Computers are an important part of modern education, yet many schoolchildren lack access to a computer at home » write Robert W. Fairlie and Jonathan Robinson in Experimental Evidence on the Effects of Home Computers on Academic Achievement among Schoolchildren (Adapted chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor to follow).
In the United States, schools spend more than $5 billion per year on computers and information technology, while the federal government spends another $2 billion per year on the E-rate program, which provides discounts to low-income schools and libraries. A large share of these expenditures goes towards in-school computing, and consequently access to computers in school is ubiquitous. In contrast, many children do not have access to a computer at home: nearly 9 million children ages 10-17 in the United States (27 percent) do not have computers with Internet connections at home.
How important is this disparity in access to home computing to the educational achievement of schoolchildren, especially given the pervasiveness of computers in the U.S. classroom?
Only a few studies have examined this question, and there is no consensus in this literature on even whether the effects of home computers are positive or negative.
The author test whether this impedes educational achievement by conducting the largest-ever field experiment that randomly provides free home computers to students. Although computer ownership and use increased substantially, they find no effects on any educational outcomes, including grades, test scores, credits earned, attendance and disciplinary actions. Their estimates are precise enough to rule out even modestly-sized positive or negative impacts. The estimated null effect is consistent with survey evidence showing no change in homework time or other “intermediate” inputs in education.