Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Computers Hurt Academic Skills

All the technocrats pushing more and more technology and computers onto public schools and public school students as the miracle cure for the achievement gap ought to read this study:

Economists are trying to measure a home computer’s educational impact on schoolchildren in low-income households. Taking widely varying routes, they are arriving at similar conclusions: little or no educational benefit is found. Worse, computers seem to have further separated children in low-income households, whose test scores often decline after the machine arrives, from their more privileged counterparts.

Ofer Malamud, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Chicago, is the co-author of a study that investigated educational outcomes after low-income families received vouchers to help them buy computers.

“We found a negative effect on academic achievement,” he said. “I was surprised, but as we presented our findings at various seminars, people in the audience said they weren’t surprised, given their own experiences with their school-age children.”

Professor Malamud and his collaborator, Cristian Pop-Eleches, an assistant professor of economics at Columbia University, did their field work in Romania in 2009, where the government invited low-income families to apply for vouchers worth 200 euros (then about $300) that could be used for buying a home computer.

The program provided a control group: the families who applied but did not receive a voucher. They showed the same desire to own a machine, and their income was often only slightly above the cut-off point for the government program.

In a draft of an article that the Quarterly Journal of Economics will publish early next year, the professors report finding “strong evidence that children in households who won a voucher received significantly lower school grades in math, English and Romanian.” The principal positive effect on the students was improved computer skills.

At that time, most Romanian households were not yet connected to the Internet. But few children whose families obtained computers said they used the machines for homework. What they were used for — daily — was playing games.

In the United States, Jacob L. Vigdor and Helen F. Ladd, professors of public policy at Duke University, reported similar findings. Their National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, “Scaling the Digital Divide,” published last month, looks at the arrival of broadband service in North Carolina between 2000 and 2005 and its effect on middle school test scores during that period. Students posted significantly lower math test scores after the first broadband service provider showed up in their neighborhood, and significantly lower reading scores as well when the number of broadband providers passed four.

The Duke paper reports that the negative effect on test scores was not universal, but was largely confined to lower-income households, in which, the authors hypothesized, parental supervision might be spottier, giving students greater opportunity to use the computer for entertainment unrelated to homework and reducing the amount of time spent studying.

The North Carolina study suggests the disconcerting possibility that home computers and Internet access have such a negative effect only on some groups and end up widening achievement gaps between socioeconomic groups. The expansion of broadband service was associated with a pronounced drop in test scores for black students in both reading and math, but no effect on the math scores and little on the reading scores of other students. In the report, the authors do not speculate about what caused the disparities.

The study also goes to show just how much positive or negative influence parental involvement and supervision have on student achievement.

Of course President Hopey/Changey is expanding broadband service into poor and rural areas as part of his miracle education cure and grant-based stimulus package.

Along with his BLAME TEACHERS FIRST education policies, his Race to the Top initiative, and his No Child Left Behind Jr. re-do set to pass after the November elections, President Hopey/Changes puts all his faith in just about every miracle cure that doesn't actually work.

Here's some advice, Hopey/Changey:

Start with parents. Get them involved. Hold parents accountable when students don't come to school, don't study, don't pay attention, don't show effort.

If he had read this study (or actually read any study on education not funded by the Gates or Broad Foundations), he would know that parents are the linchpin to student achievement and success.

Given the financial, employment, environmental, agricultural, and education policies he pursues, I wonder if President Hopey/Changey isn't spending entirely too much time on the Internets and not enough time reading policy papers and material NOT written by hedge fund managers or foundations funded by hedge fund managers and/or Bill Gates and Eli Broad.


  1. I work in a small school in Chicago and there is a lot of talk about technology at the top levels, but no $$$. I do believe in using technology to support instruction. In Chicago, Huberman, our CEO, does not see technology integrated with instruction. Huberman has come up with a plan to extend the school day with TWO HOURS of programmed computer instruction with a teacher aide! Incredible, you cannot write this stuff!! It was to be a secret but someone let it out of the bag. There was the still the question of dollars to afford it. Scantron testing via computer has started. They see computers as testing stations versus tools making deeper connections. As a school with a high number of ell students, teacher stations with interactive smartboard would be a valuable tool if used correctly to develop schema and frontload important keywords and concepts.

    I share this because, it seems the urban areas with strong mayors running the schools, are looking at each other for cues. Usually, it is all bad.

  2. I'm not at all surprised by the results of the study. Computers are like any other tool - if you do not have a plan to implement; if you are not trained to use it well - you may cause more damage than had you engaged the task without the tool.

    My own experience proves that point as well. We have chosen not to introduce computers to our children - at least not as a study/reading aid. they use the computers around our house like any other entertainment media - when they have completed homework and other assignments MANUALLY. The result: both kids are strong learners; my daughter has the highest IBS scores in her school; my son was reading G2 books at K. Both kids have attention spans of laser beams; I can't get away with anything. I know that this is anecdotal and sounds like a brag - but we're around families with of similar situations, my wife and I use computers quite a lot in our work; we have MACs and PCs here. We made several conscious decisions about technology and our kids - and it appears that we've made some pretty important choices that I hope to pass along.