In short, the CARES Act provides funding that will allow states, and thus public school districts, to respond to challenges they find themselves facing due to the COVID-19 emergency.
WHAT DO THE SCHOOLS GET?
The economic aid package directs billions in federal funding to K-12 schools, and also provides states and schools the ability to request waivers of certaing federal mandates from U.S Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
The funds are distributed to states based on their share of ESEA Title I-A funds. At least 90 percent of the funds will be distributed by the state education agencies to school districts based on their share of the Title 1-A funds.
An additional $3 billion would be for the Governor’s Education Relief Fund to use as they determine to help K-12 schools (and higher Ed.) as they deal with the negative ramifications of Covid-19.
WHAT CAN SCHOOLS USE THE FUNDS FOR?
Schools can use the money they receive to support a number of learning needs under the Every Student Succeeds Act, and other federal education laws, including remote learning if schools are closed.
The funds can also be used to purchase educational technology in the direct support of online/remote learning.
Schools can also seek waivers from a Title IV provision which caps the overall amount of money that can be spent on internet-connected devices.
SOME ADDITIONAL NOTES
The CARES Act grants authority to Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, to waive states and school’s assessment an accountability requirements. (DeVos has allowed states to seek waivers from standardized testing.)
States and schools can also ask for waivers from several funding requirements about the amount they spend year-over-year.
School districts can use a larger portion of Title-IV grants to purchase devices. Previously, only 15% of Title IV-A funds could be used to purchase technology infrastructure. This limit is lifted under the CARES Act.
RESOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION
The above is a very brief summary the allocation of funding for K-12 schools under the new CARES Act. Below are additional resources you may find useful.
updated link: read inside to learn how much your state receives as part of an additional $3 billion in funding https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/secretary-devos-announces-3-billion-emergency-education-block-grants-governors
A value-added reseller, also known as a VAR, is a company that can add services and knowledge about a vendor’s products, then resell that product to an end user. A WebFilter reseller is one that typically sells several WebFilter solutions from multiple vendors. If you work in a K12 technology department, you are most likely overworked and understaffed. And when it comes time to shop for new technologies, especially WebFilters, navigating all the options from the many different vendors can be daunting. Resellers can help you sift through all the clutter and guide you in choosing the best solution from the vendors with which they work.
SO MANY OPTIONS. WHERE TO START?
Consider this; if you are a mid-size school of 2,500 – 5K students, you may have an IT staff of 8-12 people. A corporation of that size would have an IT staff of 10x that amount. You run the accounting systems, the student information systems, the firewalls, and so much more. On any given day, you are one step away from pulling your hair out. Researching new software and technology takes time you just don’t have. However, when a current technology solution no longer meets your needs, you have no choice but to shop around. The pressure is on to make sure you choose the best solution, from so many options, for your specific needs. When it comes to shopping for WebFilter software specifically, there are many solutions from which to choose. The stress of making sure you choose the best solution, at a price your district can afford, can be overwhelming.
RESELLERS OFFER MANY BENEFITS
While you may feel the manufacturer knows more about their solutions than anybody else, you may want to consider that the manufacturer’s theselves may not be excited to inform you about any possible shortcomings of their solutions. After all, telling you what their product CAN’T do may make it difficult to sell their solutions.
Working with a reseller does not limit your ability to gain deep insight into said solution. In most cases, the reseller introduces you to the manufacturer, then the three of you work together through the research process.
Resellers that sell multiple solutions from several vendors are generally well versed in the pros AND CONS of the solutions they sell. A trustworthy reseller that puts their name and reputation on the line every time they recommend a solution to a school will be open and forthcoming about any potential shortcomings of any solution they recommend. If YOU decide the shortcoming will be a detriment, you can decide to work with that reseller to explore alternate options.
WILL I PAY MORE FROM A RESELLER?
When you work with a reseller who is an authorized representative of the solutions they sell, the price you receive from the reseller is often the same as if you purchased direct, and in some cases cheaper; well established resellers often get volume discounts and pass along those savings to you.
RESELLERS OFFER OPTIONS
No single WebFilter or I.T. security solution is a perfect fit for every school. Value Added Resellers are connected to a number of vendors which means they can offer a range of solutions to ensure you find the best solution for your specific needs. When working through a reseller, you get the choice to determine what’s the best solution. Resellers work with you to understand your needs and then suggest a solution that best fits your school’s requirements. They will give you valuable recommendations, whereas a manufacturer most likely offers just one solution that may not serve your needs.
Resellers eliminate the need for you to contact numerous manufacturers. When it comes to WebFilters, for example, there are many, many to choose from. Going through each solution, then comparing features and benefits, can be a time consuming and tedious task. Resellers with a dedicated team that keeps up on the latest information from the various manufacturers helps you shorten your research time.
THE VALUE OF A RESELLER
A good reseller will ensure the solutions you purchase meet your requirements. Resellers help to educate their customers about the products they sell. Resellers will setup and conduct demonstrations, and hold technical discussions, and even setup proof of concepts.
In summary, if you are shopping for a webfilter or any I.T. security solution, a quick meeting with a reseller can be time well spent. You will get valuable information and insight to help you as you search for the best solution for your school.
FilteredNet has been selling webfilters and I.T. sercurity solutions to K12 schols since 1995.
From kindergartners to high school seniors, American students are growing up in a world defined by the internet. While Millennials (people born between 1980 and 1994) probably have distant memories of cassette tapes, VCRs, and the thrill of dial-up, the generation that followed—Generation Z—has no experience of life without the internet.
The internet has come with important advantages; unprecedented access to information, new ways of connecting and communicating, and creative opportunities when it comes to teaching and learning. However, it has also brought certain dangers, like cyberbullying, or access to inappropriate or pornographic content.
The risks can make it tempting to stay behind in the “good old days,” but like it or not, students will be swept up in the technological currents, and the best schools can do is help them navigate it safely.
To ensure your students succeed in the modern world, it’s critical to keep your classrooms up-to-date so their teachers can help them learn how to use technology, including the internet, with guidance and protection.
Here are a few ideas that you should consider equipping the classrooms in your district with, to ensure you’re staying up-to-date in this modern world.
Laptops or tablets—implementing 1:1
A laptop for every student (1:1) might sound like a recipe for disaster, but it turns out schools that provide a laptop or tablet to every student actually see increased student achievement. In one of the first studies to look at the results of going 1:1, researchers saw improved test scores on everything from English to math to science. They even saw an improvement in relationships between students and teachers.
Most students are already using these devices at home. By investing in them for the classroom, you can engage students using tools they already know. Plus, they can be used for a wide range of lessons, adapt to individual students’ needs, and provide opportunities for collaborative work. They also offer ways to monitor and control what students are accessing and to track and monitor their usage, which can be useful for identifying trends and behaviors.
While chalkboards have their charms, Smart Boards are quickly becoming the tool of choice for many teachers. Smart Boards—interactive touch screens—allow teachers an easily navigable way to accommodate a range of different learning styles and engage their classes.
They’re efficient—multiple students can use them at once
They’re low maintenance—no chalk and no pens means lower costs, and they’re easy to keep clean
They’re environmentally friendly—they reduce the need for paper
They support technology integration—computers, cameras, microphones, and more can all connect to Smart Boards
Screen visibility & monitoring
From doodling in their notebooks to playing solitaire, students are notorious for finding ways to distract themselves. So, with the increasing popularity of laptops and tablets in classrooms, it’s likely your teachers are wondering why they should integrate tech that might just lead to more distractions.
Fortunately, there are plenty of options out there to help combat classroom distractions. Screen visibility and classroom content control are two of the most important options. Screen visibility allows teachers to keep an eye on what each student is doing on their computer. Classroom control allows them to identify, interrupt, and redirect off-task behavior back to the lesson. Integrating these two technologies can go a long way towards helping teachers feel more comfortable with other new technologies.
No longer a futuristic dream, virtual reality (VR) is a reality today. It’s not just for video games, either. Why fight something students are naturally drawn to if it can be harnessed to help teachers with their lessons?
A good example of VR in the classroom in action is the program Expeditions. It allows teachers to bring students on virtual field trips; a cost-effective, safe, and engaging way to enrich the student learning experience.
Modern Web Filters
There’s one common factor behind all of these other technologies—the internet. If your goal is an up-to-date classroom with modern tech, you’ll need an up-to-date web filter to support it all.
The web filters used by many districts are out of date. Not only do some have gaps allowing dangerous content to slip through, today’s filters often limit the control only at the district level. Their catch-all filters block websites or content that might actually be useful for teachers in the classroom. Modern web filters, like Linewize, allow more customization: IT admins maintain CIPA control at the district level, while passing the control of everyday curriculum decisions to teachers at the classroom level. This provides the potential to reduce the workload on both ends.
Whether you’re looking to ensure your students are learning in a modern way, reduce the workload of the IT department and teachers, or allow for more personalized lessons that accommodate diverse students, there is the technology that can help. Keeping your classrooms up-to-date can ensure your district is ahead of the curve in countless ways.
Are your students using school networks or computers to access the Dark Web? They very well might be—and you wouldn’t even know it. But ContentKeeper has a solution.
The Dark Web is the seedy underbelly of the Internet, not able to be indexed by Google and other search engines. Because users can surf the Dark Web anonymously, it has become a place for all kinds of illegal activity, including sex trafficking, child pornography, and the sale of private information.
In fact, students are using the Dark Web to access gaming, buy drugs, and hire hackers to change their grades or launch a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on their school’s network, among other illicit behavior.
Accessing the Dark Web is done through a special web browser such as Tor, and students can cover their tracks—while also bypassing their school’s web filtering software and firewall—by using a VPN tunneling application.
For instance, free or low-cost applications such as Psiphon, UltraSurf, X-VPN, and HideMyAss! allow students to circumvent their school’s filtering software by establishing an encrypted Virtual Private Network connection from their device to the Internet, so they can access websites anonymously.
These rogue apps are easily available online. In fact, if you do a Google search for “how to bypass school Internet filters,” you’ll get nearly 10 million search results with links to these various apps and detailed instructions for using them.
When students use these apps to get around their school web filter, this creates serious liability issues for K-12 administrators. And if they’re using these apps to access the Dark Web, there’s no telling what serious trouble they could be getting into.
ContentKeeper has spent years studying the unique signatures of these apps. We have a dedicated team whose only job is to keep up with changes in the apps’ signatures and to learn about new tunneling apps and other rogue applications as soon as they emerge.
We have channeled this insight into the development of a new add-on to our industry-leading school web filter that identifies and squashes the use of these rogue apps as quickly as they appear on students’ devices.
As soon as a student downloads an app like Tor, Psiphon, or Ultrasurf, our new App Defender solution detects the presence of the app on the student’s machine and then isolates the student’s device from the network. The student receives an automated message stating that his or her network access has been suspended until the offending app is removed. Once the app in question is deleted, the student’s network privileges are restored.
Joe Barnett, Chief Technology Officer for the Frenship Independent School District in Texas, likens this capability to putting students in a “time out” until they comply with the district’s Acceptable Use Policy. “We can stop the web activity on that device until the app is uninstalled,” he observes.
Frenship ISD was one of the first ContentKeeper customers to try App Defender. When Barnett installed the solution, he was shocked at what he found: In this district of 10,000 students, it was not uncommon for him to see 400 or even 500 examples per day of suspicious apps identified by the software.
Today, there are fewer than 100 instances per day of students trying to use rogue applications to bypass the district’s web filter—and when they do, App Defender catches this activity. Using App Defender has allowed the district to preserve essential bandwidth for classroom learning, while keeping kids off the Dark Web and ensuring that the district meets CIPA guidelines.
To learn more about Frenship ISD’s use of App Defender, read the full case study here. For more information about App Defender, click here.
About the Author: David Wigley Co-Founded ContentKeeper Technologies in 1997 and serves as its Chief Executive Officer. David has many years of experience in software engineering, sales and management within the Computer Security Industry.
3 reasons to avoid a Chrome-centric school Web Filter
With Chromebooks accounting for nearly 60 percent of the devices sold to U.S. schools last year, many school web filters have tailored their approach specifically for the Chrome web browser.
That is to say, they’ve developed Chrome apps or extensions that take advantage of Google’s SafeSearch feature to deliver a safe and customizable online experience for Chromebook users, without investing as much time or effort into making their solution work effectively with other platforms.
We believe there are serious shortcomings in this strategy. In fact, here are three key reasons why we think taking a Chrome-centric approach to school Internet filtering is problematic.
Leveraging SafeSearch works well for Google websites, but it doesn’t give K-12 leaders granular control over non-Google domains (like Facebook or Twitter).
By integrating their filtering settings with SafeSearch, school web filters that focus on Chromebook can block inappropriate content within Google’s search engine and explicit videos on YouTube, without blocking the entire domain. However, SafeSearch only works on Google-owned domains.
This means K-12 leaders don’t have the same granular control over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media sites. If you use a Chrome-centric school web filter, you’d have to block these sites altogether or give students access to the entire site.
Using SafeSearch doesn’t allow for comprehensive reporting tied to specific users and subdomains.
Effectively managing mobile or digital learning requires administrators to know what students are doing online and which sites they’re trying to access. To remain CIPA compliant, enforce Acceptable Use Policies, and investigate possible criminal activity, K-12 leaders need comprehensive insight into students’ Internet use, with real-time dashboards and advanced reporting capabilities that can identify which users have requested which particular web pages.
Google SafeSearch doesn’t provide this comprehensive visibility and reporting, even for Google-owned domains. The only way to get it is by decrypting and inspecting Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) web traffic at very high speeds.
Perhaps most importantly, a Chrome-centric approach to school Internet filtering severely limits the options available to students.
What if a student forgets his Chromebook at home and wants to access the network from an iPhone instead? What if your school or district decides to go in a different direction when it’s time to refresh devices? How will you handle filtering for guests on your network? “Bring your own device” (BYOD) programs and mixed-device learning environments become problematic when schools choose a filtering solution that’s built around Chrome.
A full-featured, cross-platform Internet gateway solution solves all three of these challenges by decrypting, inspecting, and controlling web traffic from any device and web browser. As a result, students have the same Internet experience—and administrators have the same visibility and control—at all times. That’s a huge benefit.
ContentKeeper fits this description. Our leading school web filter offers the same top-notch functionality regardless of what device students are using or where they’re connecting from. ContentKeeper also integrates seamlessly with JAMF, FileWave, and other mobile device management (MDM) solutions, so administrators can push out certificates and manage Mac and iOS devices as easily as Chromebooks.
About the author: Mark Riley Co-Founded ContentKeeper Technologies Pty. Ltd. in 1997 and serves as its Chief Technology Officer. Mark has been named on a number of Internet Content Filtering Patents. He has accumulated more than 26 years experience in complex network design and software development with multinational organizations throughout Asia, Europe, North America and the UK. Mark’s achievements have been recognized internationally by NetOps, Secure Computing Magazine (UK) and a range of media profiles.
Teachers and network administrators often have a strained relationship. Though they both have students’ best interests in mind, teachers emphasize student learning and discovery, while network administrators emphasize student safety and compliance.
These perspectives don’t have to be at odds–teachers are invested in student safety, too, and network admins in school districts value learning. But because network admins and teachers tend to work in silos away from each other, they don’t often interact unless something has gone wrong.
Often, teachers approach network admins for help when a content filter has blocked materials they were intending to use for their lesson plan. If this happens more than a few times, teachers can begin to see technology as impeding rather than improving their ability to teach.
Meanwhile, after being on the receiving end of many frustrated teacher complaints about blocked content, network admins can see teachers as a nuisance taking them away from their other important work.
Fortunately, it is possible to break this negative cycle. Read on to find out how districts can bring network admins and teachers together to implement content filters that satisfy teachers’ needs to access materials in their classrooms and network admins’ concerns about safety and compliance.
Breaking down silos
With teachers and network admins focusing on different aspects of education technology, silos are created. Network admins set district-wide content filtering rules while teachers, lucky enough to have classroom management tools, attempt to take digital control of the classroom. When content filtering and classroom management tools don’t work well together, feelings of failure for both the network admin and the teacher are often the result.
This disjointed approach can affect a school’s entire technology initiative. Network admins do their work, and teachers do theirs, and ne’er the twain shall meet except when technology isn’t working as it’s supposed to.
Even when technology on both sides is aligned, frustration can still exists when a teacher is inadvertently blocked from being able to leverage the internet for his or her lesson. Network admins are still left with a support ticket to solve. Many of those support tickets are likely to be caused by overfiltering, which creates barriers to learning. Overfiltering carries risks even beyond interrupting a teacher’s lesson.
As the American Library Association (ALA) put it in its 2014 report, Fencing Out Knowledge: Impacts of the Children’s Internet Protection Act 10 Years Later, “The impact of filtering on the acquisition of [digital and media literacy] skills and on learning in general is not felt equally among students. In fact, internet filtering creates two classes of students: an advantaged class with unfiltered access at home and a disadvantaged class with only filtered access at school.”
This is not a situation anyone wants. Teachers and network admins, with the support of school administrators, have to break down their silos and make an effort to understand the other’s concerns if schools are to avoid overfiltering.
What network admins need to understand about filters
Network admins can apply too-aggressive filters in a sincere attempt to stay compliant with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) of 2000. (Pressure to apply aggressive filters can also come from school administrators, nervous of falling afoul of the legislation.)
As the ALA and others have noted, many school district filters go far beyond what CIPA requires in an effort to continually keep their students safe online. When schools interpret this too broadly, and the technology department is disconnected from teacher and student needs, it can lead to absurd situations. For instance, one school counselor in Nebraska was unable to download information on suicide for students who came to her for support after an attempted suicide at the school.
It doesn’t have to be like this. Network admins can ensure appropriate filtering, even beyond CIPA compliance, but avoid overfiltering by giving deeper control to the teachers in their classroom. Additionally, clear communication among teachers, IT, and instructional technologists can help nip recurring issues in the bud. Some proactive actions and considerations that can be taken are:
Understanding what the legislation does and doesn’t cover. It’s also noteworthy that the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees CIPA compliance, has not yet found a school district out of compliance. That doesn’t mean compliance isn’t important, but it does mean districts should put thought into how aggressive they want to go with their content-blocking policies.
Consulting teachers on their curriculum and what types of content they need access to. It’s important to understand educational needs before unilaterally making decisions on filtering. Teachers bear the impact of either too-permissive or too-restrictive filtering, and should be involved in filtering decisions from the beginning.
Assessing the range of filtering options. Not all filters are created equal, and network admins should spend time researching the options that best fit their district’s needs. For instance, some network admins spend a lot of time maintaining student-specific whitelists and blacklists. Smart filtering allows control over what students can access based on their grade, location, and the time of day, on an individual student level. Want students to stay off YouTube during school hours but be able to recommend them algebra tutorial videos to consult while they’re doing homework? Smart filtering makes this easy.
What teachers need to understand about filters
There are web filter platforms that include classroom management tools. Having a better understanding of the capabilities of such tools and then investing time in learning how to leverage those capabilities, gives teachers back the control they so need in the classroom. Teachers should consider:
Getting educated on what their classroom technology can do. Adopting new technology is often scary. But with districts spending millions of dollars to ensure students can learn in a modern way, all of that investment is wasted if that technology isn’t used to its fullest.
Feeling empowered to lift specific filter rules. When a web filter rule (that goes beyond CIPA compliance) is getting in the way of a teacher’s lesson, teachers should feel confident to apply classroom-specific rules for their students. This can cut down on support tickets and help smooth out the tension that often occurs between teachers and network admins.
Choosing the right web filter vendor
We’ve outlined what needs to be done to break up those silos and frustration between teachers and network admins, but how do you know your web filter can support the initiative? Here are some key questions to ask when speaking with web filter vendors:
Does your platform include a classroom management solution?
Can we lock in policies that cannot be changed by teachers in the classroom to ensure compliance is met?
Can a non-technical teacher easily use the classroom management tool?
What is the anticipated workload and cost to maintain and support the product?
Can we do more with the filter than just block content (e.g. search term visibility, self-harm alerts, Google and YouTube controls)
Does the filter support all end point operating systems?
By better understanding CIPA compliance, the implications of overfiltering, and how each of their roles relate to classroom technology use, network admins and teachers can work together to ensure better content filtering that keeps students safe while supporting them in their learning.
Instead of countless hours spent in frustration troubleshooting and responding to endless support tickets, explore putting in a technology solution that works for both sides of the debate. See how Linewize can work for your district.