NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Government Internet Subsidies and Student Achievement

"Increased Internet access was not associated with better student scores on the math, reading, or the science sections of the Stanford Achievement Test."

Claims that the Internet would revolutionize education and that students attending schools without Internet access would be left behind led to the creation of the E-Rate program in 1996. Operational in 1998, E-Rate provides up to $2.25 billion a year in subsidies to promote affordable Internet connections for schools and libraries. Subsidy rates range from 20 to 90 percent. Schools with more poor students get higher subsidies. To appreciate the size of the Internet subsidy program, note that estimated U.S. public school spending on computer hardware, software, and training was $3.3 billion in 1999.

In The Impact of Internet Subsidies in Public Schools (NBER Working Paper No. 9090), Austan Goolsbee and Jonathan Guryan use data from California schools to examine whether Internet access has affected student achievement, and to determine whether the E-Rate subsidy program did in fact achieve its announced goal of equalizing Internet access in public schools.

The authors find that urban schools with relatively more black and Hispanic students were most responsive to the subsidy, and that elementary schools were more responsive than high schools. Before the E-Rate program, the richest schools had almost 50 percent more Internet-linked classrooms per teacher. This disparity disappeared after the E-Rate program began. By 2000, some poorer districts had more Internet connections than their wealthier counterparts. Without the subsidy, the authors predict, the average school would have had 14.7 classrooms connected to the Internet by 2000-1. With the subsidy the number of connected classrooms was 24.4.

Increased Internet access was not associated with better student scores on the math, reading, or the science sections of the Stanford Achievement Test. The authors caution that it may be too early to see the positive effects from increased Internet access because surveys show that most teachers are "novice or completely inexperienced" with computers.

-- Linda Gorman


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