Another problem fixed. Or not.

Well, for once, I felt vindicated reading an editorial, ‘Democrats failed on digital divide, too.’ When this “problem” first surfaced ten years or so ago, it really boiled me, partially because the whole issue– assuming there is an issue– is so obviously not the province of government, but more so because this phony crusade was immediately subsumed in the Under-funded Schools Wing of the School of Liberal Fantasy.

I had my thinking about the ‘pitiful underfunded urban schools’ issue totally changed by a first-hand volunteer experience. For a number of years starting in the late 80s I’d been involved with Junior Achievement. In 1994 they started a thing called Exchange City. When it was initially begun in the Indianapolis area, some co-workers and I, using equipment loaned by our employer, had set up its computer network and then worked with a few schools the day the program ran. The aim of the program at that time had been to teach kids about capitalism and its benefits. Over time I got a little bored with it and ultimately volunteered for another of JA’s programs at a “poor inner city school” that my employer was frequently pleading with us to get involved in.

What an eye opener that was. First– the physical plant was at least as good if not better than my lily-white kid’s suburban paradise school. Second — they had more computers per kid than in my kid’s grade school, even 15 years ago. The more I observed this “urban wasteland” school, the more obvious it became that at least in the case of this town, it’s a load of fertilizer.

Allow me to veer off topic here for a second … The fact that this urban hellhole school was decidedly not an urban hellhole, although it’s in a bad neighborhood, begs an interesting question. Undoubtedly there are some truly dangerous, decrepit urban schools in this country. But, where do we perceive they are? Big cities run by Democryte mayors. Where was this one? In the ‘hood of a city run almost exclusively by Republicant mayors going back at least a generation. Draw your own conclusion and please pardon my digression…

With this experience in mind, at the time that all this idiotic bleating about the so-called digital divide started, I told my buddies bs and bk, both contributors here, that the only result would be that we’d fritter away a few billion on some over-priced computers and no one would ever be able to pick out any discernible positive effect. So it was certainly no huge surprise to me this morning to read

I In 2003, Mr. Goolsbee and his University of Chicago colleague Jonathan Guryan examined just what the annual $2.25 billion subsidy to schools was achieving. It had, they estimated, advanced the adoption of computers in schools by as much as four years. Or possibly not. “Even without subsidies,” the report acknowledged, “many school districts chose to make Internet investments. It is therefore difficult to distinguish between the effects of the E-rate program alone versus the already strong upward trend in the fraction of schools with Internet access.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Goolsbee declared E-rate “a tremendous success” in wiring up the nation’s schools. What he and Mr. Guryan did not find, however, was any evidence that Internet connections improved student performance. The study admitted: “The authors looked at test scores for math, reading, and science. Their results showed no evidence that investments in Internet technology had any measurable effect on student achievement.”

I hate when I’m right.