One of these days, someone is going to conduct some scientific research and discover that billions of dollars could be saved by not doing so much scientific research.
For example, the New York Times last week carried an interesting story by Randall Stross titled, "Computers at Home: Educational Hope vs. Teenage Reality," in which the author previews an upcoming scientific paper on the effects of home computers on the educational outcomes of low-income students.
The study's authors — professors from the University of Chicago and Columbia University — used fieldwork from a Romanian computer voucher program to prove that low-income students who received home computers actually achieved lower test scores than students who applied for, but did not receive, the vouchers.
Here's the part where we could pocket some research grant money: Mr. Stross quotes researcher Ofer Malamud as saying, "We found a negative effect on academic achievement. I was surprised, but as we presented our findings at various seminars, people in the audience said they weren’t surprised, given their experiences with their school-aged children."
Who needs stark regression discontinuity to establish something that any competent, responsible parent can tell you over a cup of Starbucks? If you're trying to raise a well-educated, well-rounded child, you need to limit — not increase — the time he spends on a home computer.
Of course, now that there's scientific research to prove the point, will educators and government bureaucrats take notice?
After all, much is being made of the "digital divide" between the haves and the have-nots, especially between children of middle- and upper-income families with at-home Internet versus low-income families who do not own home computers. Such students are condemned to use school computer labs or (gasp!) access the Internet on free computers at the public library. Improving access for all students is assumed to be necessary in order to level the playing field of educational opportunity.
In fact, assumptions on the part of educational experts about the need for greater Internet access are behind the Obama administration's push to provide free high speed broadband to low-income rural homes. (Dial-up is simply insufficient if a poor child is to keep up in a 21st-century global economy).
Yet this study contradicts the knee-jerk solution of resolving an inequity with government dollars. In fact, it's just one more example of a cure that makes the disease even worse.
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