Experimental Evidence on the Effects of Home Computers on Academic Achievement among Schoolchildren is the title of a new study finding that schools providing computers to students for home use resulted in no academic gains:

Computers are an important part of modern education, yet many schoolchildren lack access to a computer at home. We test whether this impedes educational achievement by conducting the largest-ever field experiment that randomly provides free home computers to students. Although computer ownership and use increased substantially, we find no effects on any educational outcomes, including grades, test scores, credits earned, attendance and disciplinary actions. Our estimates are precise enough to rule out even modestly-sized positive or negative impacts. The estimated null effect is consistent with survey evidence showing no change in homework time or other “intermediate” inputs in education.

The researchers provided computers to over 1,000 students and compared their academic results with those of another thousand in a control group (to the researcher’s credit, the students in the control group also received free computers at the end of the year-long study). The summary of the study is available for free, but you have to pay five dollars for the entire paper (which I did).

As I have stated on numerous occasions, I’m no believer in technology as a panacea. However, as I’ve previously stated in critiques of papers like these (My “Take” On Recent Study Saying Home Computer Usage Can Lead To Lower Test Scores), I believe researchers are really missing the boat.

Here’s what I wrote in that previous post:

I’ve always had questions about programs that give home computers to households with minimal training or accountability. Our school’s family literacy project of providing computers and home internet access to immigrant families resulted in huge academic gains because it combined training for parents and students and weekly monitoring and accountability. Without training or accountability, it doesn’t seem to me that schools should put much effort into getting technology into the hands of students at home.

And there are many other ways the idea of training and accountability can be implemented. I spent time showing students plenty of potentially engaging ways they can use the Internet at home to gain extra credit (since a sizable number didn’t have it at home I really couldn’t require it as an assignment and, instead, they had other ways to get extra credit), and many do so. Though I’m not that familiar with one-to-one laptop programs, I assume the training and accountability are integral to their operation — at least, in the ones that work.

Of course, students, parents, and teachers need to receive training to make all this work.

So, of course the researchers got the results they did. It would have been more useful if they had compared a control group without computers with a group that had that kind of support and accountability, which is what we did (you can read more about it at The Best Resources For Learning About Schools Providing Home Computers & Internet Access To Students.

It’s not clear in the study if individual classes were divided into halves, with one half receiving computers and the other not. I’m assuming that was the case, which even reinforces how obvious the results were going to be — teachers then couldn’t incorporate lessons that the whole class could do at home.

I sometimes wonder how much consultation researchers do with educators to help determine how useful a study would be before it’s done….

Thanks to Morgan Polikoff for the tip on the study.