We know that kids from higher-income households do much better in school than poor kids. But that of course raises the question of why that is exactly or what one might do about it. For example, would cash transfers to low-income parents make their kids do better in school? If access to home computers was associated with improved school performance, that would be strong evidence that simply fighting poverty with money could be highly effective education policy. The null finding tends to suggest otherwise.
Don’t worry, I don’t regularly read Yglesias and won’t regularly deride him. Others do it far better than I ever could. To the point, a couple economists went out and gave some old HP desktops to poor kids inexplicably thinking that that would somehow lead them to better grades. Well, prepare to be shocked. After receiving this panacea, this gift from on high, the little guys and gals still couldn’t pass Algebra. Economists go on to publish their findings from which Yglesias deduces, money apparently isn’t the solution to educational disparity between the rich and poor. This reminds me of the time my father dropped me off at the park with a football and was perplexed when he returned later that day and found that I hadn’t caught any fish. Why doesn’t it surprise that Yglesias thinks money and computers are synonymous?
There are ten high schools in the county in which I grew up. A friend of mine currently teaches at one of those where 60% of the 1,400 students are on either free or assisted lunch. 20% are so impoverished that they are given food to take home on the weekends.* She tells me many attend school for the sole purpose of breakfast and lunch. On top of all the other burdens, frustrations, and annoyances that come with attending high school, many kids are hungry as well. “What if we gave them a desktop?” Well, yeah. Maybe browsing Tumblr can distract from the hunger pangs but I don’t think it’s going to help much with EOG tests.
But there was no improvement in academic achievement or attendance or anything else. There wasn’t even an improvement in computer skills. At the same time, there was no negative impact either… It’s just a huge nada. Nothing happening.
I do, however, much enjoy any study that shits on the idea of the unlimited power of computers to educate and liberate us all. Unfortunately the likes of Yglesias use it to bolster their classist notions that the poor just cannot be helped.
*The quoted numbers will likely be revised after getting in touch with said friend (couldn’t find the numbers online). I went conservative to be safe but can’t remember for sure.