In fact, the state's data show that less-wealthy districts often are more technologically advanced than middle-income districts.
The education department devised the survey to study the technology being used in public schools from kindergarten through high school. The survey, to be conducted annually, also will monitor the effects of Gov. Ridge's Link-to-Learn initiative, which is spending $132 million over three years to upgrade educational technology.
The goal is to collect data using such traditional measurements as the student-to-computer ratio, and evaluate both teacher-training programs and how technology is being used by students and teachers.
The survey used 66 variables to assess the state's 501 school districts.
``We used that then to rank each of the districts on a relative index that is comparing one Pennsylvania school district with another,'' said James G. Williams, a University of Pittsburgh professor who is managing the state's technology assessment project. Pitt's School of Information Sciences was awarded Link-to-Learn grants totaling $600,000 to develop the technology index and map the state's technological infrastructure.
``If you are shown in red [on the index map] that means you are very low on the scale,'' Williams said. ``If you are really dark green, that means you are really good.''
Larry A. Olson, the state's deputy secretary for information technology, added: ``It really drove home that it's really about community leadership and community commitment. All over the state, you have one school district that is green, and one that is red just next to each other. There really is no difference [between them] except the [green] community has made a commitment.''
The state Department of Education declined to release individual school district scores because, Bailey said, the data used were from the 1996-97 school year.
The department instead created the color-coded map, which places districts within a range of scores on a continuum of technology usage from ``very low'' to ``very high.''
Williams said the greatest weight was given to some of the most educationally desirable objectives, such as having a formal staff development program for technology, a low student-to-computer ratio, Pentium-class machines, a technology plan, a full-time technology coordinator, and using the Internet for collaborative learning projects.
Bailey also noted that although the index compares districts with one another, it does not measure them against technology standards.
Last week, the Department of Education invited colleges and universities to submit proposals on how to enhance collection and analysis of data in future such surveys. Bailey said the state planned to employ a far more sophisticated system that will include a benchmark component similar to the STaR Chart that the CEO Forum on Educational Technology presented last year to measure schools' progress toward meeting the goals President Clinton spelled out in his 1996 Technology Literacy Challenge. Under the CEO system, schools are labeled low-tech, mid-tech, high-tech, and target-tech based on the goals.
``The index was our first attempt,'' Bailey said. ``And we are working with districts on what is the best way . . . to refine it.''
Data will be collected from the schools in the winter, and Bailey expects that information as well as the new index will be released next summer.
The 1998 Link-to-Learn Progress Report points out that a 1997 report by the Educational Testing Service, which was based only on a sample, said the student-to-computer ratio in Pennsylvania schools in 1996 was 11.7-to-1. Link-to-Learn data indicated a ratio of 7-to-1.
The testing service report had relied on information gathered by Quality Education Data (QED), a Denver-based research and database company that focuses on education. Chris Sondag, special projects coordinator in QED's research division, said QED would use data from Pennsylvania's latest Link-to-Learn survey for its next educational technology study.
Although several national studies have warned of a widening ``digital gap'' between the wealthy schools and schools with a large number of low-income and minority students, Pennsylvania's data indicate that less-wealthy districts often are better equipped than moderately wealthy districts, based on the state's educational subsidy formula. Radnor, which spends $13,644 per student, is in the wealthy category. Philadelphia, which spends $6,827 per pupil, is one of the less wealthy districts. Bailey said most districts fall in the mid-range.
``We have some data that actually says that in many cases, on a lot of these measures, the poorer school districts actually fare better than the ones that economically are in the middle,'' Williams said.
For example, while the student-to-computer ratio in moderately wealthy districts is 8.1-to-1, it is slightly better in less-wealthy districts - 7.6-to-1. The ratio for wealthy districts is better still - 7-to-1. The federal government recommends a ratio of 5-to-1.
Similarly, 58 percent of the classrooms in less-wealthy districts have computers - slightly better than 57 percent of classrooms in moderately wealthy districts. But 68 percent of the classrooms in the state's wealthy districts are equipped with computers.
``It is really the function of localized leadership and decision making,'' Williams said.
Bailey said that Leslye S. Abrutyn, the superintendent of Penn-Delco School District in Aston, has demonstrated that kind of technology leadership. Abrutyn, an assistant superintendent in the district for four years and acting superintendent last fall, was named superintendent in the spring.
``She has led that school district through a technological revolution,'' Bailey said, adding he expects Penn-Delco's school technology rating - its score put it in the pale green category - to improve on the next technology index.
He and other state officials also singled out the Keystone Central School District in rural Clinton County.
Keystone Central, which encompasses 1,000 square miles, is geographically the state's largest district. From its headquarters in Lock Haven, the district serves 5,400 students - 39 percent of them from low-income families. Yet, Keystone Central placed in the next-to-the-highest category on the technology index.
``They had almost every strike against them,'' Bailey said. ``They are a poor school district, a rural school district and a large school district geographically. They decided not to take `no' for an answer.''
Judy Yoho, the district's technology coordinator, credits Tom O'Rourke, the former superintendent, with sparking the district's use of technology. She said when O'Rourke was hired in 1993, he pushed technology and put together a committee to develop a technology plan for the district. Yoho, then a chemistry teacher who used the Internet in her classes, was chosen to head the committee.
She said Keystone Central worked to provide fiber optic cable to all 13 schools. And to make sure that the district gets the most from its limited funds for hardware, teachers must apply for district grants that spell out how they will use technology in their classrooms.
``We don't push technology on anyone,'' Yoho said. ``But the demand is overwhelming. Teachers are doing it because they want to.''