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Tech Industry

Report: Schools wired, but still not Internet savvy

The Department of Education says most U.S. public schools have access to the Net, but few are taking full advantage of it.

Virtually all public schools in the United States have access to the Internet, but few are taking full advantage of the technology to instruct students, according to a new government report.

The report, released Friday by the U.S. Department of Education, urges elementary and high schools to incorporate more computer technology into classrooms, curriculum and school administration.

Over the past decade, 99 percent of schools have been connected to the Internet, with one computer for every five students on average, according to the report, entitled "Toward a New Golden Age in American Education: How the Internet, the law and today's students are revolutionizing expectations."

Yet many schools have not made computers central to the learning experience, walling off the machines in separate computer rooms, the report says.

"Education is the only business still debating the usefulness of technology," Rod Paige, U.S. Secretary of Education, said in a statement. "Schools remain unchanged for the most part, despite numerous reforms and increased investments in computers and networks."

The result is that students often learn more about computers at home and far exceed their teachers in technical savvy. For instance, 72 percent of all first graders used a home computer on a weekly basis during their summer breaks, according to the agency's National Center for Education Statistics. The largest group of new Internet users from 2000 to 2002 were 2- to 5-year-olds, closely followed by 6- to 8-year-olds.

In the process, students have become educators' toughest critics.

"I think the teachers could use technology better by learning more about it," said one elementary school student quoted in the report.

They've also developed high standards, perhaps from observing parents toting laptops home from the office.

"I think that students should have laptops to do everything in class," another student said. "We should not have to carry heavy books all day long and bring all our books home."

As part of its new National Education Technology Plan, the Department of Education recommends that schools provide more computer training to teachers, offer students online instruction or "e-learning," expand broadband connections and replace some textbooks with digital information. The plan also calls on schools to make better use of technical tools to manage finances, student information and other administrative work.

The report points to several success stories, including the Poway Unified School District near San Diego. The district set up a database that teachers can use to analyze student performance by course, period, ethnicity, gender or first language and adjust instruction accordingly. Peabody Elementary School in St. Louis' inner city uses computers to assess students and provide customized instruction and online tutoring. Over the course of three years, students' reading and math levels shot up as a result of the program. The public schools in Henrico County, Va., have outfitted every high school and middle school student with laptop computers.

As for funding such programs, the report encourages schools to get creative with restructuring budgets, leasing, forming partnerships with technology suppliers and undertaking projects that result in cost savings.