Schools lag behind much of society in using technology, but students are seeing benefits and clamoring for more access to computers, the government says.
Virtually all U.S. schools are connected to the Internet, with about one computer for every five students, according to an Education Department report on school technology.
Overall, more schools are using technology to offer tutoring, track student performance and increase communication between parents and teachers. At least 15 states provide some form of "virtual schooling," in which young students gain access to individual instruction online.
Yet educators still lack of training and understanding about how computers can be used to help students, said Education Secretary Rod Paige.
"Education is the only business still debating the usefulness of technology," Paige said in the National Education Technology Plan, scheduled for release Friday. "Schools remain unchanged for the most part despite numerous reforms and increased investments in computers."
Nine in 10 children between age 5 and 17 use computers, and even higher numbers of online teenagers use the Internet for school-related work, according to the report sent to Congress. The largest group of new users of the Internet from 2000 to 2002 were kids age 2 to 5.
Teachers behind on technology
Yet students of almost any age are far ahead of their teachers in computer literacy, according to the report, which is based on comments from thousands of students, teachers, administrators and education groups. Students say they see this knowledge gap daily.
"I think that teachers should be required to go to a technology course," the report quotes one student as saying. Said a second student: "I think that students should have laptops to do everything in class. ... We should not have to carry heavy books all day long."
Students across the country see technology as an essential part of their lives, yet the primary place most of them gain access to it is at home, not at school, the report said.
The report calls on states and school districts — which set curriculum — to embrace technology such as broadband Internet access, integrated data systems and online courses.
Schools often say they lack the money for such technology or training, but the government report essentially rejects that idea. Money for technology money can come from reallocating existing budgets and basing all spending decisions on whether they support learning, the report said.
The report was ordered under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, the heart of President Bush's domestic agenda. Coming from Bush's Education Department, the report praises the law as a chief reason why schools are looking to technology to help kids.
In the Poway Unified School District in northern San Diego County, for example, teachers have computer access to student profiles, including historical data, parent contacts and links to other teachers. Teachers can filter the data the way federal law requires — such as by ethnicity or limited-English ability — to compare achievement and identify weaknesses.
At Peabody Elementary School in St. Louis, teachers assign online reading lessons and tutoring based on each student's mastery of the curriculum. Students work on desktop computers and proceed at their own pace, the report said in highlighting success stories.