Learning the hard way

Would you pay US $10,000 for software to teach math to your kid? A Kentucky schoolboard is mulling _I CAN Learn_, a multimedia K-12 algebra program that is so deliciously proprietary it needs special computer hardware and even special furniture to operate. The total price is a mighty $300,000 for a single class of 30 students for two years. The program must also be run on its own custom computer because apparently it “interferes with other programs”. But does it work? Results seem divided:

According to an investigation by the Fort Worth Star Telegram in Texas last year, the Fort Worth school district spent $15 million to install the program with widely varying results. In 2004, ninth-graders using I Can Learn had slightly higher test scores than those using traditional methods, but seventh-graders using the program had lower scores than other students.

One of the researchers who praised the program was also found to be on the company’s payroll. That study, by researcher Peggy Kirby, is still listed on the I Can Learn Web site.

I have a saying: the quality of software is inversely proportional to its pricetag. I can’t positively say this program follows the trend, but it doesn’t seem to add up.

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