NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

More Internet, But No More Learning

April 23, 2003

In 1996, Congress created the E-Rate program to connect public schools to the Internet. Operational in 1998, E-Rate provides up to $2.25 billion a year in subsidies. This is a sizeable amount considering U.S. public schools spent $3.3 billion on computer hardware, software and training in 1999.

The E-Rate program did equalize Internet access in public schools, say researchers. Urban schools with relatively more black and Hispanic students made more use of the subsidy and the take-up rate at elementary schools was higher than high schools.

  • Before the E-Rate program, the richest schools had almost 50 percent more Internet-linked classrooms per teacher.
  • By 2000, some poorer districts had more Internet connection than their wealthier counterparts.

The subsidy increased the total number of connections as well as the distribution. Researchers project that the average school would have had 14.7 classrooms connected by the 2001-2002 school year without the subsidy, instead of an average of 24.4 classrooms.

Unfortunately, more connections did not yield better academic results. The increased Internet access is not associated with better student scores on the math, reading or the science sections of the Stanford Achievement Tests.

Source: Linda Gorman, "Government Internet Subsidies and Student Achievement," National Bureau of Economic Research, NBER Digest, February 2003; based on Austan Goolsbee and Jonathan Guryan, "The Impact of Internet Subsidies in Public Schools," Working Paper No. 9090, August 2002, National Bureau of Economic Research.

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