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Teachers see major obstacles to wiring schools

Pressed to prepare children for the digital age, teachers report a shortage of equipment and a lack of training to help them integrate technology into their curricula.

Pressed to prepare children for the digital age, teachers in schools around the country report a shortage of equipment and inadequate training to help them integrate technology into their curricula, according to a new report.

The No. 1 reason teachers cite for not using digital educational content is no computers in the classroom, according to Education Week's third annual study of the state of technology in schools. That is what 75 percent of those surveyed said, despite substantial private investment, a $2.25 billion federal Net access subsidy for schools and libraries, and the White House-backed $450 million Technology Literacy Challenge Fund.

Even when computers are available, according to the report, teachers said they simply do not have enough time or incentive to use digital content over books and other traditional methods.

"One of our main findings was that most teachers are having trouble finding high-quality software and Web sites," said Erik Fatemi, Education Week's project editor for the report. "It's one thing to train teachers on just the technical aspects of the technology, but it's another thing entirely to teach them how to use that technology effectively in the classroom."

See special report: Wired schools: It takes a village The report echoes concerns often voiced since Washington began calling for more technology in the nation's schools with the growth of the Internet. Many have criticized national campaigns to wire classrooms as little more than election-year politics that ignore far more basic problems in public education.

Of the 1,407 teachers the magazine surveyed for its report, titled "Technology Counts," 97 percent said they used a computer at home or at school. Of those, 53 percent use software for classroom instruction, and 61 percent use the Net.

But almost the same percentage of teachers say it is "somewhat" or "very difficult to unearth digital content that meets their needs, according to the study.

Many also responded that they are not getting adequate training. While 42 percent of those surveyed had six or more hours of lessons in basic computer skills, just 29 percent received the same amount of instruction on how to incorporate digital content into their lesson plans.

Although 42 states require technology training as a hiring condition for teachers, the report states, only four require it for recertification: Connecticut, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

And contrary to what some might believe, younger teachers are not necessarily more tech-savvy than their veteran counterparts.

School administrators agree that teachers need better training and help in deciding which programs to use in their classrooms.

"It's not plug and play," said Don Blake, senior technologist for the National Education Association, which represents 2.3 million education workers.

"There is no solid data that says: 'This is the way you should incorporate technology,'" he added. "There is still a gap between what teachers are being encouraged to do with technology and what they have to do to make sure that students are learning the basic curriculum."

The report does cite some programs that are helping teachers use technology, such as the California Instructional Technology Clearinghouse. The clearinghouse, which gets state funding, partners with teachers to evaluate and grade computer programs and Web sites and determines which products meet the state's standards for instructional materials.

So far, the service has tested 400 educational Web sites or software programs this year alone, according to clearinghouse director Bridget Foster.

"One of the biggest values is that all this info is centralized in one place, and it's evaluated by actual teachers who are using the products in a classroom setting," Foster said. "Although some of these programs look really cool, we ask them to think about how they will use them in their classroom--sometimes that is a real telling moment."

Other key findings in the report, which also breaks the data up by states, include:

• Teachers in kindergarten through fifth grade are more likely to use software than Web sites for instruction, while teachers in grades 6 through 12 are more likely to use the Net to teach.

• Of teachers who use software for instruction, 46 percent say that matching the programs with their state curricula is a "big" or "moderate" problem.

• High school teachers have a harder time than elementary school teachers finding quality digital content--with 69 percent saying it's "very difficult."