State's schools among worst for technology

The Education Beat

Divide: Survey finds rural schools with small minority populations are most likely to be technologically savvy.

July 12, 2000|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

SCHOOLS THAT ARE small, rural and have a low percentage of minority students are more likely to be technologically sophisticated, according to a report from one of the nation's leading education research companies.

In other words, the "digital divide" is for real.

The research firm, Market Data Retrieval, developed a Tech Sophistication Index (TSI) and used it to measure the technological development of public, private and parochial schools nationwide.

Maryland is among the 10 states with the nation's lowest TSI scores, with Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, California, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

The 10 most technologically savvy states are Alaska, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, Delaware, Idaho, Montana, Kansas and Iowa.

The study also found surprising variations within regions. Washington, D.C., has the worst TSI scores in the nation, with only 7 percent of its schools earning high scores. Neighboring Maryland has more than half of its schools in the low and medium-low categories. But Delaware has only 30 percent of its schools in those categories.

The survey found that the higher the percentage of minority students in a school, the lower its technological sophistication. Only 14 percent of schools with a minority population of more than 50 percent earned the highest TSI score.

A breakdown of the data for the Baltimore area showed that only Howard and Baltimore counties have more than half of their schools in the medium to highly sophisticated categories.

Baltimore City is in the middle of the pack, and Anne Arundel brings up the rear, with 93 of its 162 schools in the medium-low and low TSI classifications.

But these are measures not only of public schools, but of private and parochial schools, of which there are an abundance in Baltimore city and county.

Another factor in Maryland, according to Mike Subrizi, Market Data Retrieval's director of marketing, may be that large schools have sophisticated equipment but not enough of it. Along with measuring the speed and penetration of Internet access and the presence of high-end computers and computer networking, Subrizi explained, the survey took into account the ratio of students to computers.

Conference to focus on art in schools

The Waldorf School of Baltimore is part of a worldwide network of schools where the arts are at the core of the curriculum, not a fringe benefit trimmed at every budget crisis.

The Baltimore school will play host to a national conference this weekend at which participants will find out how it's done. The conference is directed as much at public school teachers and teaching as it is at private schools such as Waldorf.

One of the featured speakers will be Dorothy St. Charles, principal of the Urban Waldorf School, a public school in Milwaukee. St. Charles proves that a private-school philosophy can survive a public-school bureaucracy.

The conference runs from Friday evening through Saturday afternoon.

School troubles point back to 30-year-old warning

"The Battle of City Springs," a documentary covering a year in the troubled life of the East Baltimore elementary school, is scheduled to air Sept. 29 on PBS.

City Springs has had more reforms than any school I know of. I was reminded of its winding modern journey by an item sent to me last week by former City Council President Walter S. Orlinsky. It's a speech given by Orlinsky, then a General Assembly delegate, and entered in the Congressional Record by former U.S. Sen. Joseph D. Tydings on June 3, 1970.

City Springs is a model of reform, Orlinsky said, a "beachhead" in the battle to improve schools immersed in poverty. Among the sparkling new ideas: ungraded classrooms where children were grouped by ability rather than age; a cap on class size at 24 -- average class size citywide was about 35; and such pre-computer technological marvels as the "controlled reader," a machine that flashed strips of text on a screen at a prescribed rate.

"The real tragedy in urban education today," Orlinsky said in 1970, "is that children who must endure it are not being given the tools necessary to become whole human beings in this society."

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