Study: Home PCs Lead to More Diplomas

According to a study from the University of California, children who can use a computer at home are more likely to graduate from high school. The study raises issues about education, poverty and access to technology.

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I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

In a few minutes we'll hear from NEWS & NOTES technology expert Mario Armstrong. He's explored schools that make sure students have access to technology that improves their education. And there's a lot at stake. According to a study from the University of California, kids who can use a computer at home are more likely to graduate from high school.

Reporter Nancy Mullane has more about the study and the issues it raises.

NANCY MULLANE: Mission High School in San Francisco is just about as diverse as an urban public school is going to get. It's 40 percent Latino, 21 percent black, 11 percent Asian and 7 percent white. In one of the school's computer labs, a class of juniors and seniors are learning a new software program.

Unidentified Woman: When this prints out, you won't see those at all; they're just hard to set it up.

MULLANE: While they're at school, students can work at computers in the lab and also in the library. But when they go home they leave the level playing field. In the U.S., four in five kids have a computer at home, that is if they're white. That number drops to one in two for black children. Back in the computer lab, Michael Forks(ph) sits in the back row. He says he's had a computer at home as long as he can remember, and he uses it everyday after school to socialize with friends and complete his homework assignments.

Mr. MICHAEL FORKS (Student, Mission High School): In this day in technology, everybody needs to have a computer at home because I think eventually everything is going to start working with computers as far as their homework. Sometimes the teachers might ask for it to be typed, and the only way they can do it if they don't have a computer is at school in the library, and that's not always open. So if you have a computer at home, I think it's a big advantage, actually.

MULLANE: Arman Burns(ph) sits two seats away from Forks. He's pulled the hood of his black sweatshirt down to his eyebrows. He gingerly fingers the keyboard in front of him, and Burns says he doesn't have a computer at home.

Mr. ARMAN BURNS (Student, Mission High School): Well, its' sort of a disadvantage because I have to go to tutoring and I stay at school to use the computer. I feel like I won't be able to complete the assignment on time.

MULLANE: Just days before Christmas, Burns was looking forward to getting a computer from his grandma.

Mr. BURNS: She said that it would - she thinks it would help me better with my school work, to complete assignments on time and hand it in.

MULLANE: Walking up and down the long rows of the computer lab is Kim Campisano(ph). She's been teaching computer skills for years. She says with 900 students in the school and only six computer labs, not every student has access to a school computer every day. So students who have a home computer have an academic advantage over those who don't.

Ms. KIM CAMPISANO (Teacher): They need to do more and more things that involve electronic work. And if they can't do it here for whatever reason, they've got to be able to do it at home. You know, they give them homework; this is required.

MULLANE: According to a recent study, a home computer does more than get students to put in their homework on time. Robert Fairlie is an associate professor of economics at the University of California in Santa Cruz. He's studying the digital divide and how it affects school-age children. Fairlie says students with access to a home computer get higher grades, have a better chance of staying in school and staying out of trouble than those who don't have a home computer.

Professor ROBERT FAIRLIE (Economics, University of California Santa Cruz): If these children have a home computer, they're less likely to be on the street, they're less likely to be getting into trouble, and that results in the positive educational outcome. They're just more likely to stay in school. They're more likely to graduate from high school. There less likely to get suspended from school.

MULLANE: Fairlie says many parents don't buy computers because of the cost and many don't know how to use them. But Fairlie says they don't realize just how important their computer is to their child's education.

Prof. FAIRLIE: There are a lot of families out there or parents who are afraid of using computers or just don't know how to use a computer. And those families then are kind of less willing to go out and buy a computer for their children just because they don't know how to use it.

(Soundbite of bell ringing)

MULLANE: Standing in the hallway just before lunch, Principal Kevin Truitt sums it all up.

Mr. KEVIN TRUITT (Principal, Mission High School): In a perfect world, every kid would come in to high school with a computer. I don't think the parents should be afraid that, oh, if I get him that computer, it's going to have all these negative effects too. I don't want them online. I've heard about predators. I don't want this. You know, we can do the part of helping them to use that device as a better learning tool. That's where our expertise comes in as a school.

MULLANE: But the expertise may not be enough. As one expert points out, 20 million children in the U.S. don't have access to a home computer and race is a key part on who's online and who isn't.

For NPR News, I'm Nancy Mullane in San Francisco.

CHIDEYA: Arman Burns, who you met early on in the piece we just heard, did not get a computer for Christmas as he'd hoped. Reporter Nancy Mullane is letting him use hers for now.

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