New Study Finds iPads in the Classroom Boost Test Scores

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A new study shows that students who use iPads in the classroom score better in literacy tests than those who don’t. As previously reported, educators in Auburn, Maine began instructing 266 kindergarteners using the iPad 2 this fall, and those who used the tablet scored higher on literacy tests and were more enthused about learning, according to Apple blog TUAW.

For parents and educators, higher test scores are enough of a result to turn heads. Last month, Apple ramped up its educational effortsby launching iBooks 2 and iBooks Author, an e-book creation platform teachers and smaller publishers can use to develop apps. The company also expanded iTunes U for K-12 educators, teaming up with publishing giants McGraw-Hill, Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to offer interactive textbooks.

(MORE: Apple’s Textbooks: Undeniably Cool, But Will They Help Students?)

So why the sudden focus on the education market? “Education is deep in Apple’s DNA and iPad may be our most exciting education product yet,” said Phil Schiller, Apple’s SVP of Worldwide Marketing. Indeed, schools are embracing the new tablet from early elementary to higher education, lauding the iPad for improving classroom engagement and teaching methods.

According to the New York Times, New York City public schools have ordered more than 2,000 iPads for $1.3 million. Meanwhile, the Virginia Department of Education is implementing a $150,000 iPad initiative at 11 schools, while Chicago public schools applied for $450,000 worth of 23 district-financed iPad grants.

But some teachers like Larry Cuban, a professor emeritus of education at Stanford University, are cautious of the educational value in iPads. “There is very little evidence that kids learn more, faster or better by using these machines,” he told the Times. Will students grow to become too reliant on the iPad? Everything from three-dimensional graphics to functions like an on-hand glossary and digital flashcards transform learning into a simple tap of the screen.

“iPads are marvelous tools to engage kids, but then the novelty wears off and you get into hard-core issues of teaching and learning,” Cuban said.

(MORE: Apple’s iBooks Textbooks: 4 Reasons to Be Skeptical)

With funding from federal grants including Race to the Top and nonprofit third parties, the new technology has become an attractive, eco-friendly option for educators. Long Island’s Roslyn High School Superintendent Daniel Brenner said the iPad saves long-term costs by eliminating textbook costs. “We are talking about changing the way we do business in the classroom,” he told the Times. Brenner estimated his two iPad classrooms save about $7,200 per year.

But what does that mean for textbook manufacturers? According to Vikram Savkar, publishing director for the Nature Publishing Group, not very much. “All of us consume exciting user-generated content in our private lives, but that has not proven to work as well in education,” he told the Washington Post. “I think that it’s very, very important to understand that the education market is not a consumer market, not a consumer space.”

It’ll be interesting to see if Apple’s effort to jump into the educational market ultimately proves successful (and creates yet another generation of Apple users). In 10 years, tablets in the classroom may be the norm, not the exception.

(MORE: Must Be Nice: Kindergarteners in Maine Getting Free iPads Now)