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Teachers Seek Better Tech Content

September 23, 1999

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) _ Teachers are getting more computers in their classrooms, but they have to wade through stacks of CD-ROMS and computer diskettes that do not meet their students’ needs, a report said Thursday.

While government officials declare school technology a national mission and pledge to connect every classroom to the Internet, they are not investing enough time and money in software, the report concludes.

``Technology Counts,″ a survey of the nation’s teachers and state education technology policies, appeared in the newspaper Education Week. ``Politicians wire the classrooms and think they are done,″ publisher Virginia Edwards said. ``But that’s not the case at all.

Teachers reported that the available learning software material does not match state or school district standardized tests, cannot run on underpowered classroom computers, consumes too much instruction time and can cost too much.

``I wouldn’t give many of the (software) titles a 9 or a 10,″ says Ed Adshead, a network resource teacher who helps colleagues with computers at Patrick Henry Elementary School in suburban Washington. ``We have to hunt for it and then we find it isn’t nearly as good as it looked like or what it was described as.″

Overall, 71 percent of the nation’s 86,000 schools can reach the Internet from at least one classroom. On average, the report said, nearly six students _ there are 53.2 million nationwide _ match up for every one ``instructional computer,″ which includes older models without extras such as sound cards and video.

Cost is a problem in effectively using computers, 80 percent of the teachers surveyed said. Also, 47 percent said their computers were too weak for the best software.

``It’s more expensive to fix these than to buy new ones,″ said Adshead, pointing to a cart of assorted outdated computer parts.

At Patrick Henry, which has a $4,000 annual computer software budget, teachers buy products with their own money and enlist the PTA’s help in fund raising. Recently, they hauled 250 donated computers in their cars.

``We are at a distinct advantage when you look at what we do have,″ says fifth-grade teacher Melinda Jones. ``We all attended the workshops, but it’s all about taking time to find what we need and getting the support to do it really consistently.″

Software problems are not insurmountable, according to the Education Department, which awards grants to schools for technology projects.

``The whole landscape has changed,″ said Linda G. Roberts, the department’s director of technology. ``Publishers are very serious about developing content for the schools. The challenge is in developing high quality content and that takes money and knowledge about how students learn, and it takes very clear signals from the buyers.″

Other findings in the report:

_30 percent of schools have a full-time technology coordinator, while 27 percent add this responsibility to a current employee’s duties.

_42 states require that teacher preparation programs include technology, but just four require technology in teacher re-certification.

_23 states have group-purchasing plans for schools to buy classroom software, which can cost $600 to $1,000 per title.

_Four states developed some software lessons to match the standards they have set for learning goals by grades. Eight states put such content on Web sites.

The teachers’ survey was based on 1,407 responses from a representative sample of 15,000 kindergarten-through 12th-grade teachers. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The third annual report tracking state policies and funding of school technology was underwritten by The Milken Family Foundation of Santa Monica, Calif.

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