February 17, 1996

Survey Finds Disparities
In Public Schools' Internet Access

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Half the nation's public schools have hooked up to the Internet, with bigger, richer suburban schools leading the way. Schools with many minority or low-income students are connecting, too, but at a slower pace, a Government survey says.

The number of American public schools now linked to the worldwide computer network is up from 35 percent a year earlier, the Education Department said on Friday.

"There is more than just talk out there; there is real action at the state and local level," said Linda Roberts, director of educational technology for the department.

"In spite of this progress we have disparity, we have significant differences," she added.

Indeed, the survey of 917 schools across the nation found that minority and low-income students are less likely to have classroom access to the Internet than wealthier students.

Jeanne Griffith, acting commissioner for education statistics, said the survey wasn't detailed enough to determine whether any actual discrimination was occurring among schools.

More affluent school districts are more likely to have the money for computers, and Education Secretary Richard Riley noted that in some cases computers have been concentrated at so-called magnet schools, designed to attract top students.

"Learning on-line must not become a new fault line in American education," Riley said in a statement released with the report.

Even though 50 percent of public schools had at least some Internet access, only 9 percent of classrooms were connected.

Even that was progress, however, since 3 percent of classrooms had access in 1994.

On Thursday, President Clinton visited Christopher Columbus Junior High School in Union City, N.J., and announced a five-year, $2 billion program to put computers in all American classrooms and link them to the Internet.

The money for the program, called "Technology Literacy Challenge," is in Clinton's fiscal 1997 budget request. But his proposal is unlikely to be approved by the Republican-led Congress.

Internet connections can provide students with access to a wide variety of information as well as the ability to send and receive messages around the world.

Connections were most common at high schools, with 65 percent reporting this ability, up from 49 percent a year earlier. Some 46 percent of elementary schools had access, up from 30 percent.

The study defined low-income schools as those where 71 percent or more of the students were eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches. Just 31 percent of those schools had Internet access, compared with 62 percent for schools were 11 percent or fewer were eligible for subsidized lunches. Comparable figures for 1994 were not available.

Among other findings:

  • Schools with 1,000 or more students were most likely to have access at 69 percent. Just 30 percent of schools under 300 students had connections.

  • Some 59 percent of suburban schools were connected. The proportion was 48 percent in rural areas and 47 percent in both cities and towns.

  • The Northeast leads with connections in 59 percent of schools, followed by 52 percent in the central states, 48 percent in the West and 44 percent in the South.

  • Forty percent of schools where minorities made up more than half the students had Internet connections; 58 percent were connected in schools where minorities made up 6 percent to 20 percent of students.

  • The most common reason for not having a connection was money, followed by lack of adequate wiring in the school building.

    How many Americans use the Internet is of great interest to businesses that spend money maintaining sites on the World Wide Web, where information can be enhanced with pictures and sound.

    A survey released on Thursday in New York estimates that 17 million American adults, or 1 in 11, have used the Web -- double the most widely accepted previous estimate of Internet use.

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