Poor schools, rich targets

About this series
Across the country, education software companies are trying to capitalize on the 2001 No Child Left Behind law by targeting struggling schools that are under pressure to raise their test scores and have millions in new federal funding to spend. But there is little solid research behind much of the software, which may not produce lasting results for the poor students the law claims to help.

  • Law, software fuel new 'digital divide'

    Now that nearly all schools are well-supplied with computers, programs that mostly drill by rote open a different achievement gap.

  • Careful choices, good results

    In downplaying concerns about a new "digital divide," education software vendors argue that poor districts tend to buy more rudimentary programs because their students' needs call for a remedial approach. Standing in the way of this argument, though, is the experience of the Baltimore public schools....

  • You're wrong, but don't ask why

    When experts in education technology look at the drilling software being used in many poor districts, they don't just see the makings of a new "digital divide." They see a wasted investment. While it has long been assumed that poor schools lag in access to technology, many are at least as well-equipped...

  • Evidence of effectiveness proves elusive

    Educators looking for software to help their students encounter lots of claims but scant scientifically sound research.

  • Software business profits from influence, good timing

    In benefiting from No Child Left Behind, the education software industry can point to two factors: influence in Washington and plain old good timing. The industry -- a $2.3 billion-per-year concern, according to Eric Bassett of Eduventures, a Boston market research firm -- is well-connected in...

  • In-school trials of software can be easily influenced

    Lacking good research about education software, school districts often do their own evaluations. But their trials are easily influenced by software vendors -- or by administrators already inclined toward buying the product. A test of Plato Learning algebra software in Prince George's County this...

  • Pitching the quick fix

    Education software companies zero in on schools pressured to improve by the No Child Left Behind law -- with potential downsides for the neediest students.

  • Industry says it makes sales, makes a difference

    When challenged about their focus on selling to struggling districts, education software executives respond with vehemence. They focus their efforts on troubled schools not only to make sales, they say, but to make a difference. In seeking out schools in isolated places such as Logan, W.Va., said...

  • Parties, perks and peer pitches lure schools

    When Karen Stanford, the technology director at Hyattsville Elementary School, ran into one of her school district's administrators at the annual Maryland education technology convention in May, she had one question: Why wasn't the administrator on the cruise the night before? The 90-minute spin...

  • Crossland High School

    Crossland High School

    At a summer session at Crossland High School in Temple Hills, Prince George's County, incoming ninth-graders work on a math tutorial program by Plato Learning. Educators say commercial software seems to be most effective for remedial use.

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