School gains in computers large, varied

Report finds increase across state

statistics available on Web site

`Digital divide' feared

Number of classes with Internet access doubled in two years

January 27, 2000|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Maryland's school systems are steadily improving student access to computers and have doubled the number of classrooms connected to the Internet in the past two years, according to a report released yesterday by the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education.

But many Maryland schools remain far behind others in technology, and the report gives parents their first chance to go online and find out specifically how well their children's schools are equipped.

"Information can always be masked in averages, and we found that there are greater discrepancies within school systems than from system to system," said June E. Streckfus, executive director of the organization. "There are some systems where one school might have a ratio of two students per computer and another might have 380 students per computer."

From 1997 to 1999, the ratio of students per "mid- or high-capacity computer" in Maryland schools improved from 12-to-1 to 8-to-1, according to the survey. Nationally, the average improved from 14 students per computer in 1997 to 10-to-1 last year.

The report defined mid- and high-capacity computers as those with at least 486 or 68040 processors -- technology that is not new, but still sufficient to connect to the Internet, Streckfus said. The survey -- which was completed online by every school and collected by the roundtable and Maryland State Department of Education -- also checked on less powerful computers, but those typically are used only for typing lessons or drills in basic skills.

Baltimore continues to lag behind the rest of Maryland in computer availability, with a ratio of 11 students per mid- or high-capacity computer, while Caroline County ranked at the top with a ratio of four students per computer.

The differences within school systems were far greater. In western Baltimore County, Woodlawn Middle School has a ratio of 30 pupils per computer, but nearby Southwest Academy middle school has a pupil-to-computer ratio of lower than 4-to-1, according to the survey.

"There is a real concern about the digital divide," Streckfus said. "We really would like a community to rise up and say to local elected officials that `Our children deserve equal access to technology, too.' "

Streckfus said that the differences among schools within the same system could be attributed to a variety of explanations, including the order in which systems update technology in their schools and that some PTAs raise more money than others.

The results of the survey had been scheduled to be presented yesterday to the state school board, but the board's two-day meeting was postponed because of the snowstorm.

The roundtable -- a coalition of Maryland businesses pushing school reform -- has largely focused on both technology and work-force skills in the past several years. Since the roundtable first proposed a technology plan for Maryland's schools in 1996, the group has argued that computers are essential to preparing students for the workplace.

"When implemented effectively, technology can help to support achievement by enabling learners to be independent, competent and creative thinkers, as well as effective communicators and problem-solvers," said Robert Marshall, president of Automated Weather Source and chairman of the roundtable's Committee on Technology in Education.

The group has set a target of five students per computer in all Maryland schools and also wants every classroom in Maryland connected to the Internet by 2003.

From 1997 to 1999, the percent of classrooms with access to the Internet increased from 23 percent to 58 percent. But falling far behind are Harford County with 17 percent of classrooms connected to the Internet, and Baltimore, with 22 percent, according to the survey.

With the governor's funding plans for technology, Streckfus said she believes that Internet access will be available in all classrooms one year ahead of the roundtable's goal. The survey found that 99 percent of Maryland schools have at least one connection to the Internet, compared with 43 percent in 1995.

The results of the school-by-school surveys can be found at http: //msde.aws.com.

Ratios of students to computers

..................................1997 ................1999

Anne Arundel ...........15: 1 ..................9: 1

Baltimore ..................14: 1 ................11: 1

Balto. Co. ..................10: 1 ..................9: 1

Carroll .......................11: 1................... 8: 1

Harford .....................16: 1 ..................8: 1

Howard .......................9: 1................... 9: 1

Maryland ...................12: 1 ...................8: 1

Note: Computers include only those that are mid- and high-capacity.

SOURCE: Maryland Business Roundtable for Education

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