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May 14, 2007

Newsflash: High Tech Tools Fail To Improve Education!

Wow. What a surprise (not). Mike Antonucci at the Education Intelligence Agency has the story:

What Liverpool's Laptops Tell Us About School Reform.

A story by New York Times reporter Winnie Hu received a lot of deserved attention when it appeared last Friday. Hu used the experiences of the Liverpool Central School District in New York to examine the entire question of providing laptop computers to students. While more and more districts are instituting laptop programs, Liverpool is going the other way, by phasing them out.

"After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement – none," said school board president Mark Lawson.

This is not a surprising outcome, since NAEP scores for 2002 showed the more students used a computer at school for social studies, the lower they scored on the exam (see Item #2 here). At the same time, students who used the Internet for research projects scored higher than those who did not. I thought the lesson was clear in 2002, and I still do today.

Computers are wonderful education tools, but they tend to increase the performance of only those students who would have used other tools if computers were not available. In other words, making it easier to do research does not increase the desire to do research. Given a computer, a well-motivated student will use it to access materials unavailable at school or the local public library. A poorly motivated student will, as Hu tells us, "exchange answers on tests, download pornography and hack into local businesses." While I have no data to support this speculation, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that the laptop program increases the achievement gap between high- and low-performing students.

Empahsis mine. It's not laptops; it's not internet connectivity; it's not class size; what will make the difference is teachers well-trained in their subjects, teaching a curriculum that values real knowledge and mastery of the subject matter.

Posted on May 14, 2007 09:01 AM

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