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Front St.Clovis Schools Section - Clovis Free PressBack St.
Vol. 17  No. 21 Final Edition
Clovis Free Press
Tuesday, May 2, 2000
Digital Divide & Multiply Not
High-Tech classrooms in upscale
subdivisions are'nt making the grade!

By Edward Davidian

     CLOVIS -- A new critique of Central California schools has just been published by Gary Bloom. It is titled, Does It Compute? The Relationship Between Educational Technology and Student Achievement in Mathematics.
      Mr. Bloom's visited a school computer lab in San Juan Bautista, Calif. Bloom was the new tech-oriented superintendent. What fe found when he visitied the math lab left him uneasy. He had observed students drilling on math combinations using keyboards and monitors while a teacher sat in the corner, idle.
      He soon found out math lab had once been wired for EDL reading machines, then rewired for closed-circuit television anf finally, rewired for digital connections to the Iternet.
      "I felt like I was looking at layers of an archeological dig," he said of the technology layers in that room.
     Superintendent Bloom is not the only school man to become was openly skeptical about the flood of computer terminals and cable wire pouring into American classrooms.
      Learning in the Real World is public benefit corporation run by former California state deoaretment of education officer, William L. Rukeyser from an office new U.C. Davis in the Central Valley town of Woodland.
     The corporation's mission is to nail-down the facts about computer use in schools and the relationship to the learning process and to relate outcomes to the millions schools are spending on high-tech. Mr. Rukeyser's budget around $200,000 a year.
     Rukeyser admits that schools should teach computer literacy. However, he doubts that machines should be a primary tool for learning math, reading and other basic subjects, even in the early elementary grades. He points out that research shows low-tech learning is much better in the early years of school. "We know that physical activity is crucial in building the mind and the nervous system," he said.
     U.S. school districts allocated nearly $5.4 billion in 1997-98 and $6.7 billion in 1998-99, fund which might more effectively bre used to extend the school day and reduce class size.
     Rukeyser and other critics of technology spending point out that most information collected before about 1989 isn't on the Internet because it hasn't been computerized and probably never will be.
     Most experts say there is little evidence of a direct tie between computers and higher academic achievement. In 1998 The Educational Testing Service disclosed that 13,373 fourth- and eighth-graders, considered the most significant research so far, showed that creative use of computers in math instruction raised test scores, but drilling with computers made scores worse.
     California astronomer Clifford Stoll warns against overuse of classroom computers in his book "High-tech Heretic." Scientists may use computers in their research, but they did not learn science through computers, he says. Computer simulations "yield answers to specific questions," he writes, "but they don't give understanding, can't demonstrate what it means to do science, won't inspire the curiosity essential to becoming a scientist."
     Both skeptics and advocates agree that the irresistible force behind the growth of computer equipment in schools is parents. Few American parents, educators say, are immune to the fear that if their children aren't immersed in computers, they will later spend their lives doing errands for people who learned to do spreadsheets when they were 6.
     Given this kind of parental pressure, Rukeyser said, "It takes a heck of a backbone for an educator to say even that he or she has some doubts about this."
      Classroom computers can apparently raise student achievement when used in certain ways, but some uses actually do more harm than good. This finding in a 1998 study by Harold Wenglinsky, focused on 6,227 fourth-graders and 7,146 eighth-graders who took the math section of the 1996 National Assessment of Education Progress, a standardized test.
     Fourth-grade math -- The chart below shows how much various factors influenced students' scores. For example, students on average scored 15 percent of a grade level higher if they used school computers primarily to play math learning games. But those who used computers mostly for drills in basic skills did not see any benefit.

Percent of grade-level gain or loss in math score

Training and type of use

Used computers mostly for . . .

math games 15%

drills 0

Frequency of use

Used school computers often -20%

Used home computer often -26%

Eighth-grade math

Using computers mostly for drills tended to drag down student scores, while using them for simulation of math concepts and applications such as spreadsheets boosted scores significantly.

Training and type of use

Used computers mostly for . . .

drills -59%

Simulations and applications 42%

Teacher had technology training 35%

Frequency of use

Used school computers often -11%

Used home computer often 14%

Computer use by ethnicity

Among eighth-graders, Asians and non-Hispanic whites were more likely than Hispanics and blacks to have math teachers who used computers in beneficial ways.*

Percentage using computers mostly for . . .


Simulations and applications 43%

Drills 27%


Simulations and applications 31%

Drills 30%


Simulations and applications 25%

Drills 34%


Simulations and applications 14%

Drills 52%

Letter to the Editor

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