NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Computers False Promise

August 15, 2002

Computers have revolutionized business, changing the way business is done and creating large productivity gains. However, according to Larry Cuban's new book, "Underused and Oversold: Computers in the Classroom," computers have not achieved a technological revolution in education.

In the past decade, computers have flooded schools. Cuban reports that:

  • Between 1997 and 1999 the ratio of computers to students dropped from 1:21 to 1:10.
  • There was a similar drop in machine-to-student ratios for Internet-connected computers.
  • Consultants and McKinsey and Company estimated that in 1999, computer spending reached $119 per pupil as opposed to $75 per pupil in 1995.

However, Cuban finds that there has been no significant innovation or development with computers. To glean detailed information, his research team observed classroom usage and interviewed teachers and students. He finds that "teachers have adapted [the computer] to existing ways of teaching and learning that have dominated early childhood education for decades." Instead of creating new teaching paradigms and designing new systems to take full advantage of computers, teachers are merely augmenting their curriculum.

Things are similar at universities. In a 1997 survey of 750 professors nationwide, Cuban reports that:

  • 62 percent never used computers while teaching a class.
  • 85 percent never had students use computers in class.
  • The two machines faculty most often used in the classroom were the VCR and overhead projector.

Cuban concludes that computers in classrooms have not boosted achievement scores, increased knowledge about computers or prepared students for the New Economy. He argues that parents should care more about reading and writing scores than how many computers are in a classroom.

Source: David Skinner. "Computers Don't Help," Public Interest. Number 147. Spring 2002.

Based on: Larry Cuban. "Underused and Oversold: Computers in the Classroom," Harvard University Press. 2002.


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