We hear a lot of talk in education circles about the academic achievement gap between racial and socioeconomic groups. One aspect of this gap is called the "digital divide," which means that poorer kids are disadvantaged in school because they don't have computers at home like kids from well-to-do families. Taxpayers have spent millions of dollars to try to close this so-called “digital divide” by donating computers to poorer kids. By 2003, the poorer students had reached parity with richer kids in computer access.
Did these generous gifts accomplish their goal? A new National Bureau of Economic Research paper says NO. Two Duke University researchers looked at 5th-8th graders enrolled in North Carolina schools between 2000 and 2005 to determine whether or not home computer and internet access improved the kids' basic academic performance. The study used a large sample size and followed the kids' performance for several years. The data revealed that the students who had a computer and/or Internet access in the home between 5th and 8th grade declined in standardized math and reading test scores, and this decline persisted throughout the four-year span of the study. Furthermore, those receiving free or reduced-price lunches experienced a greater decline in test scores than did their peers with equivalent computer and internet access.
These research professors concluded that parental monitoring is a key factor in whether students use the computer for educational purposes or primarily to play games and surf the internet recreationally. More time on the computer usually also translates into less time reading or doing homework. While home computers may provide benefits such as increasing computer literacy, the researchers who did this study do not recommend government provision of home computers to early secondary school students. Their conclusion is that if the goal is to reduce racial and socioeconomic disparities in test scores, providing home computer access is counterproductive.
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