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Report: Home Computers Linked to Lower Reading, Math Achievement

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This paper (PDF) written by three researchers at Duke University puts a new spin on what educators should do about the "digital divide." After analyzing data from 2000 to 2005 of North Carolina public school students, the researchers found that there was a persistent gap between students who had access to computers with Internet access in their homes, which was most strongly tied with their parents' level of education (as in, those students whose parents were highly educated were more likely to have a computer in the home than students whose parents had lower levels of education). That's not really new information, but the researchers also found that having a computer was associated with "modest but statistically significant and persistent negative impacts on student math and reading test scores."

To break it down a little more, the researchers found that students who received a computer between 5th and 8th grade had a decline in their reading and math scores, overall. Students who did not have access to a home computer during this time generally did best on math and reading tests, and of those students who had a computer at home, those who only used the computer twice a month or less had the best scores.

The study also found that students with high-speed Internet access were less likely to report using it for school work and academic purposes and were more likely to use it for entertainment. However, Internet access had a more positive effect on students' academic achievement when there was effective parental supervision of the student's Internet activities.

Basically, having a computer with Internet access in the house makes it more likely that a student will spend more time goofing around on the computer than studying, unless he or she is being effectively monitored by parents. The Internet can be a positive tool for those who use it for schoolwork, but it can also be used as a time waster, and in that case, it will have a negative impact on student achievement.

This information could influence the way educators and administrators go about closing the digital divide and throw a wrench in the gears of 1 to 1 laptop initiatives and other programs that aim to boost achievement by providing greater access to the Internet. What this suggests is it's not really about giving every kid a computer, but more about what the kid does with the computer once he or she has it.

The paper does throw these programs a bone, though, by saying that there are skills that may not be directly related to math and reading achievement that students will learn through having access to a computer—like basic knowledge about software and 21st century skills that could be helpful when they're looking for a job.

What do you think? Will this data influence the way that educators make decisions about the digital divide and student achievement? Are 1 to 1 initiatives worth the effort and money in light of this study? How might educators and administrators address some of the concerns raised by these conclusions?

8 Comments

I think this study raises questions about what happens at home more than at school. Parenting has a huge impact on learning, that's obvious, as it affects what they do in their downtime. Would the kids who are 'goofing' around on the computer be goofing without it?
It's always down to HOW you use a tool, not assuming that because children have it they will learn.
This article is about the affect of parenting on student achievement rather than the impact of technology! My concern is when this type of research is used by those in education who are anti - tech intergration in schools, and I know a few.

These students were tested on traditional competencies. I wonder how they would measure up if the other domains such as listening or speaking were part of the comparison. Is it possible that the 'wasting time' definition of a traditionalist might be viewed as 'developing 21st century proficiencies' such as resourcefulness and the ability to engage in independent study or open ended investigations for a consrtuctivist? Only time will tell I suppose.

"Resourcefulness" is a 21st century proficiency?

"Resourcefulness" is a 21st century proficiency?


"Resourcefulness" is a 21st century proficiency?

I don't really think that this paper gives any new information. Don't we all know that excess of everything is bad? If you let kids watch TV for a few hours in a controlled environment, it could be a good stress reliever and kids will learn from the informational shows. If you let your kids just lay in front of the idiot box for hours without any supervision, they will watch junk shows and become lazy and waste the valuable time.
Same thing with video games and other handheld devices. Why then is it a big surprise to see the same results with computers with Internet connection. Facebook, MySpace and tons of other sites are very addictive not just for students but even adults. It is thus the responsibility of the parents to guide and supervise effective use for the young ones who do not know any better. A colleague of mine wrote an article- Is your child hiding something from you? in which she points out the same thing- if parents are not aware of their childrens' activities online, they are only inviting trouble.

Yes, resourcefulness is a 21st Century skill. It came in handy during the 20th Century, did it not? Or, have we forgoten the history of the Great Depresssion and World War II. This article is about using tools and effective parenting. The computer could have been replaced with a pencil, notebook, or textbook, and the author could have written how a student could waste time using those tools. I could have the best cookware or ingredients to make a meal, but if I don't know how to use those ingredients or cookware, how good will the meal be? I believe unless there is a developmental issue, any kid will learn if you show them you care by helping them. It's not rocket science. I advocate, in part, for two foster kids, a 3rd grader and a 2nd grader, who each missed a year of school when the family was homeless. The 3rd grader's Tera Nova scores were on point in K, but she is now a year behind, but would be two years behind if she weren't left back a year in 1st grade. The other girl is behind, too. The school district is not interested in advocating that the child welfare agency purchase a home computer with appropriate software for the girls to use to get caught-up. The district is delaying offering the Title I supplemental services that the girls are eligible for based on the school they attend where 40% of the students score proficient on the high-stake tests, so what can I do to help them? Email me at [email protected]

Yes, resourcefulness is a 21st Century skill. It came in handy during the 20th Century, did it not? Or, have we forgoten the history of the Great Depresssion and World War II. This article is about using tools and effective parenting. The computer could have been replaced with a pencil, notebook, or textbook, and the author could have written how a student could waste time using those tools. I could have the best cookware or ingredients to make a meal, but if I don't know how to use those ingredients or cookware, how good will the meal be? I believe unless there is a developmental issue, any kid will learn if you show them you care by helping them. It's not rocket science. I advocate, in part, for two foster kids, a 3rd grader and a 2nd grader, who each missed a year of school when the family was homeless. The 3rd grader's Tera Nova scores were on point in K, but she is now a year behind, but would be two years behind if she weren't left back a year in 1st grade. The other girl is behind, too. The school district is not interested in advocating that the child welfare agency purchase a home computer with appropriate software for the girls to use to get caught-up. The district is delaying offering the Title I supplemental services that the girls are eligible for based on the school they attend where 40% of the students score proficient on the high-stake tests, so what can I do to help them? Email me at [email protected]

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