The Downside of Giving Every Student a Laptop - Pacific Standard

The Downside of Giving Every Student a Laptop

A new study looks at the effects of access to a home computer on the test scores of middle school students.
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(Photo: F.Schmidt/Shutterstock)

(Photo: F.Schmidt/Shutterstock)

Concerned that poor youngsters aren’t learning basic computer skills, some school districts have begun purchasing laptops and distributing them to every high school and middle school student.

A new study suggests the policy may be doing more harm than good. It finds public school students in North Carolina who gain their first regular access to a home computer between the fifth and eighth grades experience “a persistent decline in reading and math test scores.”

For disadvantaged youngsters, the positive impact of having access to online instruction "may be negated by counterproductive use of computers, particularly by students in unsupervised home environments."

In their analysis of data from 2000 to 2005, economist Jacob Vigdor and his colleagues warn that, for disadvantaged youngsters, the positive impact of having access to online instruction “may be negated by counterproductive use of computers, particularly by students in unsupervised home environments.”

In other words, low-income 12- and 13-year-old latchkey kids who finally have their own laptops are playing games, watching videos—and neglecting their homework. It seems bridging the digital divide may actually widen the achievement gap.

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