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 achievement gap 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.
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