does giving out laptops help or hinder the digital divide?

computer use relative to subsidized lunch program participation status

Interested in the actual educational effects of giving laptops to students? Some interesting conclusions from a paper by Jacob Vigdor entitled Scaling the Digital Divide: Home Computer Technology and Student Achievement (pdf). The study is a North Carolina-wide look at who has access to broadband, home computers and what the test score correlations are with these facts, if any. A few notable pullquotes.

[T]he introduction of home computer technology is associated with modest but statistically significant and persistent negative impacts on student math and reading test scores. Further evidence suggests that providing universal access to home computers and high-speed internet access would broaden, rather than narrow, math and reading achievement gaps.

[T]he introduction of high-speed internet service is associated with significantly lower math and reading test scores. Moreover, broadband internet is associated with wider racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps. One interpretation of these findings is that home computer technology is put to more productive use in households with more effective parental monitoring.

Students who own a computer but never use it for schoolwork have math test scores nearly indistinguishable from those without a home computer, while scoring slightly better than reading. Students reporting almost daily use of their home computer for schoolwork score significantly worse than students with no computer at home.

Students who gain access to a home computer between 5th and 8th grade tend to witness a persistent decline in reading and math test scores. There is little evidence that more intensive computer use for schoolwork offsets these negative effects.

Surprised? I was, a little [dweinberger]

a few from the feed

As may be obvious, I’m a little behind on my feeds. The good news is that there’s a lot of good stuff there. The bad news is that you may have seen some of it. Here are a few quickie notes that I think merit some attention. My apologies if you’ve all seen them before. My personal goal is to be all caught up on feeds by the time I leave for ALA — Thursday morning — and don’t get behind again. I think it’s doable.

fighting poverty @ your library, or outside it

You may have seen the letter to the editor that Eli and I wrote talking about the restaurant review section of the conference issue of American Libraries. We said something to the effect that calling a place with entrees $20 and under “low priced” [with no lower option] seemed to miss the boat in terms of the budget that many librarians are working with. One of the reasons that another run for Council does not appeal to me is not only because of the cash involved in six trips in three years, but the fact that discussion of the high prices of Council participation on Council lists can be met with the response that maybe you shouldn’t be on Council until you can afford to be. Maybe they’re right and maybe they’re not, but the presumption itself raises my hackles.

That said, I’m not poor. I’ve got a job that pays, health insurance and rent that I can afford, almost no debt, and income potential from several sources. I own a house and I have a good education that, barring disaster, cements my ability to maintain these things. I have a support network in place that can help even if there is a disaster. Many other people are not so fortunate, and I work with them every day, most librarians do too. I talk about the ways that librarians can address social issues in fairly simple ways in many of my talks when I talk about the social implications of software choices. It’s a topic I bring up a lot.

A few resources that I’ve seen lately include Mary Minow’s webcast Library Services and the Homeless: A Legal Perspective with this supporting documentation from the Hunger Homelessness and Poverty Task force of SRRT Just a Little Understanding: A Social-Service Provider’s Perspective on Homeless Library Users. John from HHPTF pointed me towards this story today about the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library’s program putting computers directly into Horizon House a daytime homeless center in Indiannapolis. HHPTF blog has a bit more info.

libraries and poor people, new blog

The Social Responsibilities Round Table of ALA tackles a lot of different social justice issues. They have a task force called the Hunger, Homelessness and Poverty task force that has just started a blog with a thought-provoking first post “Are Public Libraries Criminalizing Poor People?“. [libact]