Issue Brief: Internet Access in Public Schools
NCES: 98031
February 1998


Can students in our schools reach the Library of Congress with their research questions, track the Iditarod race, follow expeditions in the rain forest, and exchange e-mail with pen pals around the world? To ensure the essential connections for such exciting activities, President Clinton's Technology Literacy Challenge calls for an effort to connect all U. S. public schools and every instructional room, that is, classroom, computer lab, and library/ media center, to the Internet. In order to measure Internet access in the schools, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) surveyed a nationally representative sample of public schools in 1994. Subsequent surveys in 1995, 1996, and 1997 have enabled NCES to track growth in this rapidly changing area.

How much progress have schools made?

The effort to connect all of the nation's public schools to the Information Superhighway is moving swiftly. In just 3 years, the percentage of U. S. public schools with Internet access increased from 35 percent in fall 1994 to 78 percent in fall 1997 (Table 1). On the whole, schools are on track toward achieving the goal of connecting all of the nation's public schools to the Internet.

Despite this progress however, certain gaps persist in establishing Internet links in U. S. public schools. In 1997, schools with 50 percent or more minority students enrolled lagged behind schools with 20 percent or fewer minority students, as did smaller schools (those with fewer than 1,000 students), which are more likely to be elementary than secondary schools. Also lagging in Internet capabilities were schools with 71 percent or more poor students (that is, students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch), with 63 percent having access; however, schools with 31 to 70 percent poor students have recently made considerable gains in Internet access, moving from 58 percent in 1996 to 78 percent in 1997. From 1996 to 1997, Internet access increased in the Southeast and Central regions, where Internet access rose from 62 percent to 84 percent and 66 percent to 79 percent, respectively (Table 1).