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New York's public schools fall far short of the national average in both availability and use of classroom computers, according to a national survey released today.

The study says New York lags behind other states in numerous categories, including classroom Internet access, use of computers in reading and writing instruction and the ratio of computers to students.

"Classroom computer access is a real big issue, and many states are tackling this better than New York," said Greg Orlofsky, a research associate for Education Week, a national publication that conducted the survey.

For example:

New York has one instructional computer for every 6.3 students, compared with a national average of one computer for every 5.7 pupils.

Just 16 percent of the eighth-graders in New York are in schools that provide computers in all classrooms. That is the lowest percentage among 36 states for which figures were available and compares with a national average of 47 percent.

Twenty-two percent of New York's fourth-graders use computer software for reading instruction at least once a week, compared with 26 percent of fourth-graders nationwide.

The majority of teachers use the Internet for instruction in 47 percent of New York's schools, compared with the national average of 54 percent.

While both computer use and access is improving in New York, schools here got a slow start and are having trouble catching up, said Craig Jerald, director of the survey.

"Seven years ago, the goal was to get any computer into school," he said. "Now the goal is to get multimedia computers into classrooms. It's really a daunting process for a lot of schools."

But too much emphasis is often placed on statistics and not enough on how effectively technology supports student learning, according to Gary R. Cooper, superintendent of the Sweet Home Central Schools.

"That (numerical data) doesn't mean anything," he said. "What really counts is how computers are being used. My concern is: Are these $2,000 pencils or are they being used to gather information and to synthesize and learn from that information?"

Sweet Home students will soon be able to access an updated computer system not only from school, but -- with the use of a modem -- from home as well, Cooper said.

The state Education Department in recent years launched programs for the purchase of both hardware and software, made better use of federal funding and offered guidance to local districts on how to use technology to help students meet new learning standards, said David J. Lanz, director of instructional computer services for the Buffalo Public Schools.

In Buffalo, computers are being used in 41 kindergarten classes to help pupils with literacy skills, while students at three high schools are taking classes in computer networking.

"We're still challenged by infrastructure issues, but I think we're overcoming those problems very rapidly," Lanz said.

Despite the relative shortage of computers in New York's classrooms, the percentage of pupils who use computers for their schoolwork is slightly above the national average.

That suggests that many pupils are using computers at home, survey officials said.

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