Computers vs. Old-Fashioned Teaching: Which Is Better?

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Almost every school district in the country has bought computer software that's supposed to help kids do better in math or reading.

But as a parent, it's helpful to know whether it's really effective to sit your kids down in front of a computer. Do they learn better with these expensive computer programs?

Not necessarily, according to a new Department of Education study.

The study found that "test scores were not significantly higher in classrooms using selected reading and mathematics software products" than in classrooms without those fancy tools.

But kids love computer games, even if the game is teaching them something.

"I like the computer class because it's entertaining and you can learn lots of things you never knew," said one boy in a Los Angeles classroom. "You can learn stuff about presidents, soccer, you can learn math problems and all that."

Millions Spent on Software

Schools across the country have spent millions on learning software, and this study has some parents asking if it was money well spent.

"When I hear this I don't think it's worth it," said parent Moira Hayes. "It makes you think that the good old-fashioned way of interacting with the teacher really works better for the kids."

Some districts have already bailed out on using pricey software. Los Angeles schools spent $50 million on software for a reading program that's no longer in every classroom after students' test scores showed no improvements.

Is the Study Reliable?

The software industry says this national study has flaws; it looked at results over just one year and only at certain schools.

"To extrapolate from one study and say that tech has no place in our schools in terms of achievement is a misinterpretation of the facts," said Mark Schneiderman, a software industry representative.

And there are examples of success. At Delano High School in Minnesota, for example, they'll tell you the software has worked wonders. The number of kids failing has dropped 19 percent.

"I worry less and less about the research and more and more about what's happening in my school," said Delano principal Bruce Locklear

Several kids said they couldn't imagine school without computers, and other experts agree with them.

"Throwing out the technology would be a big mistake, because we understand that is the future of teaching and learning. We just need more time to find out how we can better utilize and harness that technology for learning," said Watson Scott Swail, the president of the Educational Policy Institute.

Experts offered some suggestions for parents who are wondering what the study means for their kids.

First, make sure your school board knows about the new study. Find out how much is being spent on software, and ask a lot of questions about whether that money could be better spent some other way.

And speak up if you don't think your child is learning with a computer program that's being used at school.

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