Sunday, August 08, 2010

Do computers make kids dumber?

I've really got no dog in this fight but the findings below seem problematical to me. I suppose getting a computer may cause students to do less homework so that is reasonable enough -- but note that this is about kids who get computers in late grade school. My son could bring up his own educational computer game at age 2, and that is 21 years ago now. So it may have been mainly kids from poor families who got computers relatively late and we are simply seeing here the usual socioeconomic divide in educational achievement

Efforts to close the "digital divide" and boost student achievement by supplying students with home laptops have been getting a lot of attention in recent years. What's still unclear, though, is whether that sort of thing could make a difference.

In an effort to get a handle on that question, researchers Jacob L. Vigdor and Helen F. Ladd studied statewide data on North Carolina students from 2000 and 2005—a period of time when computer access expanded noticeably and many areas of the state were just getting access to high-speed internet service. The study focused on students enrolled in 5th through 8th grades.

The researchers were able to figure out which students had computers at home because North Carolina students fill out surveys asking them about computer use and ownership in tandem with the state exams they take every year. To determine whether areas had internet access, the researchers relied on zip code data and Federal Communications Communication reports on the rollout of Internet services.

The news was not good, though: The researchers found that students who gain access to a home computer between 5th and 8th grade tend to experience a slight—yet persistent—decline in reading and math scores. With regard to the introduction of Internet access, the researchers found that the technology had a more negative impact on some students than others—possibly because parents of those students exercised less control of their activities on the Internet.

"For school administrators interested in maximizing achievement test scores, or reducing racial and socioeconomic disparities in test scores, all evidence suggests that a program of broadening home computer access would be counterproductive," the study concludes.

One caveat the researchers offer, though, is that this study does not look beyond test scores. For instance, computer-literacy could pave the way to better job opportunities for some students. We'll never know from this report.


There are no excuses for the state of Britain's education system

British schools are a disaster zone, churning out masses of pupils lacking even the most basic skills, argues Neil O'Brien

What’s the best reason to be angry with Gordon Brown and Tony Blair? The expenses scandal? Tripling the national debt? Trying to fight two gory wars on a shoestring budget? Actually, I think it’s their abject failure to improve British education. Our schools are a disaster zone, churning out to many pupils lacking even the most basic skills. Last week, we learned that more than a third of children are leaving primary school unable to read, write and add up. And in two weeks’ time, A-level results will be out, and we can have our annual debate about how much further standards have been allowed to slip.

The last government tried to silence debate on the subject, suggesting that any discussion of whether standards might be falling amounted to an “attack on the hard work of pupils and teachers”. But the best research has concluded that an A at GCSE today is the equivalent of a C in the 1980s. In 2000, British teenagers were ranked seventh in the world for reading and eighth for maths. In 2006, they were 17th and 24th.

Yet our traditional summer argument about grade inflation – important as it is – is obscuring much bigger problems. Essentially, our schools are dominated by an anti-work, anti-achievement culture, which crushes pupils’ aspirations and opportunities. And those that fight their way through it find themselves enmeshed in a university system whose output is completely mismatched to the country’s needs.

From my own time at school, I can remember only one teacher who ever tried to explain how much difference working hard could make to the rest of our lives. He had spent years in the worst inner-city schools, and was the only teacher I can recall ever wearing a suit. “Ninety per cent of the wealth in this country is owned by 1 per cent of the population,” he explained. “They want you to fail. They don’t give a monkey’s, because their kids are all off at private schools. But you aren’t going to fail, because you are going to work your guts out.”

Within our current system, though, there is precious little push for aspiration – which, as Sainsbury’s told Parliament in a written submission, is one reason why firms often prefer to hire immigrants, who have a far more satisfactory work ethic.

In this area, we could learn a huge amount from KIPP, a highly successful chain of state schools in the US. They operate in the most bleak, deprived inner cities, and do several brilliant things. First, they work a much longer school day (7.30am to 5pm) and force the pupils to attend summer school. As a result, the kids spend 60 per cent more time in class than the average. Second, they raise aspiration by aiming to send all the kids to university, from places where no one has ever gone to college.

Most importantly, however, they have a robust programme teaching respect and manners. It aims to break the prevailing culture, dominated by gangsta rap and the code of the street. Kids are taught to sit up and pay attention. Even President Obama has endorsed this approach: “This is what we have to teach all of our children,” he said. “No excuses. No excuses!”

In theory, Michael Gove’s new “free schools” should allow similarly radical methods to be adopted in the UK. However, they would face huge opposition. The unions would fight any prospect of extra hours or shorter holidays – even if they were compensated. And many members of the educational establishment would rather eat their own fingers than endorse the idea that schools could “challenge” the prevailing culture – a liberal cringe that has a huge cost for the poorest children in Britain.

For a lack of order is not just a problem in America. The average teacher here loses 50 minutes every day to delinquent behaviour, which makes many of their lives an utter hell. Efforts to resolve this are undermined by a thicket of restrictive rules and laws: one teacher I met was disciplined for standing between a pupil and the door when she was telling him off. (Apparently, children must have a route out of the room.)

If you can’t keep order in schools, it is impossible to create a culture of hard work and achievement. And things were made worse by the last government, which pressed schools to reduce expulsions, using fines and threats to drive down the number. Michael Gove has, mercifully, changed tack, and wants to abolish the appeals tribunals which can overturn schools’ decisions to expel pupils. Though such cases are small in number, they hugely undermine teachers’ authority. (Meanwhile, there are roughly 70,000 excluded students warehoused in appalling “Pupil Referral Units”. Given their staggering cost – £15,000 per head per year – we might be better off just sending them to Eton.)

Yet even if we can get our schools to produce better pupils, there are major problems with our universities, too. Currently, we have a centrally planned system, where the state sets the number of places on particular courses. It’s basically a genteel, donnish version of the command economy that did so much good for Eastern Europe. This lack of a market creates a huge mismatch between what our education system is turning out and what our economy needs. For example, a recent CBI survey found that two thirds of employers have trouble recruiting people in science, technology, engineering and maths. At the top end, our leading research universities are underfunded, forcing star scientists and great thinkers to look to America. At the bottom, duff courses are heavily subsidised, meaning that masses of kids are doing courses that are a waste of their time: an essay a term, minimal contact with academics, and a ludicrous drinking culture. There are six universities where between a fifth and a quarter of students drop out every year. Overall, one in 10 of students fail to complete their courses.

We need to replace this with a proper market in higher education. That means raising the cap on fees, and allowing universities to charge different amounts for different courses. Hopefully, this is what Lord Browne’s review of fees will recommend later this year. If we make universities publish their data on graduate earnings, and create a market, people will be able to make better choices. And far from limiting the university system to the middle classes, I suspect the numbers attending university will actually rise, because the quality of courses will be better, and university more worthwhile.

In the modern world, Britain’s only hope of competing is to live by its brains – but our schools and universities are simply not up to the job. The reforms we need will be controversial. But they are, nevertheless, utterly essential.


Has the Australian Labor Party suddenly discovered an uncharacteristic love of Christianity?

Labor [akin to the U.S. Democrats] promises more school chaplains but it will be interesting to see how they define "chaplain". Let me guess that there will be NO Exclusive Brethren chaplains but quite a few "humanist" chaplains.

Amusing, though, to think how this promise will p*** off their urban sophisticate base

UP to 1000 additional schools, including those in remote or disadvantaged areas, will get a chaplain service under a re-elected Labor government. The National School Chaplaincy Program already provides the service to 2700 schools.

If Labor wins the August 21 election, the program would get $222 million to reach more schools, and secure existing chaplains for a further three years. Labor last year committed funding to run the program for the full school year in 2011.

A national consultation process will consider the scheme's effectiveness and how it fits with other student support activities, with a discussion paper to be released by October.

In a statement, the Labor party said it recognised that some schools in rural, remote and disadvantaged locations had so far missed out. They would be better considered in the new round, and in rural areas, funding could be pooled so chaplains could service a number of schools. Labor says funding for the policy would be offset over the forward estimates.


No comments: