Laptops don’t boost scores

Number 2 Pencil links to a story on free laptops for students. In Minneapolis, ninth graders in the class of 2002 were given laptops for four years. Graduation rates improved, though the story doesn’t give the percentages. Of 980 students who got laptops, an unimpressive 530 graduated four years later. Test scores didn’t rise.

Ninety-two percent of continuously enrolled students with laptops passed the Minnesota Basic Standards reading test in October 2001. By comparison, 91 percent of similarly enrolled students in other schools passed the test.

The passing rate for the math section was 85 percent for the laptop-toting students, and 87 percent for students at other schools. Students passed the writing test at the rate of 90 percent and 87 percent, respectively.

“The test scores might not give much evidence,” Kosloski said. “But we found the quality of work improved significantly.”

Such arguments don’t impress Joshua Angrist, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economics professor who has studied the effects of computer-aided education on Israeli students. While kids might enjoy their schoolwork more, there is no evidence that laptop use increases academic achievement, he said. In fact, he found that math test scores declined.

“I’m sure that kids are happy to get a free computer. I would be too,” he said. “The simple answer is that it’s not a better way to teach. It’s costly. It’s distracting. And it decreases teachers’ ability to control what’s going on in the classroom.

“Why not spend money on areas where there is evidence (of improving student achievement)?” he said. “Maybe teacher training or class-size reduction.”

Money invested in laptops is not available for other things; teachers’ energy and students’ time are finite as well.

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  1. That is interesting information indeed.

    I am being criticized for not using technology labs available to me (a few of which I have never received training in, since I’m in a new building this year and all) and I have already had to deal with the backlash on that. Students in my previous building learned the same material just fine without it.

  2. A good rule when making big investments in technology (or anything else) is to ask ahead of time: “What do we hope to accomplish with this (thing), and specifically “How will this (thing) be used to accomplish that goal?” This is true in the corporate world and it is equally true in education. Anyone spending big $ without first asking these questions is probably wasting money–most likely, somebody else’s money.

  3. We make do with two labs for the whole school. The middle school is getting laptops for everybody. I think it is a big waste of money. I’m not really sure what the learning outcome is supposed to be. I have a hard enough time chasing kids off chats, their email, and fan sites the couple days a month we’re in the lab; I can’t imagine dealing with that all day.

  4. The kids at our local school do wonderfully on our state’s standardized tests. They are consistently at the top of the charts.

    We do not, however, have a large number of computers available for the kids to use. When the budget is tight, money is not spent on extra machines. Computer boosters lament that our school system lags behind in “technology.” Could there be a correlation? Have other systems also noticed such trends?

  5. I think laptops are a waste of time. We had an inservice about laptops before this school year started, and the Next Big Technology Thing was touted as – take a step back: Powerpoint. Riiiiigghhhhhhtttt.

    I can’t fathom how rational, dedicated individuals can think that cutesie icons and bullet notes are the apex of American education.

  6. John from OK says:


    I do remember reading a newspaper article about a new study indicating a “racial gap” in computer literacy. A few days later a bill appeared in Congress requesting tax breaks for PC manufacturers who “donate” computers to inner city schools. At the time, high-end PC’s cost $2000 to $4000, while last year’s models were worth $500. It seemed like a good way to “sell” those obsolete PC’s at an inflated price.

    Of course, smaller PC service and networking companies also make good money servicing school districts. I would lobby for such expenditures if I owned one of these companies.

    Of course, teachers unions do pretty much the same thing, in a more general sense: Want smarter kids? Give us more money!

  7. I dunno. I read the original article, and I think most people are missing the real point here. These weren’t just “laptops” that were given to the students; they were Apple iBooks! Wow, man! Cool! The real news is that student scores did not drop, which they might have done had students been forced to deal with Windows.

    [Note: I have not been paid by Apple to say this, but that’s their fault, not mine. Steve, are you listening? Let me know if you’d like my address.]

  8. Steve LaBonne says:

    Most of you have probably seen this already, but it’s the best comment on Powerpoint that I know.

  9. As someone who has worked in I.T. for 21.5 years, and started on computers in high school (1979), I can tell you that having access to technology does not equate to higher test scores. In my day,
    the cost of a simple scientific calculator which had LED’s was about 100 bucks (in 1980), and it didn’t me do the math, I had to learn the math on my own.

    I see things like E-Rate, PC’s in schools, and the like a technological boondoggle, but i’m more concerned about a high school student being able to read, write, and perform math at an effective level in order to pass state mandated exams in order to receive a diploma (which isn’t very useful these days, from what I see).

    State education boards and legislatures think that the way to achieve high standards is to LOWER said standards so that everyone clears the bar (unfortunately, that only works in the government and in academics, which often has no basis in the real world).

  10. This may be a bit dated, but calculators were not allowed in most of my high school mathematics courses. The only exception that I can remember is Geometry. Of course, those whom could afford the fancy calculators were not allowed to use them, they had to use the same 6 function calculators like the rest of us. Can you guess in which decade I graduated high school?

    The Eighties (1986 to be exact).

  11. …evidence (of improving student achievement)?” he said. “Maybe teacher training or class-size reduction.”
    what evidence of class-size reduction?
    i’ve seen nothing.
    instead of wasting money on PC’s, we can waste money on smaller classes.

  12. jeff wright says:

    Anybody notice who is singing the hosannas for computers?

    Coleen Kosloski, the district’s media and technology services director, was quoted thusly: “The test scores might not give much evidence. But we found the quality of work improved significantly.”

    So, the media and technology services director, whose job just might be somewhat dependent on how well she expands the use of expensive technology items within the schools, uses “we” when noting the improved work quality. Who’s “we”? If I were a parent (and taxpayer), I think I’d rather have an educator making such profound statements, especially when faced with the same old dreck test scores. Then I’d demand some explanations, starting with how much Ms Kosloski makes.

    We all know how the quality of work has improved. Book reports are now prettier. Probably got neat colored covers and all that. Oral presentations with Power Point. Wow! And with spell check, no stopping these kids now. Isn’t it a shame that Virgil, Shakespeare, Milton and Twain didn’t have laptops? Who knows what they might have been able to do. Poor guys.

  13. Jeff, I was puzzling about how the quality of the work could get better and the test scores not be affected, but I think you’ve nailed it.

    There are two things to think about when you do a project or a research paper: content, and presentation. If the content’s not there, the whole thing is a waste of time, no matter how pretty the artwork is. If the presentation is poor, so that the teacher can’t read it or it looks sloppy like you didn’t care, that also nullifies your work.

    It looks like Ms. Kosloski only gets half the picture here. I wonder what her high school term papers were like.

  14. I second knmpoint2. Skepticism about the educational benefits of laptops programs is richly deserved, but hate to break this to you, Prof. Angrist, but there’s not much evidence that class size reduction increases academic achievement, either.

  15. Very inspiring, thankyou! Good luck to you in the future. πŸ™‚

  16. I am being criticized for not using technology labs available to me (a few of which I have never received training in, since I’m in a new building this year and all) and I have already had to deal with the backlash on that. Students in my previous building learned the same material just fine without it.

  17. No SPAM !!!

  18. That is interesting

  19. Travelling to Maldives

  20. Hi, I think it is wery good thin! I’ll be back! πŸ™‚

  21. It’s amazing how little this practice is realized.

  22. Thanks!

  23. It’s a wonderful world.

  24. Anyway, desktop PCs are much better than laptop.

  25. Very inspiring, thankyou! Good luck to you in the future. πŸ™‚

  26. That is interesting information.

  27. Sorry that i am a bit of topic here.
    I am looking for technical writer who is compute savvy.
    I like how you put your words together. If you are interested could you email me your rates.

  28. nice world