Children with home computers likely to have lower test scores

Around the country and throughout the world, politicians and education activists have sought to eliminate the "digital divide" by guaranteeing universal access to home computers, and in some cases to high-speed Internet service.

However, according to a new study by scholars at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy, these efforts would actually widen the 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.

Professors Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd analyzed responses to computer-use questions included on North Carolina's mandated End-of-Grade tests (EOGs). Students reported how frequently they use a home computer for schoolwork, watch TV or read for pleasure. The study covers 2000 to 2005, a period 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 had several advantages over previous research that suggested similar results, Vigdor said. The sample size was large -- 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, and 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.

"We cut off the study in 2005, so we weren't getting into the and generation," Vigdor said. "The technology was much more primitive than that. 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, Vigdor added, with clear gender divisions between those activities.

Vigdor and Ladd 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, Vigdor said. Several states have pursued programs to distribute computers to . For example, Maine funded laptops for every sixth-grader, and Michigan approved a program but then did not fund it.

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More information: "Scaling the Digital Divide: Home Computer Technology and Student Achievement" was published online by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Provided by Duke University
Citation: Children with home computers likely to have lower test scores (2010, June 18) retrieved 24 May 2019 from
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Jun 18, 2010
yes, TV was going to make everyone smarter, but it just caused more couch potatoes. The study is flawed, because the kids are aware of what the questioners want to hear. I agree that modern kids don't use the computers at home correctly, but I also suspect the teachers don't know how to channel kids curiosity into wide use of the incredible curiosity-stimulating effects of getting answers when the question is fresh.

Have classroom wide competitions for Googling skills, and watch the scores rise. We're in a difficult transition stage, where most teachers running strategy about computers have no idea how to run tactics. Teachers should be tested for computer utilization techniques: It's time, teachers -- accept the new education paradigm. We don't learn things now, we learn how to find solutions in the databases. More librarians than savant. I think it's a good thing.

I watch TV with a Google bar up, and explore objects of curiosity during commercials...

Jun 18, 2010
I think the study provides an accurate representation of what we can expect from universal access.

Disadvantaged families don't typically have well managed households.

Giving the average disadvantaged family a handout won't help them utilize it the way the givers usually intend for it to be utilized. In order to do that they'd have to give the families a computer or broadband that could only access educational media or change the behavior of the households to be more self efficient.

The study simply points out that most disadvantaged families don't use the tools for learning; not much of a suprise if you ask me, ergo their disadvantages.

Jun 19, 2010
Seems like quite an incomplete study to me, I liken to giving a large sum of money to a bum who quickly spends it all on liquor only to come to the conclusion that money won't actually help anyones living situation.

Jun 19, 2010
...incomplete study.... the conclusion that money won't actually help anyones living situation.

I think this is accurate when generalizing disadvantaged families and bums. Behaviors need to be learned. Money can't help anyone that doesn't know how to use it properly, unless by accident. The study to me was straight and to the point. Children of disadvantaged families achieve lower scores once these technologies arrive in their home. It even goes on to suggest why this is the case.

I like the fact that the study was done. Hopefully greed wasn't the motive for it. Maybe an inclusion of motives for the study would have satiated some of its critics.

Maybe it was to ensure more harm than good isn't done.

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