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GeorgeGee's avatar

Have computers in schools made our kids smarter?

Asked by GeorgeGee (4895 points ) October 5th, 2010

“Technology” in schools is a top priority in most budgets. Schools will buy computers even as they lay off librarians, art, language and gym teachers. But after several decades experience can we really say that our students are smarter and better prepared for college and the workforce as a result?

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24 Answers

missingbite's avatar

In some cases they help but kids have to get the fundamentals first. How many times have you tried to get change from someone and they can’t do it unless they put the amounts into the cash register. Example. Your bill is $4.57 and you hand the clerk $5.02. Unless they enter what you gave them into the cash register, you will never get .45¢ back.

AmWiser's avatar

IMO computers are a well needed addition to a school’s curriculum but good old fashion teaching is still needed. Our children need real time experiences, which I don’t think computers afford.

MissAusten's avatar

Do you have an example of a school that has laid off that many teachers and yet is still buying new computers? I’d like to see a valid source for that information.

My kids’ schools have computers in the classrooms, computer labs, and computers in the libraries. I’d like to know what student would be able to function and compete after college without having a strong background in computers. They are used everywhere now.

I can’t speak for other school districts, but here the kids use computers to learn to type, to play math and literacy games (not often for the games, and only at the lower grade school level), and eventually to research and write reports. My daughter, in 5th grade, used a computer program to virtually dissect a sheep’s eyeball for science class. My kids are doing extremely well in school. The oldest two are great readers, very good at math and science, and very physically active as well. Their schools are not lacking in music, languages, PE, and art classes.

Of course there can be too much of a good thing, but today kids need to learn to use computers. There has to be a balance, and any parent who thinks other subjects are suffering because the kids are on computers all day should talk to the school about it.

When I was in middle school and high school, computers were just starting to be widely used. We didn’t have internet, but used them mainly for typing and editing. I did pretty well in math, taking the college prep courses in high school and even managing calculus in college. I’d still need a cash register or calculator to give you correct change, especially if you were standing there waiting on me! Give me a pencil and paper and I could get the right answer for you every time, but ask me to do it in my head, put me on the spot, and I’d come across as the dumbest person alive. :(

edited to add: My youngest is also very bright, but just started kindergarten, which is why I kind of left him out of my comments above. I didn’t mean to imply that only the oldest two are doing well! He’s ahead of where he’s expected to be for kindergarten and I don’t anticipate him having any trouble making progress at school. His biggest problem is the way little girls stalk him. He told me yesterday he makes them take turns sitting next to him now so they don’t bother him by arguing!

GeorgeGee's avatar

Sure, @missausten, examples abound, but of greater concern is the national trend to fewer professionals and facilities dedicated to teaching art, gym, language and library that has taken place during the computerization of the same schools.
But here’s a specific, an Alabama school. Here’s documentation of their cutting their music and art programs:
http://media.www.samfordcrimson.com/media/storage/paper1166/news/2007/10/19/Expressions/Local.Schools.Cut.Budgets.For.Music.And.Art.Programs-3044117.shtml
And here’s documentation of their computer and internet accesss:
https://docs.alsde.edu/documents/ReportCards/2006-2007/054/0540030.pdf
On this scale where shorter bars indicate better access (I’m not sure what it’s actually counting, perhaps student to computer ratio?) they rank twice as high as the state average for both computer and internet access and substantially better than the average within their school system.

nailpolishfanatic's avatar

In some ways yes but not really.
Cause from what I see and also just my experience , I see that the kids are just always on computers doing nothing other than Facebook, youtube or other sites instead of listening to the teacher.

Iam one of them-but now since I am in high school and also my computer has a virus and is being repaired so no, I don’t anymore.

MissAusten's avatar

@GeorgeGee The first article you linked to is very recent. The second link is from the 2006/2007 school year. Yes, they have computers with internet access. But where does it say that particular school has laid off teachers while buying more computers? You have one article about a school system that is creatively dealing with budget cuts for music classes, and outdated information from a school’s website. I thought maybe you had read an article or seen something about a school actually doing what you claimed: getting rid of all kinds of teachers while spending money on new technology.

@Thesexier That is a discipline problem the teachers should address. My kids are younger, and they aren’t on computers during normal class hours. Are the kids you’re talking about on laptops? Why do the teachers let them get away with that? If, as a parent, I found out my kids were doing things like that in class I would take away their laptops.

Lightlyseared's avatar

No. That’s like saying that putting biro’s in schools made kids cleverer. They are nothing more than a tool.

MissAusten's avatar

I was thinking about this while waiting for the school bus with my son. This is a rather conservative estimate, but let’s say a teacher makes $30,000 a year. Here in CT they make rather more than that. A school with budget problems can save tens of thousands of dollars a school year by laying off just one teacher. A few new computers wouldn’t cost anywhere near that amount. Most schools have probably had many computers for years, long before the economy tanked and schools/states had to make budget cuts.

We vote on the school budget each year. Don’t other districts do the same? If there is a problem in your area with teachers being fired but schools spending large amounts of money on new technology, maybe you should make sure to voice your concerns at budget meetings and then vote accordingly. If the school district is that screwed up, you can either fight to change things or move to another district. When our daughter was in preschool, we moved to another town. One of the main reasons for the move was to have access to superior public schools. So far they haven’t let us down.

nailpolishfanatic's avatar

@MissAusten , Yes they are doing that in class. Well since I am in High school you know how some kids like to behave. They think taking notes with their hands isn’t cool so instead they use their computers. But now since most teachers were complaining about the class not concetrating they all agreed in banning the use of computers in class hours except for math class. But I don’t really mind and am very happy that they have banned them because they are very disturbing.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@Thesexier There are software programs designed for classrooms that are really slick. The one I purchased allowed me to control when the computers were used, could block certain internet sites, allowed me to display what I wanted on all of their screens at once (like spread sheets and presentations), create electronic tests that could automatically be graded (thus saving the teachers time) and the results transmitted back to them. It also had the capability to allow students to ask a teacher a private question, groups to work together, and the teacher could monitor what was on any student’s screen.

It sounds like your school (and many others) could use this software to the benefit of all.

nailpolishfanatic's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer , YES!
I think this school does need it really, cause once I noticed the boys looking at porn in chemistry class.

But my old school was very strict. They blocked Youtube, facebook, msc, ebuddy, myspace and all those sorta pages (only if you are using the school computers, but since it was I guess middle school, we didn’t really need computers)

Ivan's avatar

It certainly prepares them with the computer skills they will need in college and in their jobs.

@missingbite How the hell could you give someone .45¢?

MLZ's avatar

In the 60’s, when I was an undergraduate and taking statistics, we spent most of our time on how to calculate. In graduate school the statistics text book came with software to do the tedious calculations, freeing students to learn what the statistics actually mean.

GeorgeGee's avatar

@missausten – I’m aware that the two citations are not from the same year, but that was the most recent information that school posted describing their computer facilities. That’s often the case. If you want a school to come right out and say “we like to lay off teachers and get rid of whole areas of knowledge in favor of having new computers to play with,” I don’t think you’re likely to get their cooperation. While it is documented that they have virtually no budget for music or art, as of 2007 they had substantially better than the state average for computing. I don’t think that’s likely to have gotten much worse in 3 years, do you? Schools don’t seem to sell their computer rooms during hard times.

missingbite's avatar

@Ivan 45 cents. A quarter and two dimes. I guess I shouldn’t have put both the decimal and the cent sign trying to be funny.

MissAusten's avatar

@GeorgeGee Is this your local school system you are talking about? Do you have kids there?

I don’t think it would make much sense for a school to sell off their computer equipment. If they got rid of all of it, they might get enough money to continue to employ a teacher for a year. Here in CT, the average teacher salary is over $57,000 a year! Selling used computers probably wouldn’t fund a music or art department, unfortunately. And, if the residents of a school district do not vote for the budget the school asks for, leaving the school with less money, they may be able to afford some new technology easier than they can afford teachers, teacher benefits, supplies and resources for art, music, and PE, etc. I still highly doubt there’s a school anywhere that spent an amount on technology equal to the pay of a teacher (or teachers) that same school laid off, let alone equal to the pay of multiple teachers. What would be the benefit for the school in such a case? Parents would be unhappy, kids would not succeed, families would start to move away or not move into the district, and the school would continue to suffer in the long term.

I completely agree with you that schools should not be so quick to cut music, art, PE, etc. All of those subjects are very important. Maybe the bigger question is why the resources of school are so vastly different from district to district. My daughter’s middle school (5th and 6th grade) is the single most impressive school I have ever seen in my life. It is so impressive, I can’t imagine what the upper middle school and high school must be like. They have a full gymnasium, a huge music room, a large auditorium with a stage. The library is incredible, the technology is state-of-the-art, and the science rooms are better than the ones my high school had. The kids all take Spanish, which meets three times a week. They all take art, band or chorus, and theater. They have PE every other day. Small class sizes, experienced teachers, an active PTO, and a lot of community support, plus a high percentage of involved parents. The students consistently score well above the national and state average on tests. The schools, kids, and teachers aren’t perfect by any means, but you can’t get much better when it comes to public schooling.

You can drive 20 minutes from here and find schools that are failing miserably. They probably have a lot of computers too, but they don’t have as much money in the community, involved parents that put a priority on education, teachers with as much experience or talent (because they prefer the “better” schools), and kids that don’t get to school as ready or willing to learn.

YARNLADY's avatar

It only works when the people running the schools are knowledgeable about the systems and the equipment they are using. In the earlier days, the teachers had absolutely no idea how to use the computers to prepare lessons and to allow the children to learn. They thought the computers were a new way to contact the parents and let them know the progress of the class.

I don’t know if teacher training has caught up with the technology or not.

Gamrz360's avatar

Oh yes, as I was student teaching more kids found it easier to use a computer on things such as tests, or lessons. the kids also find it much funnier than reading out of text books.

MissAusten's avatar

Just for giggles, and because the kids are in bed, I took the time to compare per student spending in various school districts around the state to test scores for those same districts. What’s interesting is that our school district, which has the 3rd highest test scores in the state, spends less money per student than some of the school districts with the worst test scores.

In our district, a total of $12, 087 is spent on each student. In the two nearest large cities, over $16,000 is spent on each student per year. In those cities, CMT scores in all subjects fall significantly below the state average. In our district, scores are significantly higher than the state average. An amazing 99.6% of last year’s high school seniors went on to a four year college! It’s not all about how much money a school can spend on students.

I also took a look at the budget for this school year in our town. It’s a lot bigger than I thought it was. o_0 Anyway, 72.9% of the budget is taken up by teacher salaries. 3% for education supplies, 1.3% for education equipment (I don’t which of those technology would fall under) and 4% for utilities and telecommunication. The second largest chunk of the budget goes toward teacher benefits, with the rest for student transportation, building maintenance, etc. Clearly, the cost of technology in schools is nowhere near the cost of employing teachers.

Test scores aren’t everything, but when an entire district falls below average in spite of spending thousands more per student per year, lack of school funding isn’t the issue.

Zyx's avatar

Never had any computers in school, maybe I’d have had more luck if they did.

GeorgeGee's avatar

Spending per student doesn’t translate directly into outcomes because you’re not starting with the same students. If you have a school populated by children of university professors, for instance, they come from homes in which education and good study skills are valued, and where school lessons are supplemented at home by private music lessons and such.
An inner city school district however might have need for a variety of other services, however, including ESL classes, daycare for babies of teen mothers, extra security to combat gang activity, remedial classes, and so forth. It also might take higher pay to attract good teachers to these less desirable work environments.
But this is off topic, the real question here is whether the hope and expectation that providing rooms filled with computers at every school would result in better-educated kids. The fact that this is not equivalent in cost to teacher salaries is irrelevant; When there is a teacher hired to teach computing, and a teacher fired who taught art, that is relevant, and when a music room is converted into a computer room, that is as well.

missingbite's avatar

@MissAusten Thank you for taking the time to look up that information. More times than not, the answer to most of todays challenges is, spend more money. More often than not, it is not the correct answer.

mattbrowne's avatar

Depends on how they are being used.

Nullo's avatar

Unlikely. Keep in mind that the greatest minds of the 20th century were not educated in computer-filled classrooms.
It has been my observation that relying on computers and calculators to do our work for us leaves us ill-prepared to face those challenges in the absence of our tools. I, for instance, would have an awfully hard time telling you the square root of a number without my handy-dandy TI-30.

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