Closing the digital divide by providing access to computers with high-speed Internet to all students seems like an admirable and worthy goal, but a new study by researchers at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy suggests that having a computer at home may actually lower student test scores, especially for low-income students.
The study, available for a $5 download from the National Bureau of Economic Research, looked at 150,000 5th through 8th-grade students in North Carolina from 2000 to 2005. During that period, access to broadband Internet expanded widely in the state, increasing from 58,000 high-speed Internet subscribers to 158,0000, researchers found. But instead of seeing an increase in reading and math scores over that period of time, the study found that students in the middle grades actually performed lower on reading and math tests.
As you might guess, it’s not so much the increase in access that seems to be the problem, but rather how kids are using the Internet that plays a bigger role in academic achievement. In fact, “increased availability of high speed internet is actually associated with less frequent self-reported computer use for homework,” the study says. Students are mostly using home computers to socialize with friends and play games, says professor Jacob Vigdor, who worked on the study. Ultimately, that may detract from the amount of time students spend working on homework and studying.
However, the study found that proper parental monitoring of student computer use can lead to more productive use of the Internet.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.