous year, when 15 percent of public school instructional rooms had wireless Internet connections.

Computer Hardware, Software, and Internet Support

  • The staff position of the person with primary responsibility for computer hardware, software, and Internet support varied across schools (table 6 and figure 2). Thirty-seven percent of schools indicated that it was a full-time, paid school technology director or coordinator; 27 percent, district staff; 16 percent, a teacher or other staff as part of formal responsibilities; 9 percent, a part-time, paid school technology director or coordinator; 3 percent, a consultant or outside contractor; 3 percent, a teacher or other staff as volunteers; and 5 percent, some other position.
  • Differences were observed by locale and instructional level (table 6). For example, a higher percentage of secondary schools than elementary schools reported that a fulltime, paid technology director or coordinator was the person primarily responsible for computer hardware, software, and Internet support at the school (44 percent compared with 35 percent).

Student Access to Computers and the Internet

The FRSS surveys on Internet access obtained information on various measures of student access to computers and the Internet. Schools reported the number of instructional computers with Internet access; this information was then combined with enrollment data to compute the ratio of students to instructional computers with Internet access. Schools were also asked about student access to the Internet outside of regular school hours, the provision of hand-held computers to students and teachers, and laptop computer 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 (including schools with no Internet access).9 In 2003, the ratio of students to instructional computers with Internet access in public schools was 4.4 to 1, a decrease from the 12.1 to 1 ratio in 1998, when it was first measured (figure 3 and table 7).
  • The ratio of students to instructional computers differed by all school characteristics in 2003 (table 7). For example, the ratio of students to instructional computers with Internet access was higher in schools with the highest poverty concentration (percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch) than in schools with the lowest poverty concentration (5.1 to 1 compared with 4.2 to 1).

Availability of Computers With Internet Access Outside of Regular School Hours

Past research indicates that 5- to 17-year-olds whose families were in poverty were less likely to use the Internet at home than 5- to 17-year-olds whose families were not in poverty in 2001 (47 percent compared with 82 percent) (DeBell and Chapman 2003). Making the Internet accessible in schools outside of regular school hours allows students who do not have access to the Internet at home to use this resource for school-related activities such as homework. The FRSS surveys on Internet access asked whether schools made instructional computers with Internet access available to students outside of regular school hours, when the computers were made available, and the number of computers made available.

  • In 2003, 48 percent of public schools with Internet access reported that they made computers with access to the Internet available to students outside of regular school hours (table 8). 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 (69 percent compared with 41 percent). The likelihood of Internet availability outside of regular school hours increased with school size, from 39 percent for small schools to 74 percent for large schools.
  • Among schools providing computers with Internet access to students outside of regular school hours in 2003, 98 percent made them available after school, 71 percent before school, and 9 percent on weekends (table 8). The proportion of public schools allowing Internet access to students after school increased from 95 percent in 2001 to 98 percent in 2003.
  • The proportion of public schools allowing students to access the Internet before school was lower in schools with the highest minority enrollment (60 percent) than in schools with the two lowest categories of minority enrollment (80 percent each) (table 8). A similar pattern occurred by school poverty concentration (percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch). Fifty-four percent of schools with the highest poverty concentration had computers with Internet access available to students before school, compared with 82 percent and 80 percent of schools with the two lowest categories of poverty concentration.
  • In all public schools, the ratio of students to computers with Internet access available outside of regular school hours was 22 to 1 in 2003. This was a decrease from the 26 to 1 ratio in 2001, when it was first measured (table 9).10 Among public schools that allow students to access the Internet outside of regular school hours, the ratio of students to computers with Internet access available outside of regular school hours was 12 to 1 in 2003, a decrease from 15 to 1 in 2001.
  • Among public schools that allow students to access the Internet outside of regular school hours in 2003, the ratio of students to computers with Internet access available outside of regular school hours differed by school size, locale, and percent minority enrollment (table 9). For example, schools with the highest percent minority enrollment had more students per computer available outside of regular schools (14 students per computer) than did schools with the lowest percent minority enrollment (10 students per computer).

Provision of Hand-Held Computers

  • In 2003, 10 percent of public schools provided hand-held computers to students or teachers for instructional purposes, an increase from 7 percent in the previous year (table 10).11
  • Among schools providing hand-held computers to students or teachers for instructional purposes in 2003, the median number of hand-held computers provided per school was 10 (i.e., half of the schools reported a lower number than 10 and the other half reported a higher number) (not shown in tables).12
  • In 2003, the proportion of schools that provided hand-held computers to students or teachers for instructional purposes increased with school size from 5 percent for small schools to 21 percent for large schools (table 10). Furthermore, secondary schools were more likely than elementary schools (14 percent compared with 9 percent) to provide hand-held computers to students or teachers for instructional purposes.

Laptop Computer Loans

Public schools reported whether they lent laptop computers to students, the number of laptops available for loan, and the maximum length of time for which they could be borrowed. Schools that did not lend laptop computers to students were asked about their future plans for such loans; for example, in 2003 schools were asked whether they planned to lend laptop computers to students in the 2004-05 school year.

  • In 2003, 8 percent of public schools lent laptop computers to students (table 11). In those schools, the median number of laptop computers available for loan was 5 (not shown in tables).13
  • Fifty-seven percent of schools lending laptop computers reported that students could borrow them for less than 1 week, 17 percent reported that students could borrow them for a period of 1 week to less than 1 month, 15 percent reported lending laptops for the entire school year, and 8 percent reported lending laptops for some other maximum length of time (table 12).
  • Of the 92 percent of schools without laptop computers available for loan to students in 2003 (calculated from table 11), 6 percent were planning to make laptops available for students to borrow during the 2004-05 school year (table 13).

School Websites

Because nearly 100 percent of public schools were connected to the Internet in 2003,14 schools generally had the capability to make information available to parents and students directly via e-mail or through a website. Beginning in 2001, the FRSS surveys on Internet access asked whether the schools had a website or a web page (e.g., a web page on the district's website) and how often it was updated.15 In 2002 and 2003, schools also reported the status of the person who was primarily responsible for the school's website support.16

  • Nationwide, 88 percent of public schools with access to the Internet had a website in 2003 (table 14). This is an increase from 2001, when 75 percent of public schools reported having a website.
  • The proportion of schools with a website in 2003 differed by instructional level, school size, minority enrollment, and poverty concentration (percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch) (table 14). For example, the likelihood of having a website was lower in schools with the highest minority enrollment of 50 percent or more (80 percent) than in schools with 6 to 20 percent or 21 to 49 percent minority enrollment (94 and 90 percent, respectively). In addition, the likelihood of having a website decreased as the poverty concentration increased, from 96 percent of schools with the lowest poverty concentration to 72 percent of schools with the highest poverty concentration.
  • Of the schools with a website in 2003, 73 percent reported that their website was updated at least monthly (table 15).17 Among the 27 percent of schools updating their website less often than monthly, differences were detected by instructional level, locale, minority enrollment, and poverty concentration. For example, schools with the highest minority enrollments were more likely than schools with lower minority enrollment to update their website less than monthly (45 percent compared with 18 to 25 percent). In addition, the likelihood of updating the website less than monthly increased with poverty concentration, from 18 percent of schools with the lowest poverty concentration to 44 percent of schools with the highest poverty concentration.
  • Among schools with a website in 2003, 27 percent reported that a teacher or other staff member was primarily responsible for the school's website support as part of his or her formal responsibilities (table 16 and figure 4). Schools were less likely to report that primary responsibility was assigned to a full-time, paid school technology director or coordinator (19 percent); a teacher or other staff as volunteers (19 percent); district staff (17 percent); a part-time, paid school technology director or coordinator (5 percent); students (2 percent); or a consultant or an outside contractor (3 percent). Some other person was cited by 8 percent of the schools.

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

Given the diversity of the information carried on the Internet, student access to inappropriate material is a major concern of many parents and teachers. Moreover, under the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA), no school may receive E-rate18 discounts unless it certifies that it is enforcing a policy of Internet safety that includes the use of filtering or blocking technology.19 Beginning in 2001, the FRSS surveys on Internet access asked whether public schools used any technologies or procedures to prevent student access to inappropriate material on the Internet, the types of technologies or procedures used, and whether such technologies were used on all computers with Internet access used by students. The 2002 and 2003 surveys also asked about the methods used to disseminate information about the technologies or procedures to students and parents.

  • In 2003, almost all public schools with Internet access (97 percent) used various technologies or procedures to control student access to inappropriate material on the Internet (table 17). Across all school characteristics, between 96 and 100 percent20 of schools reported using these technologies or procedures. In addition, 99 percent of these schools used at least one of these technologies or procedures on all Internet-connected computers used by students.
  • Among schools using technologies or procedures to prevent student access to inappropriate material on the Internet in 2003, 96 percent used blocking or filtering software (table 18 and table 18 continued). Ninety-three percent of schools reported that teachers or other staff members monitored student Internet access, 83 percent had a written contract that parents have to sign, 76 percent had a contract that students have to sign, 57 percent used monitoring software, 45 percent had honor codes, and 39 percent allowed access only to their intranet.21 Most of the schools (97 percent) used more than one procedure or technology as part of their Internet use policy (not shown in tables).
  • Ninety-five percent of public schools using technologies or procedures to prevent student access to inappropriate material on the Internet indicated that they disseminated the information about these technologies or other procedures via their school policies or rules distributed to students and parents (table 19). Sixty-six percent did so with a special notice to parents, 58 percent used their newsletters to disseminate this information, 31 percent posted a message on the school website or web page, 25 percent had a notice on a bulletin board at the school, 17 percent had a pop-up message at computer or Internet log on, and 5 percent used a method other than the ones listed above.

Teacher Professional Development on How to Integrate the Use of the Internet Into the Curriculum

Past research indicates that approximately one-half of public school teachers in 1999 reported that they used computers or the Internet for instruction during class time and/or that they assigned their students work that involves research using the Internet. One-third of teachers reported feeling well or very well prepared to use computers and the Internet for instruction (Smerdon et al. 2000). The 2002 and 2003 surveys on Internet access asked whether public schools or their districts provided teacher professional development in the 12 months prior to the surveys on how to integrate the use of the Internet into the curriculum, and the percentage of teachers who attended such professional development.

  • In 2003, nationwide, 82 percent of public schools with Internet access indicated that their school or school district had offered professional development to teachers in their school on how to integrate the use of the Internet into the curriculum in the 12 months prior to the fall survey (table 20).
  • Thirty-eight percent of the schools that offered professional development in 2003 had 1 to 25 percent of their teachers attending such professional development in the 12 months preceding the survey (table 20). Eighteen percent of the schools had 26 to 50 percent of their teachers, 13 percent of the schools had 51 to 75 percent of their teachers, and 30 percent of the schools had 76 percent or more of their teachers attending professional development on how to integrate the use of the Internet into the curriculum in the 12 months preceding the survey. Another 1 percent of schools reported not having any teachers attending such professional development during this time frame.


4Instructional rooms include classrooms, computer and other labs, library/media centers, and any other rooms used for instructional purposes.

5This estimate was rounded to 100 percent.

6In 2000 and 2001, respondents were instructed to circle as many types of connections as there were in the school. The 2002 and 2003 questionnaires directly asked whether the schools used broadband and narrowband connections. These percentages include schools using only broadband connections, as well as schools using both broadband and narrowband connections. They do not include schools using narrowband connections exclusively. Broadband connections include T3/DS3, fractional T3, T1/DS1, fractional T1, and cable modem connections. In 2001, 2002, and 2003, they also included DSL connections, which had not been an option on the 2000 questionnaire.

7This estimate was rounded to 100 percent.

8A school could use both wireless and wired Internet connections. Wireless Internet connections can be broadband or narrowband.

9This 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.

10The ratio of students to computers with Internet access available outside of regular school hours was computed by dividing the total number of students in all public schools by the total number of computers with Internet access available outside of regular school hours in all public schools (including schools with no Internet access and schools that did not make computers with Internet access available to students outside of regular school hours).

11Hand-held computers are computers, or personal digital assistants, small enough to be held in one hand. Examples are Palm Pilots or Pocket PCs.

12On average, 24 hand-held computers per school were provided to students or teachers in schools that supplied such computers in 2003 (not shown in tables). The average number of hand-held computers would decrease to 22 if the data for one school in the sample were taken out of the calculation because the school reported a much higher number of hand-held computers than any of the other schools in the sample. The number of hand-held computers at that school was verified with the respondent.

13This represents a ratio of 1 laptop computer per 27 students (not shown in tables). The ratio of students per laptop computer would increase to 31 to 1 if one school in the sample were taken out of the calculation because the school reported a much higher number of laptop computers than any of the other schools in the sample. The number of laptop computers at that school was verified with the respondent.

14This estimate was rounded to 100 percent.

15For brevity, "website or web page" is referred to as "website" in the remainder of the report.

16In 2001, the questionnaire asked about the school's "website." In 2002, the wording was changed to "website or web page."

17This estimate is derived from the percentage of public schools updating their website monthly, weekly, or daily. Although estimates for the details are shown in table 15, the total in the text is based on the raw data, and because of rounding it differs slightly from the estimate that would be obtained by adding details directly from the table.

18The Education rate (E-rate) program was established in 1996 to make telecommunications 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.

19More information about CIPA (Public Law 106-554) can be found at the website of the Schools and Libraries Division, Universal Service Administrative Company (http://www.sl.universalservice.org/reference/CIPA.asp). The law is effective for funding year 4 (July 1, 2001, to June 30, 2002) and for all future years. Schools and libraries receiving only telecommunications services are excluded from the requirements of CIPA.

20This estimate was rounded to 100 percent for some school characteristics.

21An intranet is a controlled computer network similar to the Internet but accessible only to those who have permission to use it. For example, school administrators can restrict student access to only their school's intranet, which may include information from the Internet chosen by school officials, rather than full Internet access. See appendix A for definitions of technologies and procedures.

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