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Study tracks school tech use

A new report gauges how well the billions of dollars being thrown at U.S. schools are being put to work by every state.

With billions for computers and Net connections being thrown at the nation's public schools, a new report gauges how well the dollars are being put to work by every state.

Education Week spent four months pulling together the study, which looks See special report: Wired schools: It takes a village past impressive student-to-computer ratios and the amount of federal grant money directed at education technology. The results released on Monday are not startling, but add significant weight to the growing consensus that schools need more than fancy PCs and modems to ensure that K-12 students actually benefit from perhaps the largest public-private investment schools have ever seen.

After profiling each state's technology funding and long-term goals as well as rating successful and poor uses of computers, the authors of the report found areas that were lacking support in many states in the drive to train schoolchildren to become technology-savvy. Topping the list: inadequate teacher training and technical support and unequal disbursement of equipment among school districts.

On average, most states spend 3 to 15 percent of their education technology budgets on teacher training. Schools should spend at least 30 percent, according to analysts interviewed by Education Week and CNET's NEWS.COM.

"A lot of states have been putting money into technology for years and years, but no money into teacher training," said Erik Fatemi, an associate editor for Education Week, who oversaw the project. "We found that if teachers don't know how to use [computers] and integrate them into curriculum, then the money can go to waste."

As reported by NEWS.COM last month, even teachers entrenched in the heart of Silicon Valley say they need more technical support or they will abandon using the expensive tools. Education Week heard the same complaints from educators across the country.

"We talked to teachers who said it was great to have the technology in the classroom, but if it breaks they are going to go right back to using the pens and paper handouts that they've been using," Fatemi added.

However, Fatemi's team found some state legislators and school officials who agree that schools need to invest more in teacher training, technical support, and creating guidelines for integrating technology in traditional curricula.

Among the states that are doing better than most in all areas are West Virginia and Kentucky, two of the nation's most economically depressed states. Florida and North Carolina stood out for their smart planning and dedication to teacher training, Fatemi said.

As other studies have shown, Education Week found that the most high-tech states are often trailing the pack with regard to teacher training and in effectively integrating technology. For example, in California, New York, and Massachusetts, only 15 percent of the teachers are "technology trained." And in New Jersey, the number sinks to 11 percent. Washington is one hotbed that fares much better, with 28 percent of all teachers trained to use PCs, software, and the Net in the classroom.

The poor standings can be improved by better planning, Fatemi noted.

"Legislators should not think of technology as a one-time investment. They've got to think of this as something that will be a part of their curriculum forever," he said. "States should also do a better job of tracking how the technology they own is being used. A lot of them can tell you how many boxes they have, but few can tell you how it is being used."

The introduction of computers in every classroom is a sexy political topic, so it is no surprise that the White House is strongly pushing the digital schoolhouse dream. Still, some Education Department officials say the focus should shift.

"The need for planning is so critical--the last thing we want is for schools to go out and acquire technology without planning how they are going to use it and the type of training teachers are going to need," Linda Roberts, director of education technology for the Education Department, said in a recent interview.

"I indeed believe it is very important to measure results and not wait too long," she added.

Education Week has decided to conduct its study on education technology annually.