Monday, June 21, 2010

Home Computers Hurt Students

Helen Ladd and Jacob Vigdor have a new CALDER Center/NBER working paper looking at how home computers and broadband access help students. (Interestingly, an earlier version of the same paper listed Charles Clotfelter as a third author.)

Turns out that home computers harm students:
Do students' basic academic skills improve when they have access to a computer at home? Has the introduction of high‐speed internet access, which expands the set of productive tasks for which home computers might be used, caused further improvements? This paper addresses these questions by studying administrative data covering the population of North Carolina public school students between 2000 and 2005, a period when home computer access expanded noticeably, and the availability of home high‐speed internet rose dramatically.

. . .

Models with student fixed effects, which restrict identification to within‐student variation, by contrast, show modest but statistically significant negative impacts. In these models, we can trace the impact of home computer introduction for periods of up to three years; there is no indication that the negative effect of access diminishes over this time period. . . .

Similarly, the introduction of high‐speed internet service is associated with significantly lower math and reading test scores in the middle grades. Moreover, student fixed‐effect specifications reveal that increased availability of high speed internet is associated with less frequent self‐reported computer use for homework. On the margin, then, access to broadband internet appears to crowd out studying effort, presumably by introducing new options for recreational use by students and other family members. In addition, we find that the introduction of broadband internet is associated with widening racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps.



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