Downside to Bridging Digital Divide?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Jacob Vigdor, professor of public policy and economics at Duke University, discusses his research that found that gaining access to computers and the internet didn't necessarily improve outcomes for students.


Jacob Vigdor

Comments [26]

fred from usa ca

I'm glad someone finally stood up and called bullsh*t on this computers are magic for education premise politicians have been riding on for so long.

Computers do almost nothing for education in the k-12 system. Countless millions have been wasted pushing computers into schools for decades now. What were those apple II's bought at great expense for students in past decades used for? Oh yes, Oregon Trail. The entire premise is a horrible joke. We've had this experiment running for decades now, and as said, if computer access is great, then how come the children aren't math and writing genius' today? There should be a wave of excellence from decades of school computer expenditure and more recently, computers simply being a fact of life in most homes in the us. Like it or not little johnny is probably not learning advanced calculus on his pc, or to program, but probably exploring porn, facebook and youtube. But politicians will always get elected for throwing more money into school programs. No one dares cut or speak out against technology in schools. So the farce continues.

Aug. 12 2010 08:30 PM

If you're looking for a non-commercial site for kids check out Educational Synthesis:

It's not web 2.0. Just some good old fashioned education.

Aug. 11 2010 12:13 PM
SocMommy from Northern NJ

Ben from Brooklyn, you're right that the study could suffer from ecological fallacy but don't dismiss the results entirely. It points to the problems of thinking any external or technological solutions will be a magic bullet to literacy and school performance (or critical thinking for that matter.) I teach at a community college in the CUNY system with a lot of students from low income families. Most call themselves very computer literate and those without internet access at home are glued to the computers in common areas and labs. Yet they lack reading fluency, basic writing skills and heck, they barely know the functions in Microsoft Word (probably because they hardly ever wrote papers in high school.) The solution is not teachers alone, standardized tests, computers, charter schools or any other magic bullet. School achievement is based on a combination of variables, with the most important being family factors.

Aug. 11 2010 12:07 PM

just a technical aside:

the "always on" aspect of broadband is very helpful for home study. this makes spur of the moment use of online reference materials more convenient and practical. this probably a boon for students in homes without hard copy refernce books.

even entry level, low bandwidth broadband has this characteristic and might be an appropriate choice for parents who want the kids looking up words in the dictionary rather than hanging out on youtube.

Aug. 11 2010 12:07 PM
Tina from NYC

No! Broadband connections are not the answer. I work in a high school in the South Bronx and while at school when they are supposed to be doing their assignments, the kids are constantly trying to get to social networking sites, IM sites, e-mail, shopping and games. If you do not watch them constantly, even in school, many of them want to use the internet to play. Bloomberg would love to use I-Zone schools for poor neighborhoods because you give each child a computer and you don't need as many teachers. This administration is constantly blaming teachers because they do not value the hard work teachers do. For information on this see the NYC DOE website and search IZONE. Not only would many of the kids in my school get their laptops stolen, they don't have the support at home they would need to succeed. Not to mention how easy it would be to have someone else to do their online assignments. We have caught kids trying to pay another student to take their regents. So many people who have never set foot in a school with high poverty rates, where kids are homeless or living with their boyfriends, pregnant, just out of jail, overage (up to 21), special ed students, ELL learners, or kids whose parents don't speak English or don't have an education, cannot use their own experiences and think they know what is best for urban kids today. Low class size and more staff to support kids (especially more social workers) is the only way you will ever improve results in urban NYC schools. Education is expensive and complicated. Students need more people around them who care - cutting back on school staff and programs drives kids to gangs or to adults who know how to use underage kids. (Watch documentary "Very Young Girls.") The only thing that will improve urban education is funding - not reorganizing, not charter schools, not I-Zone schools - - simply pay for teachers to keep class size low and control disruptive children and you will get results. Everything else is just smoke and mirrors.

Aug. 11 2010 12:06 PM
Catherine Nieves from Massapequa, NY

Professor of Economics at Duke Univ? Your guest made at least two fallacious arguments unbefitting of a professional with his credentials.

1. He said that kids in the 70's would be less literate than those today if computers were necessary for literacy. 1970's were not the 2010's. Many kids today DO have computers, those without need to compete with those who do, not those from the 70's.

2. He also stated that the qualitative experience he had in the 80's was valuable because you had to learn about the computer to use it and today the computers are "idiot proof". Well ALL computers today, even for rich kids are plug and play. Again you can't compare 80's to 2010's. Rather, does PLAYING on the computer help give kids more exposure to the written word, more comfort with computers and more computer literacy? All of these are needed for success today!

Actual data showing that exposure to adequate computers and broad band is harmful to poorer children than their wealthier counterparts might be a valid argument, but only if the data were collected in a controlled scientific manner. I didn't hear any of that. And by the way, how do you control for all of the myriad ill effects of poverty?!?

Aug. 11 2010 12:03 PM
james from brooklyn

the top uses of the internet by far are pornography, video games, and chat - but i guess its just low income families with no knowledge of productivity software doing all this "goofing" off.

It this sort of research that is trying to blame lower test scores in low income areas on a lack of 'parenting resources' and to justify not looking at the disparity of "educational resources".

If what he says were true, wouldn't we be seeing lower test scores in high income families who have internet? - or i guess the good parental resources counteract that? the underlying assumption behind this guy's research is totally bogus as well as offensive.

Aug. 11 2010 11:57 AM

since when are learning and having fun mutaully exclusive?

who says computers are supposed to replace teachers?

the guest seems to be mixing important observations with skewed analysis and a bit of trolling.

OK, so if home broadband alone is not helpful or unhelpful how about adding the missing ingredients instead of skipping the broadband?

the guests position sounds alagous to saying "we tried baking bread with only yeast and it didn't work so buying yeast is a waste."

Aug. 11 2010 11:56 AM
Ben from Park Slope

Shame on you Brian for not doing your homework here.

Your show is usually very thoughtful and I am a dedicated listener. But you missed the boat on this one.

Vigdor's study is quite flawed. It DOESN"T look at kids who have gotten computers in home or used them in schools. It simply looks at neighborhoods that have gotten broadband access and draws a correlation with computer use where there is none.

To try and equate this with the effects of a computer on a child's education may make for great anecdotal radio, but it isn't evidence-based at all. Who got him on the show?

Why don't you interview Computers for Youth, for example? They are a New York City-based organization with a very thoughtful model of putting computers into low income kids' homes, not schools, coupled with tailored software and training for the whole family.

And they have demonstrated INCREASED test scores with their model, spread to five cities, and gotten a bunch of federal stimulus money.

More importantly, their work is based on data. Vigdor's work isn't even close.

Aug. 11 2010 11:50 AM
Mary Garvey from Manhattan

As a teacher I've seen more of the negative side of computers- cyberbullying, for example, but especially addictive behavior in middle school boys (mostly Chinese boys) who play games all night. Go past an Internet cafe in any Asian neighborhood. Scary.

Aug. 11 2010 11:50 AM
IC from NY

My son was a high honors student while attending privates schools requiring ownership and access of computers, then he was forced to attend a low-income public high school with no computer access, only home and personal access, which all his schoolmates have. None of his current school mates have attained standard reading or math level while his grades slipped during the initial period where his only use of computer was filling time with social networking....LOL, OMG, etc etc. Since I took away his computer access to constant pestering by his schoolmates on the social networking sites, he has returned to being a high honor student. I don't belive computer access alone helps children learn, but rather some structured use of the computer.

Aug. 11 2010 11:46 AM
Lance from Harlem

Your guest is missing a big point and that anyone who doesn't have a computer is being left out of the conversation. I grew up without cable and I hated being excluded. It led to feelings of isolation.

Aug. 11 2010 11:45 AM
michael from brooklyn

the problem isn't getting universal access to broadband and computers, its making sure they are taught what to do with them afterward. Getting access and computers is just a first step.

Aug. 11 2010 11:45 AM

You are expecting the computer to teach noncomputer-related skills. You shouldn't demand that the computer teach students how to think abstractly or use indexes or be polite in company. The computer should teach students how to use a computer---something that is essential to so many jobs, across all income levels.

Aug. 11 2010 11:44 AM
DarkSymbolist from NYC

Absurd premise. The computer is a tool. It's how you teach to use the tool.

Aug. 11 2010 11:44 AM
Corey from Manhattan

Video games teach skills kids can use in real life for professional jobs: the ability to focus and achieve on a long term goal (moving through the levels of a video game), how to strategize, and how to overcome difficulties you incur along the way. These are the skills of upper management!

Aug. 11 2010 11:44 AM
Dorothy from NYC

I am from a very low income family- alcoholic/absent parents, etc. Having access to a computer as a child would have made ALL the difference to me and my siblings. It would have changed ALL of our lives for the better. I can't stress enough how important this would have been to all of us.

Aug. 11 2010 11:44 AM
Erik from New York

Computers are tools just like chalkboards and books. They enable us to do things that were beyond our imagination only a few years ago.

It is not computers that determine whether or not kids learn. It is up to teachers, parents and students to learn and teach.

Computers are part of our world now and must be included in education.

Aug. 11 2010 11:43 AM
Stephanie from Unfortunately in NC

Has he asked his Duke students? I worked at Duke, went to Columbia and everyone including myself - we all saw it to play games and look up junk. Maybe it's not an income related issue, it may be generational?

Aug. 11 2010 11:43 AM
DarkSymbolist from NYC

I think they don't know how to think abstractly mainly because school has increasingly become all about teaching to the test- just endless testing in a narrow range of subject matter, eschewing subjects that teach abstract thought (such as art)- NOT because of computers

Aug. 11 2010 11:42 AM

The computer is never idiot proof. No matter how user-friendly computers are made, students can learn useful skills just from goofing off with them. Even basic typing skills are something an employer will want. It sounds old fashioned, but if you have to do any sort of computer work and slowly hunt and peck, you will work slower, and be more likely to use your job.

Aug. 11 2010 11:42 AM
Dorothy from NYC

I am from a very low income family- alcoholic/absent parents, etc. Having access to a computer as a child would have made ALL the difference to me and my siblings. It would have changed ALL of our lives for the better. I can't stress enough how important this would have been to all of us.

Aug. 11 2010 11:42 AM
parent who's given up

what are the "good" uses? "good" web sites you recommend? for primary school kids; pre teens; teens. yahoo kids was good but now it's too filled w ads. also, any good portals that block the crap? our well educated household has given up on letting the kids (under 10) on the computers at all (aside from school work) until we find solutions to some of these issues. surfing is just too unproductive and mind numbing, esp compared to reading books.

Aug. 11 2010 11:41 AM

since when are learning and having fun mutaully exclusive?

Aug. 11 2010 11:41 AM
Sarah from Brooklyn

Its difference of how the computers will be used and the time kids have to use them. I used to work with at risk youth at an alterative to incarceration program - they often had to get siblings out the door in the morning, school all day, come to the program, then go to thier night jobs. They were exhasted by the time I got them - I don't know how they ever had time for homework.

Aug. 11 2010 11:41 AM
landless from Brooklyn

This research proves what I see on the street. It seems that every child on the street has a cell phone and then goes to the public library to play games. These children do not learn to think abstractly. They don't know how to use indexes. They don't know how to be polite in company. They just know how to google.

Aug. 11 2010 11:34 AM

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