Zack Hutchins
Director of Communications

For Release — Monday, May 5, 2003


ALBANY—Amid growing evidence that students who learn from and with computers do better in math, writing, and other areas of learning, New York State should consider a long-range plan to assign individual students their own computers, a new report from The Public Policy Institute of New York State concludes.

But the report warns that New York, despite having high per-pupil spending, lags behind other states in student access to connected computers, especially in high-poverty schools, and also appears to trail in teacher preparation for the use of technology. Current fiscal challenges may make an immediate investment impossible, but the state should start planning now for this inevitable classroom revolution, the report says.

The report, A Laptop for Every Student?, was released today by The Public Policy Institute, The Business Council's research affiliate.

Computers in classrooms "don't make everything perfect or solve all problems, just as they don't in the working world," the report says. But the basic principle-"every student getting individual access to a computer for research and work, whenever he or she needs it-is going to become the norm in American education over the next decade or so."

In New York State, "the education system is moving in this direction more slowly than most," the report warns. "Despite school spending that is at the top in the nation, New York lags well behind the national average-and behind most competing states-in making connected computing in any form (let alone individually assigned computers) available to its students."

New York ranks first in per-pupil school spending, 55 percent above the national average. But the state ranks only 41st in the ratio of students per Internet-connected computers. New York has an even larger gap between the computing resources available to students in high poverty schools and those available in other schools.

"High-poverty schools in New York report having only one Internet-connected computer for every 15.1 students—compared to a statewide average of one to 8.1 for all schools," the report says.

The report emphasizes that teacher training and curriculum development are necessary precursors to greater use of technology.

The report examined the experience of students in the Michael J. Petrides Magnet School on Staten Island, all of whom received individual Apple laptops.

When computers were first used in classrooms, the focus was on learning about computers. But the real promise is in learning with computers, the report says. At this stage, "computers provide a powerful kind of window on the world, through which students can explore and experiment, with a certain amount of independence-and motivated as much by their own interests, as by directions from a teacher." Access to the Internet and to tools embedded in the computer, such as encyclopedias, make this possible, the report notes.

The academic results of computer-enhanced learning are impressive, the report adds. For example, IBM launched a $70 million program in 1994 to test the scholastic impact of computers in the classrooms. After program grants were given to schools in six states and in other countries, there were"significant performance gains for students in grades 7 though 11," the report says.

A similar program in West Virginia found that computer instruction was more cost-effective in improving student achievement than reducing class size, increasing instructional time, or tutoring across age groups.

Even facing a daunting fiscal challenge, New York's government officials can still begin working on the issue, the report says.

"Businesses find that in hard times, it's wise to prune expenditures that are less than productive, while also planning for wise investment of the resources that will become available once times are better. The same principles can be applied to technology planning for the schools," the report says.

And New York schools can't make the excuse that the money isn't there, the report contends, citing the fact that South Dakota-a state that spends 16 percent less than the national average per pupil-is ranked first in computer access.