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Maryland Schools Neglecting Computers

Technology Used Mostly for Basics

By Ylan Q. Mui and Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 23, 2005; Page B01

John Bryce is all too aware that the computers in his classroom at Maurice J. McDonough High School in Southern Maryland can be used for more than just learning how to program. So he draws a hard line with his students:

"Under no circumstances are any kids in my class allowed to play computer games," he said yesterday. "That gets the death penalty."

_____Graphic_____
Maryland Student-to-Computer Ratios: A report compiled for the Maryland State Board of Education shows that school districts are nearing or surpassing the goal of a student-to-computer ratio of 5 to 1 by 2005.
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Still, his students admit that it's hard to resist the temptation to surf the Internet and send instant messages. Sophomore Nate Longbons, 15, demonstrated a Pacman-style game someone had installed on his computer. Another program played all the songs from the Super Mario Brothers video games. On days when Bryce is replaced by a substitute teacher, the students said, they play in video game tournaments online.

Bryce's struggle illustrates the challenge facing schools across the state as they grapple with how to integrate technology into classrooms. A survey released yesterday found that despite the investment of millions of dollars by school districts, Maryland students and teachers use their computers mainly for such basic tasks as e-mail and word processing.

"Why have all this money built into this program if we're not going to use it?" asked Carol Leveille, principal of Mary H. Matula Elementary School in La Plata, which has wireless Internet technology, Internet phones in each classroom and laptops for staff members.

Data for the survey were compiled last year by the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education, but the group began tracking technology in Maryland classrooms in 1996. Back then, access was the hot-button issue. Schools averaged one computer for every 16 students. A year later, 23 percent of state schools had Internet connections.

Then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) tried to change that when he announced a $53 million, five-year plan to push Maryland into the Information Age. It called for $28 million for computer hardware, $19 million for wiring and nearly $5 million for teacher training.

Almost a decade later, student access to technology has improved dramatically, besting national averages. The state's goal was to reach a student-to-computer ratio of 5 to 1 by 2005. The survey, conducted last year at every school in Maryland, shows the ratio is 4 to 1, and 95 percent of schools have Internet access.

But the report found that students and teachers aren't doing a whole lot with their high-tech tools. Forty percent of students use word processors regularly, and more than half use the Web for research, according to the report. Such students as McDonough sophomore Chris Dehanas, 16, said they can spend entire class periods online. Six percent of the students said they use technology in lab experiments, and 9 percent use computers to interpret data.

The report also showed that students in poor schools not only have less access to computers and the Internet than those in wealthier schools, but they also are significantly less likely to use technology to analyze data, report information or conduct research on the Web.

"This is what technology ought to be used for," said Bob Marshall, chief executive of AWS Convergence Technology and a Maryland Business Roundtable member. "This is a big concern that these numbers are not showing progress."

Among teachers surveyed, 85 percent said they use their computers regularly to send e-mails, and 16 percent said they use the technology to analyze student data -- an increasingly important responsibility under strict regulations of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Matula said training teachers to use the school's equipment has been one of the biggest hurdles at her wired school. "A lot of teachers are used to the paper-and-pencil approach," she said. "Getting them on board with this" can be difficult.

The Maryland business group called for better professional development for teachers to learn how to use computers more effectively in classrooms. Nationally, 82 percent of teachers say they have received training on how to incorporate the Internet into instruction, according to a 2003 report by the National Center for Education Statistics. In Maryland, the survey ranked 70 percent of teachers as having "intermediate" skills in integrating technology into the classroom.

"It's more of an instructional problem than a technology problem," said June E. Streckfus, executive director of the business group. "Good technology can't improve bad teaching."

State board President Edward L. Root said teachers face time constraints, and board member Lelia Thompson Allen cautioned against overemphasizing the role of technology in the classroom. "We can go too far with the technology and not give the teacher time to act on her observations of the students," she said.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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