Scaling the Digital Divide: Home Computer Technology and Student Achievement

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This report examines the continuing disparity in at-home computer access across the socioeconomic spectrum – despite completion of a program to bridge the “digital divide” – and the effect the technological differences may have on students’ math and reading test scores.

Based on data collected from North Carolina public middle schools between 2000 and 2005, the authors conclude that any expected improvement in test scores due to computer access may be falsely inflated – and that the presence of a computer in the home, a figure that has been rising since 2001, may actually have a negative effect on students.

The authors suggest that the purchase of a family computer may seem to correspond with improvements in domestic well-being, which would, in turn, be reflected in increased performance at school. Yet data proves the opposite. Students who spend more of their recreational time reading and watching moderate amounts of television tend to perform better on tests than those who spend more time on computer-related activities. The authors suggest a variety of reasons why computer access may actually increase the achievement gap, as prolonged exposure to the computer may have both an emotionally-isolating and physically-detrimental impact on students.

Students with high-speed internet access in the home also tend to have lower test scores, according to the study, perhaps because online access provides new opportunities for entertainment and recreation.             

The authors note that, although at-home computer usage and Internet access do not positively affect test scores, early exposure to these technologies may result in the development of marketable skills, “ranging from the ability to use basic software to advanced programming or hardware maintenance skills,” that could be of use in a professional field.

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