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Not Everyone Has Access To School Computers Minority And Low-Income Kids Most Likely To Be Denied, Study Indicates

Associated Press

More computers, newer computers, faster computers, better linked computers and more versatile computers are online in the nation’s public schools, findings released Tuesday show.

There were 6.3 million computers available to students in 1996-97, a 23.5 percent increase for the year and a 186 percent jump over the 2.2 million machines in 1991-92, according to statistics compiled by Market Data Retrieval of Shelton, Conn.

At the same time, the Dun & Bradstreet subsidiary’s “Technology in Education - Advance Report,” released at the National Educational Computing Conference, show minority and low-income kids are the most likely to be stuck without so much as a C-prompt.

“Most public schools, despite factors such as busing, greatly reflect the socio-economic status of the community in which they are located,” the report said.

Project manager Kathleen Selph Brantley said the survey provides little data on computer-literate personnel or accessiblity, such as the hours a computer laboratory is open and how often a technology coordinator is present to guide the mouse clicks and keystrokes.

“A lot of the schools will tell you, ‘We have this great equipment but we don’t have anybody out there who knows how to use it,”’ Brantley said.

The survey found more than two-thirds of the nation’s schools have Internet access, but other studies have indicated the connection reaches fewer than 10 percent of all classrooms, labs and libraries.

About 500,000 teachers were identified as schoolhouse computer users, fewer than one in six of the 3.3 million in kindergarten through grade 12 nationwide, a figure that has been fairly flat for several years, Brantley said.

“It goes up just a little bit every year, just as the number of teachers has gone up very modestly every year,” she said.

The survey, conducted annually for 15 years, is used to compile a databank for commercial use by software makers and other high-technology companies. A 140-page report is scheduled for release in September.

All 85,000 public schools nationwide were contacted by mail and telephone and about 55,000 responded. The survey also covered all 8,200 Roman Catholic parochial schools, but those results were not available.

In one key measure, the students per computer ratio nationwide in public schools declined from 36.5 a decade ago to 19.3 five years ago and 7.3 in the last school year.

Schools with less than 5 percent minority enrollment had a ratio of 6.6 students per computer, compared with 8.4 for schools with more than 50 percent minorities.

Similarly, the proportion of schools with Internet access went from 32 percent in 1995-96 to 70 percent last year.

In affluent professional neighborhoods, the figure was 78 percent, compared with 69 percent for blue-collar neighborhoods and 66 percent in rural areas. Among schools with less than 5 percent minority enrollment, 72 percent had Internet access, compared with 61 percent of the schools with more than 50 percent minorities.

A similar discrepancy was noted in high-technology schools as determined by student-computer ratios, CD-ROM availability, Internet access and network infrastructure.

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