Home Computers Have Led To Lower Test Scores In Younger Children - Study
    By News Staff | June 30th 2010 07:26 PM | 3 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    Politicians and education activists believe computer access is creating a generation of "have not" students that will be unable to compete in a digital world.  Their very expensive solution is to guarantee subsidize home computers and even high-speed Internet service.

    It may not only be incredibly expensive but also a bad idea for the poorest kids, according to a new study by Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy, who say such efforts would actually widen the achievement gap in math and reading scores. Students in grades five through eight, particularly those from disadvantaged families, tend to post lower scores once these technologies arrive in their home.

    And it isn't because they are spending less time on computers, it is that they have not been a generation raised to regard it as a productivity tool and instead see it as a social one.   The results might be even more dramatic today, because the cutoff for the study was before Facebook and Twitter took hold.

    Professors Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd analyzed responses to computer-use questions included on North Carolina's mandated End-of-Grade tests (EOGs). The students reported how frequently they use a home computer for schoolwork, watch TV or read for pleasure. The study covers the years 2000 to 2005, a time when home computers and high-speed Internet access expanded dramatically - by 2005, broadband access was available in almost every zip code in North Carolina, Vigdor said.

    The study was much larger than previous research that suggested similar results - a sample size numbering more than 150,000 individual students. The data allowed researchers to compare the same children's reading and math scores before and after they acquired a home computer, to compare those scores to those of peers who had a home computer by fifth grade and to test scores of students who never acquire a home computer. The negative effects on reading and math scores were "modest but significant," they found.

    The social technology was more primitive than today, Vigdor said. "IM (instant messaging) software was popular then, and it's been one thing after the other since then. Adults may think of computer technology as a productivity tool first and foremost, but the average kid doesn't share that perception."

    Kids in the middle grades are mostly using computers to socialize and play games, with clear gender divisions between those activities.   The researchers concluded that home computers are put to more productive use in households where parental monitoring is more effective. In disadvantaged households, parents are less likely to monitor children's computer use and guide children in using computers for educational purposes.

    The research suggests that programs to expand home computer access would lead to even wider gaps between test scores of advantaged and disadvantaged students.    Several states have already pursued programs to distribute computers to students. For example, Maine funded laptops for every sixth-grader, and Michigan approved a program but then did not fund it. 

    This may be one scenario where a bad economy and less money for unscientific progressive good works does a good thing for students.

    "Scaling the Digital Divide: Home Computer Technology and Student Achievement", published online by the National Bureau for Economic Research. The research was funded in part by the William T. Grant Foundation.


    This is so true!
    I've argued that our current tests won't be truly valid for kids who grow up in a newer information age.   They have access to so much information, and more will come, that testing will have to change to reflect they different ways they use their brains.   As an example I have used before, one older friend of mine, a terrific high frequency EE, had as a litmus test that engineers he wanted to hire should have built a ham radio.

    Well, that's a silly proposition among 30 year old prospective employees, much like being able to use a slide rule.  But the modern semiconductor industry has been built on young engineers so they are are not dumber than Gordon Moore, just differently smart.  So I fully believe the test scores are dropping, I just think we will need different tests.
    Yeah but, Hank there are certain essential things which kids have to learn such as math, science and reading. And the Internet is a lousy place for them to do this. And I'll explain why.

    Learning things such as math, science and reading require effort. Whereas playing computer games and tweeting don't. Now what do you think a kid with a computer is going to do with it if left to his own devices? Study his algebra?

    And, I speak from experience. My ex-wife has two sons. Now one was always studious and the other was only concerned about having fun. The latter did nothing except play computer games and socialize with friends on the Internet. Today he is 24 years of age, functionally illiterate, no math skills; he couldn't even pass geometry in high school and has very few options in life except minimum wage jobs. Where his brother on the other hand ended up going to college and studying structural management.

    And then there is the question of reliable sources of information on the Internet. Do you think kids know the difference. There is far more misinformation of the Internet than there is reliable information. And the kids don't know the difference. It takes a certain amount of requisite knowledge to know where to find reliable information on the Internet. And where Wikipedia, which is probably the most frequented database on the Web, has improved over the years, it is still far from being an Encyclopaedia Britannica.

    Don't get me wrong. I think home computers are great and if you know what you're doing and where to go the Internet for information, it can be a great resource, especially since, for example, a large part of Standford University's library has been copied and the books are available on the Internet. Many high schools even have databases that students can log onto for homework help. But how many kids do you think utilize this resource? I mean let's face it, the Internet isn't like the computer aboard the USS Enterprise! lol

    If kids have a choice between entertainment or learning something which requires effort, which do you think they'll choose?