SIIA Applauds FCC’s Proposed E-Rate Funding Increase to Ensure Student Digital Learning Access

On the heels of a year-long effort to modernize the E-rate program, FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler yesterday proposed the first permanent increase in the program’s funding since its creation nearly two decades ago. If approved at the Federal Communications Commission’s December meeting, annual funding would increase by $1.5 billion (60%) from $2.4 billion to $3.9 billion.

Chairman Wheeler’s recommendation follows an extended advocacy effort by school and library leaders to meet the increased demand for high speed Internet connectivity necessary to meet the needs of today’s students. SIIA joined a coalition of more than 75 education, high-tech and other stakeholder organizations writing recently to request a permanent increase in funding to the E-rate program.

SIIA members know well the common inadequacy of student and teacher connectivity as they too often struggle to access online the digital instructional materials, research and learning opportunities, and classroom management tools so critical to their teaching and learning success. According to one recent infrastructure survey, only 41% of districts meet the FCC’s short term goal of 100Mbps/1000 students in all schools, and 27% have no schools with this access. Meanwhile, 68% of all school districts do not have a single school that could meet the FCC’s long-term connectivity goal of 1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps).

SIIA looks forward to the FCC’s full support for increased E-rate funding in order to ensure all students have access to the modern resources and tools needed for their educational success and the nation’s economic competitiveness.

Mark SchneidermanMark Schneiderman is Senior Director of Education Policy at SIIA.

Connected Car Principles Part of Trend Toward Corporate Privacy Commitments

SIIA applauds the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers for adopting a set of privacy principles for vehicle technologies and services. These principles, released on Thursday November 13, are a responsible step toward protecting the information collected by connected cars, and they reflect an important movement of strong corporate commitments to data privacy.

Data has become essential for improving auto safety, reducing traffic congestion, increasing auto efficiency and powering other advanced services for 21st Century drivers. By bolstering consumer confidence, these principles will help make certain these advancements can continue.  They cover transparency, choice, respect for context, data minimization, de-identification, retention, data security, integrity, access and accountability.  In particular, they put limits on the use of geolocation information for marketing purposes and provide consumers with access to collected information.

These principles reflect widely accepted privacy standards advocated by the Federal Trade Commission and the Administration, and are also reflected in the U.S. sectorial privacy laws.

Led by SIIA, the education technology industry has followed a similar course of action.  In October, in conjunction with the Future of Privacy Forum, we announced a set of 12 privacy principles that commit educational service providers to protecting the privacy of student information.  This effort is vital for our country, because new information technologies are enabling personalized education, improving educational outcomes, allowing for more efficient school operations, making possible the development of better instructional materials and faster identification of students at risk of failing, and more.

In particular, the principles bolster the deeply entrenched social norm and legal requirement that student information should be used solely for educational purposes. The student privacy pledge also commits service providers to refrain from using student information for targeted advertising, to limit student profiles to educational uses and to protect information from unauthorized access.

Data collection and analysis is essential for any industry that intends to grow and flourish in the 21st century.  But to be successful, companies must have the trust and confidence of data subjects, customers, policy makers and the public.  Voluntary steps such as those taken by the automotive and education technology industries are vital if we are to hold onto and grow this trust.

Mark MacCarthy, Vice President, Public Policy at SIIA, directs SIIA’s public policy initiatives in the areas of intellectual property enforcement, information privacy, cybersecurity, cloud computing and the promotion of educational technology.

New Higher Ed Regulations will Impact the Market for Digital Learning and Data Systems

On Halloween, the Obama Administration released its revised, final “Gainful Employment” regulations to the frightful reaction of many effected institutions. But their service providers may also be impacted. While the actual consequences of the new rules are a few years away, the regulations may ultimately force the closure of hundreds of programs at community colleges and private, for-profit and non-profit institutions. If impacted institutions shift resources or cease operations in response to these regulations, postsecondary institution service providers may be negatively impacted. Of course, there may be some opportunities as well as demands could increase for certain services and systems.

To help inform SIIA members who serve impacted institutions, SIIA’s Ed Policy Forum has developed a summary and analysis of the gainful employment regulations and their impact on the postsecondary market.


Brendan DesettiBrendan Desetti is the Education Policy and Programs Manager for SIIA. Follow Brendan on Twitter at @SIIAbrendan and find relevant national, federal, and state policy and program information in SIIA’s Ed Policy Forum.


Resources are Critical to Common Core Survival and Success Beyond November

Several years into the era of common core state standards (CCSS), there has been no shortage of challenge and opportunity, debate and disagreement.  Through it all, education practitioners have been among the staunchest champions for the new standards and their success. That was one of the several findings of an expert panel hosted last week by the DC think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

Panelists discussed some of the issues that have tripped up the advancement of the CCSS and what the viability of the standards are beyond the November mid-term elections. Their bottom line: CCSS long term survival looks pretty likely, but given some of the rhetoric at the state and federal level, nothing is a sure thing.

While a couple of states have pulled out of the common core, states and school districts delaying testing or not investing in classroom materials are more likely to derail, or at least delay, full implementation of the standards. Panelists shared this sentiment and were fairly confident that we aren’t likely to see a mass exodus of states from the CCSS after the election.

While it’s clear that, for political decision makers, the CCSS has become a sort of bogeyman that they’d like to delay, this view has not been shared by educators. On the local level, educators remain some of the strongest supporters of the standards, and their biggest concerns of late are ensuring they have the training, support, technology and content needed to implement the standards properly in their classrooms.

Panelist Catherine Gewertz of Education Week suggested that proper implementation and having quality instructional materials and content was of a higher priority for educators than the concerns of policymakers over data privacy. While this isn’t to say privacy is not an issue, it makes clear that we should be having more robust conversations in states about the level of commitment needed to equip classrooms and teachers with the necessary tools to implement an entirely new set of standards and curriculum.

One other unanswered question is what will be the federal role in the CCSS post midterms. A Republican Senate may wind down the Department of Education’s ability to provide incentives. The AEI and the Council of Chief State School Officers would support a federal shift from recruiting every state to ensuring comparability and rigor of data and standards across self-committed states.

Data Analytics in Education Promotes Social and Economic Opportunity

The recent FTC workshop “Big Data: A Tool for Inclusion or Exclusion?” posed important questions on whether and how analytics could be used to restrict life chances for people rather than create economic and social opportunity.  The answer lies in the hands of the user of the technology, not in the technology itself.  The critical question is how people use, implement or otherwise act on the discoveries – the indicators, insights and evidence – that data analytics can uncover or reveal.

As with all knowledge, the value of the insights made possible by research and science depend in large part on the purposes they are used to advance and the environment in which they are deployed.  Data analytics in education is a good example.

A study by Johns Hopkins University research professor Robert Balfanz shows that most students who eventually drop out can be identified as early as the sixth grade by their attendance, behavior and course performance. Using those indicators, it is possible to identify by the middle of ninth grade virtually everyone who will drop out. As Professor Balfanz put it recently, “These young men are waving their hands early and often to say they need help, but our educational and student-support systems aren’t organized to recognize and respond to their distress signals.”

What should be done with this knowledge?  While one could worry that some might take an exclusionary path to perhaps stop wasting resources on students who are predicted to fail, the popular consensus created by recent educational innovators, such as Joel Klein, CEO of Amplify and former Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, is to use these potential drop-out indicator as discoveries to develop a path of inclusion to take corrective actions early for these students, thereby promoting social and economic opportunity in education:

“Using data to help identify these students and give them meaningful supports and interventions as early as possible would have a significant impact on the number of students that graduate ready for success in either college or career. This isn’t the stuff of science fiction. These are actionable steps we can take right now, thanks to the power of technology.”

Which path is chosen is a matter for educators, not a matter of data analytics.  It would be disheartening, to say the least, if policymakers, fearful of data analytics used as a possible tool of exclusion, were to, in essence, call for educators to put their heads in the sand – not to see, and worse, not to use for good, the indicators that data analytics discovers.  Would anyone really argue that schools around the country would be better off not knowing the determinants of student failure, since it is possible that such knowledge might be used to discriminate against at-risk students?

In fact, many schools throughout the country are raising their heads, and hands, to apply data analytics to help their students succeed.

  • Research shows that attendance, behavior and course performance can assess dropout risk in a way that allows schools to design early intervention systems to support students. Miami Carol City Senior High in Florida designed an intervention system based on this kind of data. In 2013, one-third of students flagged for missing school got back on track to graduation. Two-thirds of the students who were having behavioral problems made a turnaround.
  • In Hamilton County Board of Education in Tennessee, early student interventions led to increased graduation rates by more than 8 percentage points and standardized test scores in math and reading by more than 10 percent thanks to applying predictive analytics.
  • In Mobile County, Alabama the dropout rate has been nudged downward by three percent since the application of data analytics on a broad range of factors including demographic variable to identify at risk students.

As J. Alvin Wilbanks, CEO and superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools, the 14th largest school district in the U.S., put it, “data analytics can help us both identify the child and create a better picture of who they are, what areas they’re deficient in, and point to things we can do differently. As we perfect our use of analytics, I think we can even get to the point where it’ll suggest, this student is weak in fractions; here are some activities that can help improve that.”

These examples and countless more show that educators are putting discoveries from data analytics to use for the good of all students, using indicators not to exclude students but rather to develop personalized courses of study for each one to succeed.

Mark MacCarthy, Vice President, Public Policy at SIIA, directs SIIA’s public policy initiatives in the areas of intellectual property enforcement, information privacy, cybersecurity, cloud computing and the promotion of educational technology.

New Markey-Hatch Federal Student Privacy Legislation is Unnecessary

SIIA today issued a press release on the introduction of the “Protecting Student Privacy Act” by Sens. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Orin Hatch (R-Utah).

The current framework of robust federal regulations, industry best practices and binding contracts provides strong student privacy protections.  With these three layers of protection, we can give students access to revolutionary learning technology while ensuring that their information is used only for educational purposes. New federal student privacy legislation is not needed at this time.

The Markey-Hatch legislation is well-intended, but it contains provisions, such as a prohibition against the use of student information for targeted advertising, that already exist in current law and regulation. Other provisions, such as those related to data destruction, might not be workable in practice.

We share the privacy protection goals of Senators Markey and Hatch, but it’s critical to ensure that any new rules do not inadvertently create obstacles to the effective use of information. Innovative education technology is essential to improving education for all students and to ensuring U.S. economic strength in an increasingly competitive global environment.

Mark MacCarthy, Vice President, Public Policy at SIIA, directs SIIA’s public policy initiatives in the areas of intellectual property enforcement, information privacy, cybersecurity, cloud computing and the promotion of educational technology.

Digital Policy Roundup

SIIA Testifies at Joint Congressional Subcommittee Hearing on Student Privacy

SIIA’s Mark MacCarthy delivered testimony on the issue of student data privacy in a joint hearing Wednesday before subcommittees of the Committee on Education and the Workforce and the Committee on Homeland Security. The hearing titled “How Data Mining Threatens Student Privacy” featured three witnesses in addition to SIIA: Fordham University’s Professor Joel R. Reidenberg, Idaho Department of Education CIO Joyce Popp, and Alliance for Excellent Education’s Digital Learning Director Thomas Murray. SIIA advised committee members that “no new federal legislation is necessary at this time,” citing a three part system of protection – federal law (FERPA, COPPA), contracts, and industry best practices.

Alice Corp v. CLS Bank Ruling

On June 19th, the Supreme Court decided the business method patent case of Alice Corp v. CLS Bank Corp, unanimously holding that implementing an abstract idea through a general purpose computer is Ineligible for patent protection under section 101 if the Patent Act. The case involved a method for reducing the risk that the parties to a transaction will not pay what they owe. The Court has long held that abstract ideas are not patentable subject matter. Writing for the Court, Justice Thomas said that “merely requiring generic computer implementation… fails to transform the abstract idea into a patent-eligible invention.” The decision would seem to have limited applicability to software patents as the term “software” does not appear in the decision and Justice Thomas acknowledges in the decision that “many computer-implemented claims are formally addressed to patent-eligible subject matter.”

OECD Committee for Digital Economy Policy (CDEP) Meets June 16-20 in Paris

CDEP is of interest because its work on digital economy issues is influential. For instance, the OECD’s 2011 Internet Policymaking Principles (IPP) and the revised 2013 OECD Privacy Guidelines are documents that are often consulted in other fora and are considered generally helpful by industry, including SIIA. The CDEP also works on Internet governance, big data, measuring the digital economy, the relationship between technology and jobs, and intellectual property. The work on intellectual property is often considered more controversial, and SIIA works to make it balanced.

Last week’s meeting focused particularly on the 2016 OECD Ministerial which will be held in April or May of 2016 in Cancun, Mexico. The Ministerial is important to the head of the organization, Angel Gurria, who is Mexican and reportedly interested in seeking a third term as Secretary-General of the OECD. The CDEP is currently considering “Digital Innovation Transforming our Societies” as the title for the Ministerial. The OECD has ambitious plans for the Ministerial and hopes to attract ministers responsible for labor and education, as well as ministers responsible for the ICT sector. The OECD has five themes for the Ministerial:

  1. Fostering new sources of growth spurred by converging networks, services and data analytics.
  2. Analyzing the effects of the digital economy on growth, jobs and skills.
  3. Developing recommendations and building evidence for Internet policy and governance.
  4. Managing the digital risks and enabling trust for continued prosperity.
  5. Looking to the future.

SIIA will be engaged in advocacy with a view to influencing work documents and the 2016 Ministerial, especially in the areas of growth, jobs and skills: Internet governance; privacy; and data analytics.

David LeDuc is Senior Director, Public Policy at SIIA. He focuses on e-commerce, privacy, cyber security, cloud computing, open standards, e-government and information policy. Follow the SIIA public policy team on Twitter at @SIIAPolicy.

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