NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 9, 2007

Educational software, a $2 billion-a-year industry that has become the darling of school systems across the country, has no significant impact on student performance, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Education.

The study, mandated by Congress when it passed No Child Left Behind in 2002, compared students who received the technology with those who did not, as measured by their scores on standardized tests.  According to the researchers, there were no statistically significant differences between students who used software and those who did not.

Nationally, perhaps no school system better represents the failure of the programs than that of Los Angeles:

  • In 2001, the city spent $50 million to buy Waterford Early Reading, distributed by software giant Pearson Digital Learning.
  • Ronni Ephraim, a chief instructional officer for the district, said the company gave presentations that described how successful the program was for other schools; Los Angeles school administrators soon began praising it.
  • But a school district evaluation found that students using Waterford were not scoring better on standardized tests than those not using it.
  • The Los Angeles system dropped the program from its regular classes; Ephraim blames the school system, because teachers were not prepared or properly trained to use the technology.

Nonetheless, some experts say educational software still holds promise.  Elliot Soloway, professor of educational technology at the University of Michigan, says that teachers need to be better trained and that administrators need to wait more than one year to see results.  He said he worried that the study would scare off school districts.

Source: Amit R. Paley, "Software's Benefits On Tests In Doubt," Washington Post, April 5, 2007.

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