The U.S. Department of Education recently published a report that they prepared for Congress summarizing the gains achieved by children using computer-based training in reading and mathematics, comparing randomly assigned classes of children who did or did not use these tools (“Effectiveness of Reading and Mathematics Software Products: Findings from the First Student Cohort”; Report to Congress from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences). If you read this report you would discover, perhaps surprisingly, that the use of computer-based training offers NO measurable advantages over standard teacher/pencil-and-paper/print-based training.

Educational publishers and software companies have struggled mightily to “computerize” reading and mathematics training programs. With rare exception, their formulae have followed earlier educational strategies that were originally empirically defined for aural- and print-based instruction. None of them were created as a SUBSTITUTE for standard teaching practices. They are all designed to be augmentative, ancillary, supportive. In this trial, for example, about 90% of the reading training time in the “computer-using” classes was actually spent at conventional classroom reading instruction. Put another way, the reading component of their study could have been titled: “Comparison of conventional classroom training in reading with training supplemented by an average of 5 or 6 minutes each day by computer-based instruction”.

Computer-based training of the type evaluated in this study provides an alternative way to pile the same old content into a child’s brain. To the extent to which that child is naturally facile in taking in that content, it works — as it turns out, just about as well, per unit time, as does doing it the old-fashioned way. On the other hand, to the extent to which the child STRUGGLES in taking in that content, just as for conventional classroom training, computer-assisted training using conventional strategies is (not surprisingly) the same old absolute bust. With computers used in these unsophisticated approaches, or not, the average reading and other test scores have NOT improved in American schools, despite incredible societal efforts and targeted school spending, over the past 30 years. Adding the computer without changing the strategy adds ………………………….. nothing.

ATTENTION Department of Education and Congress: ALL COMPUTER-BASED TRAINING IS NOT ALIKE.

Choose retro computer-based training programs for comparison, and sure enough, they are shown to add relatively little meat to the table. Wouldn’t it make more sense to use brain plasticity-based, computer-delivered training programs that have already been shown to advantage kids over conventional classroom training alone in this comparison study?! Scientific Learning Corporation has gathered information collected from more than a 350 schools, involving the training of more than 20,000 children, AND IN EVERY SINGLE SCHOOL, language and/or reading measures show that kids are higher-performing with vs without this computer-training experience. Over and over again, state test scores went up, in these FFW-computer-trained vs conventionally-trained kids.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to take computer-based training SERIOUSLY, by using them on a significant daily schedule with the child making hundreds or thousands of feedback-monitored decisions in those daily sessions about what they hear or see or read or think, in the kinds of intensively-engaging, brain-changing excercises that can ONLY be implement with high efficiency at an affordable cost VIA THE COMPUTER?!

And in a world run by computers, where almost every kid in that class will have some sort of a computer in their pocket and on their desk in their future life and job, wouldn’t it make sense to measure the impacts of serious computer-based training on our school children’s reactions to, and their facile uses of ……………………………………………………………….. computers?