WASHINGTON – Student access to computers and the Internet is generally improving in Maryland, but schools in low-income areas are still lagging behind wealthier districts when it comes to teachers with computer skills, according to a new survey.
The survey, conducted last fall by the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education, was released Tuesday in conjunction with the state Department of Education.
It found 72 percent of public school classrooms in the state have Internet access, up from 23 percent only five years ago.
It also found that there is an average of one computer for every 5.5 students from kindergarten through 12th grade and that 67 percent of teachers can integrate applications in some technology-related activities.
But while the hardware is there, educators are concerned about the disparity between wealthier schools and low-income schools in how computers are actually being used in classrooms.
“A lot of schools in high-poverty areas use computers for practice and drill, while wealthier areas use them for higher-level skills,” said June E. Streckfus, executive director of the business roundtable. “What we’re finding is many teachers are trained in the basics, but not the real stuff.”
The survey shows that while 100 percent of Talbot County teachers can integrate computer programs and skills into their curricula, for example, only 52 percent of Baltimore City teachers reported the same. Prince George’s County teachers also trail behind most schools, with only 57 percent of teachers skilled in this area.
“There needs to be a lot of targeted training for those teachers,” said Streckfus.
Union officials agree that teachers need better training, but they cite a lack of funds as the primary obstacle.
“There is a huge cost attached to putting in training,” said Janet Bass, spokeswoman for the American Federation of Teachers. “It clearly takes resources and putting in the right programs to make it work.”
Maryland State Teacher’s Association President Pat Foerster emphasized the importance of equally distributing funds for teacher training so that the current gap in training does not grow wider.
“If we do not keep pace with technology needs in each school across the state, we will exacerbate the gap by not providing access to the advantages that technology provides,” Foerster said.
The survey, in which 98 percent of state schools participated, showed that there was a difference of almost 40 percent between richer and poorer schools when it comes to students regularly using computers to plan, draft and proofread written work.
The trend can be found in every one of the categories – including activities where students use technology to gather a variety of information for schoolwork, use technology to analyze and interpret data and conduct lab experiments on the computer.
While several school superintendents have expressed a need for reform in how technology is used in classrooms, they have not seriously pressed the issue of mandatory training for teachers.
“If it were to be made mandatory, I think you’d find a major push against it,” said James Hook, Calvert County schools superintendent.
Hook said workshops for teachers have always been an option, but there is simply not enough time during the school year to make them mandatory and trying to bring teachers in for training over the summer is too costly.
The business roundtable’s goal is to provide all classrooms with Internet access, provide one high-performance computer for every five students and see that all teachers are capable of incorporating technology into their classrooms on a regular basis by 2003, along with a list of other recommendations.
Streckfus said that Gov. Parris Glendening has said he will push for funding so that the report’s goals can be met by 2002.