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Subprime Learning: Early Education in America since the Great Recession

January 26, 2014 Comments off

Subprime Learning: Early Education in America since the Great Recession
Source: New America Foundation

Five years ago, the United States was in the thick of the Great Recession, coping with a stock market crash and loss of jobs that would send aftershocks throughout early education. Yet early 2009 was also a time of great hope among advocates for young children. President Barack Obama, newly sworn in, had called attention to early education throughout his campaign, aiming for $10 billion in public investments for children from birth to age five, educational infrastructure grants for states, and improvements in teaching. Many states already had been making investments in public preschool. Given this mix of promise and severe financial insecurity, would the nation be able to address the needs of children in these formative years?

This report, which examines learning from birth through third grade, provides some answers. Starting with 2009 as our baseline, we examined objective indicators across the birth-through-eight age span that pertain to student achievement, family well-being, and funding. We also provide subjective but research-based assessments of policies for improving teaching and learning and the creation of more cohesive systems. The aim is to provide a clearer picture of where America stands today by highlighting what is improving, in stasis, in flux, imperiled, or ignored.

Our analysis finds that in the wake of a financial crash triggered by subprime lending, too many children in America have been experiencing subprime learning. While bright spots are visible in some states, funding has fluctuated wildly, millions of children still lack access to quality programs, the K–3 grades have received little attention, and achievement gaps in reading and math have widened between family income levels. Meanwhile, child poverty rates have shot up. Congress helped President Obama make good on his $10-billion pledge, but most of it came from the fiscal stimulus bill of 2009. After that one-time infusion of extra spending, the federal government has barely managed to maintain its baseline investment year after year. Indicators do show improved infrastructure throughout the country, but the question now is: When will more children be able to benefit from it?

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Do NSA’s Bulk Surveillance Programs Stop Terrorists?

January 23, 2014 Comments off

Do NSA’s Bulk Surveillance Programs Stop Terrorists?
Source: New American Foundation

On June 5, 2013, the Guardian broke the first story in what would become a flood of revelations regarding the extent and nature of the NSA’s surveillance programs. Facing an uproar over the threat such programs posed to privacy, the Obama administration scrambled to defend them as legal and essential to U.S. national security and counterterrorism. Two weeks after the first leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden were published, President Obama defended the NSA surveillance programs during a visit to Berlin, saying: “We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information not just in the United States, but, in some cases, threats here in Germany. So lives have been saved.” Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, testified before Congress that: “the information gathered from these programs provided the U.S. government with critical leads to help prevent over 50 potential terrorist events in more than 20 countries around the world.” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said on the House floor in July that “54 times [the NSA programs] stopped and thwarted terrorist attacks both here and in Europe – saving real lives.”

However, our review of the government’s claims about the role that NSA “bulk” surveillance of phone and email communications records has had in keeping the United States safe from terrorism shows that these claims are overblown and even misleading. An in-depth analysis of 225 individuals recruited by al-Qaeda or a like-minded group or inspired by al-Qaeda’s ideology, and charged in the United States with an act of terrorism since 9/11, demonstrates that traditional investigative methods, such as the use of informants, tips from local communities, and targeted intelligence operations, provided the initial impetus for investigations in the majority of cases, while the contribution of NSA’s bulk surveillance programs to these cases was minimal. Indeed, the controversial bulk collection of American telephone metadata, which includes the telephone numbers that originate and receive calls, as well as the time and date of those calls but not their content, under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, appears to have played an identifiable role in initiating, at most, 1.8 percent of these cases. NSA programs involving the surveillance of non-U.S. persons outside of the United States under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act played a role in 4.4 percent of the terrorism cases we examined, and NSA surveillance under an unidentified authority played a role in 1.3 percent of the cases we examined.

The Cost of Connectivity 2013

October 30, 2013 Comments off

The Cost of Connectivity 2013
Source: New America Foundation

Last year, the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute published The Cost of Connectivity, a first-of-its-kind study of the cost of consumer broadband services in 22 cities around the world.[1] The results showed that, in comparison to their international peers, Americans in major cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC are paying higher prices for slower Internet service. While the plans and prices have been updated in the intervening year, the 2013 data shows little progress, reflecting remarkably similar trends to what we observed in 2012.

The 2013 data release includes:

  1. A comparison of “triple play” offerings that bundle Internet, phone, and television services;
  2. A comparison of the fastest Internet package available in each city;
  3. A survey of the best available home Internet plan for approximately $35 USD in each city;
  4. A survey of the best available mobile Internet plan for approximately $40 USD in each city;
  5. A comparison of the cost of 2 GB of mobile data in each city.

Joining the Surveillance Society? New Internet Users in an Age of Tracking

October 25, 2013 Comments off

Joining the Surveillance Society? New Internet Users in an Age of Tracking
Source: New America Foundation

Recent digital inclusion policies that aim to increase digital literacy of new Internet and computer users, promote civic engagement, and improve economic development do not currently address the privacy needs of new users. This paper presents an in-depth look at surveillance and privacy problems faced by individuals who turn to digital literacy organizations for training and Internet access, including low income individuals, people of color, immigrants, the elderly, and non-English speakers. These individuals are coming online without adequate skills, know-how, and social support to confront digitally enabled government surveillance and corporate intrusions of personal privacy. The paper also details the challenges, such as limited resources, time, and expertise, that providers face when teaching users how to stay safe online. New Internet users should not have to choose between going online and feeling safe, secure, and free from surveillance. Now, more than ever, digital inclusion policies need to pay greater attention to developing providers’ expertise and capacity to handle privacy and surveillance concerns of new Internet users. Privacy advocates and developers also have a role to play. Expanding “digital literacy” to include privacy education requires that privacy protecting tools become easier to use. Until then, the benefits of digital inclusion are at odds with the potential harms wrought by a surveillance society.

The Effects of Fact-Checking Threat: Results From a Field Experiment in the States

October 8, 2013 Comments off

The Effects of Fact-Checking Threat: Results From a Field Experiment in the States
Source: New America Foundation

In the United States, politicians are coming under increasing scrutiny from organizations like PolitiFact, Factcheck.org, and the Washington Post Fact Checker. Too often, traditional news organizations report what public officials say without evaluating the accuracy of their statements or attempting to arbitrate between competing factual claims. As a result, political figures are frequently allowed to make misleading comments in the press without challenge. By contrast, fact-checkers carefully scrutinize the claims made by candidates and elected officials and weigh them against the available evidence.

This sort of journalistic fact-checking has become much more common in recent years, but we know very little about the effects of this expansion. One possibility is that fact-checking helps members of the public become better informed. Social science research suggests, however, that people often avoid or reject unwelcome information about politics. As a result, it is often difficult to change people’s minds about controversial issues.

Fact-checking might have other benefits, however. In particular, it might help to deter the dissemination of misinformation, particularly among candidates and legislators below the presidential level. Politicians may refrain from making inaccurate claims that would attract the attention of fact-checkers to prevent possible damage to their electoral prospects or political reputation. Previous research suggests that elected officials tend to be highly risk-averse and concerned about potential threats to re-election, including critical media coverage.

To test this hypothesis, we conducted a field experiment (an experiment conducted in a real-world setting rather than the laboratory) to test the effects of being reminded about the threat posed by fact-checking. Specifically, our study compared the behavior of a group of state legislators who were sent letters warning of the reputational and electoral threats from fact-checking with a comparable control group of legislators. This experimental design allows us to make credible causal inferences about the effects of these reminders on legislators’ behavior.

The results of our experiment indicate that politicians who were sent reminders that they are vulnerable to fact-checking were less likely to receive a negative PolitiFact rating or have the accuracy of their statements questioned publicly. These findings, which we describe further below, suggest that fact-checking can play an important role in improving political discourse and increasing democratic accountability.

Undermining Pell: How Colleges Compete for Wealthy Students and Leave the Low-Income Behind

May 8, 2013 Comments off

Undermining Pell: How Colleges Compete for Wealthy Students and Leave the Low-Income Behind

Source: New America Foundation

Nearly fifty years ago, the federal government committed itself to removing the financial barriers that prevent low-income students from enrolling in and completing colleges. For years, colleges complemented the government’s efforts by using their financial aid resources to open the doors to the neediest students. But those days appear to be in the past. With their relentless pursuit of prestige and revenue, the nation’s public and private four-year colleges and universities are now in danger of shutting down what has long been a pathway to the middle class for low-income and working-class students.

Undermining Pell presents a new analysis of little-examined U.S. Department of Education data showing the "net price" — the amount students pay after all grant aid has been exhausted — for low-income students at thousands of individual colleges. The analysis shows that hundreds of public and private non-profit colleges expect the neediest students to pay an amount that is equal to or even more than their families’ yearly earnings. As a result, these students are left with little choice but to take on heavy debt loads or engage in activities that reduce their likelihood of earning their degrees, such as working full-time while enrolled or dropping out until they can afford to return.

The analysis finds that the financial hurdles are highest in the private nonprofit college sector, where only a few dozen exclusive colleges meet the full financial need of the low-income students they enroll. Nearly two-thirds of the private institutions analyzed charge students from the lowest-income families, those making $30,000 or less annually, a net price of over $15,000 a year.

State U Online

May 2, 2013 Comments off

State U Online (PDF)

Source: New America Foundation

Online learning has become a permanent fixture of postsecondary education—approximately 32 percent of all postsecondary students in the United States took at least one online course in 2010. Many for-profit colleges have jumped at the opportunity online learning provides to reach more students. The University of Phoenix, with more than 300,000 online students, is now the largest accredited university in America.

But the nation’s public higher-education system—the twoyear colleges and four-year universities that educate the large majority of all college students—has been visibly slower to embrace the potential of online credentialing. Many of these institutions were founded with a mission to serve their citizens, including those unable to attend in residence. Traditionally, this was done through a combination of extension services, correspondence courses, and other means. Yet even as the technological means to achieve this goal reaches new heights, many public universities are shying away from the challenge.

At a time when educational credentials are more important to individual and collective prosperity than ever before, students need online courses and degree programs that are effective, affordable, and grounded in public values. This report includes an in-depth analysis of how public universities are contending with the challenges and opportunities of online education. It finds that state institutions have tremendous untapped potential to grow enrollment, increase revenues, contribute to economic development, and fulfill their historical missions—if they adopt a series of policies that a few innovative states and public higher-education systems have already pioneered.

To understand why more public institutions haven’t moved as quickly into the virtual world, it helps to begin with similar historical attempts to provide distance education. While the technologies of online learning are new, the underlying conflicts and challenges of serving students at a distance are anything but—indeed, some of them are older than the nation itself.

The Year of the Drone: An Analysis of U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan, 2004-2013

February 15, 2013 Comments off

The Year of the Drone: An Analysis of U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan, 2004-2013
Source: New America Foundation

The purpose of this database is to provide as much information as possible about the covert U.S. drone program in Pakistan in the absence of any such transparency on the part of the American government. This data was collected from credible news reports and is presented here with the relevant sources. You can read more about our methodology here.

This database was originally published in February 2010 by Katherine Tiedemann, then a Policy Analyst at the New America Foundation, and was later added to by Andrew Lebovich, then a Program Associate at the New America Foundation, both working with Peter Bergen, director of New America’s National Security Studies Program.

That database underwent a comprehensive review in the summer of 2012. As part of this process we established an updated methodology for counting strikes and deaths, incorporated additional news reports about the drone strikes, and presented the data in a revised format for greater clarity.

This review was undertaken by Meg Braun, a Rhodes Scholar working towards her MPhil in International Relations at St. John’s College at Oxford University, Fatima Mustafa, a Pakistani PhD candidate in Political Science at Boston University, Farhad Peikar, an Afghan journalist and masters student at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Public Policy, and Jennifer Rowland, a Program Associate with the New America Foundation working together with Peter Bergen. We are also grateful to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism for their work on this topic.

Capping the Nation’s Broadband Future? Dwindling competition is fueling the rise of increasingly costly and re strictive Internet usage caps

December 18, 2012 Comments off

Capping the Nation’s Broadband Future? Dwindling competition is fueling the rise of increasingly costly and restrictive Internet usage caps

Source: New America Foundation

The past few years have been marked by unprecedented innovation and growth on the Internet. New digital platforms and rich content from voice-over-IP and video conferencing connect family and friends around the world at little or no cost, high quality video streams facilitate online learning and digital education along with new ways to view movies and TV shows, and a host of platforms and applications allow for the creation and sharing of original content and ideas through cloud based computing.

These examples are just a few of many innovations made possible by a relatively uncapped and unmetered Internet environment. Unfortunately that is rapidly changing. Even as new applications and content require increasing amounts of data, Internet service providers (ISPs) are clamping down on Internet use through putting in place more stringent and costly data limits on their subscribers. ISPs claim that these measures are necessary to manage the growth of Internet traffic on their networks and maintain quality of service.Yet, the technical or engineering rational for relying on monthly data caps to address network congestion is questionable, when congestion is often limited to certain peak hours and locations.

As this paper documents, data caps, especially on wireline networks, are hardly a necessity. Rather, they are motivated by a desire to further increase revenues from existing subscribers and protect legacy services such as cable television from competing Internet services. Although traffic on U.S. broadband networks is increasing at a steady rate, the costs to provide broadband service are also declining, including the cost of Internet connectivity or IP transit as well as equipment and other operational costs. The result is that broadband is an incredibly profitable business, particularly for cable ISPs. Tiered pricing and data caps have also become a cash cow for the two largest mobile providers, Verizon and AT&T, who already were making impressive margins on their mobile data service before abandoning unlimited plans.

The increasing prevalence of data caps both on the nation’s wireline and mobile networks underscore a critical need for policymakers to implement reforms to promote competition in the broadband marketplace. Data caps may offer an effective means for incumbents to generate more revenue from subscribers and satisfy investors, but making bandwidth an unnecessarily scarce commodity is bad for consumers and innovation. The future is not just about streaming movies or TV shows but also access to online education or telehealth services that are just starting to take off. Capping their future may mean capping the nation’s future as well.

Safety Net or Windfall? Examining Changes to Income-Based Repayment for Federal Student Loans

October 16, 2012 Comments off

Safety Net or Windfall? Examining Changes to Income-Based Repayment for Federal Student Loans

Source: New America Foundation

In his 2010 State of the Union address, President Obama urged Congress to change the federal student loan program’s existing Income-Based Repayment (IBR) plan, which caps borrowers’ payments at 15 percent of their incomes and forgives any remaining debt after 25 years of payments. He argued that high college tuition was an untenable burden for the middle class, and that by reducing payments to 10 percent of a borrower’s income and providing loan forgiveness after 20 years of payments, lawmakers could provide borrowers with relief.

Congress enacted this proposal two months later, but limited it to students who take out their first loans on July 1, 2014 or later. Then, in 2011, the Obama administration announced that it would make this plan available sooner—to borrowers who took out their first loans in 2008 or later and took out at least one loan in 2012 or later—and that eligible borrowers may be able to enroll by 2012 if regulations are finalized by then.

The New America Foundation developed a calculator to examine how the pending changes to IBR will affect different types of borrowers. We analyzed hundreds of scenarios for different borrower profiles. But contrary to benefitting low-income borrowers, the pending changes to IBR will actually provide generous benefits to borrowers with higher federal loan balances – those with graduate or professional degrees. A borrower with an MBA or a law degree can easily have a six-figure loan balance forgiven, even if his income exceeds $100,000 for much of his repayment term.

The U.S. Department of Education plans to finalize changes to IBR — lowering student loan payments from 15 to 10 percent of a borrower’s discretionary income and accelerating loan forgiveness from 25 years to 20 years — by the end of the year. The report, “Safety Net or Windfall? Examining Changes to Income-Based Repayment for Federal Student Loans,” provides unique insight into the intricacies of the upcoming IBR changes and their unintended consequences. It also recommends changes that policymakers should make before the new IBR program takes effect to better target its benefits to borrowers with lower incomes, rather than high-income borrowers with graduate and professional degrees.

The Cost of Connectivity

August 13, 2012 Comments off

The Cost of Connectivity

Source: New America Foundation

In this study, we compare high-speed Internet offerings in 22 cities around the world by price, download and upload speed, and bundled services. We have included some of the most relevant findings from our research in the report that follows, as well as a discussion of policy recommendations for the U.S. The report includes:

  • A comparison of "triple play" offerings that bundle Internet, phone, and television services;
  • A survey of the best available Internet plan for approximately $35 USD in each city;
  • A comparison of the fastest Internet available in each city.

The results indicate that U.S. consumers in major cities tend to pay higher prices for slower speeds compared to consumers abroad. For example, when comparing triple play packages in the 22 cities surveyed, consumers in Paris can purchase a 100 Mbps bundle of television, telephone, and high-speed Internet service for the equivalent of approximately $35 (adjusted for PPP). By contrast, in Lafayette, LA, the top American city, the cheapest available package costs around $65 and includes just a 6 Mbps Internet connection. A comparison of Internet plans available for around $35 shows similar results. Residents of Hong Kong have access to Internet service with symmetrical download and upload speeds of 500 Mbps while residents of New York City and Washington, D.C. will pay the equivalent price for Internet service with maximum download speeds that are 20 times slower (up to 25 Mbps and upload speeds of up to 2 Mbps).

The results add weight to a growing body of evidence that suggests that the U.S. is lagging behind many of its international counterparts, most of whom have much higher levels of competition and, in turn, offer lower prices and faster Internet service. It suggests that policymakers need to re-evaluate our current policy approaches to increase competition and encourage more affordable high-speed Internet service in the U.S.

Student Loan Interest Rates: History, Subsidies, and Cost

February 24, 2012 Comments off

Student Loan Interest Rates: History, Subsidies, and CostSource: New American Foundation

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to prevent federal student loan interest rates from doubling later this year. This is the culmination of decades of legislative changes to the federal student loan program. Few people are aware of the policies that led to the pending student loan interest rate increase and many question whether the 6.8 percent fixed interest rate charged on the most widely-available loans provides a real benefit to students.

This issue brief details the history of federal student loan interest rates, including the decisions that led to today’s fixed rates and the pending rate increase. It also examines the popular argument that current rates are unfavorable for borrowers and disputes the claim that student loans earn revenue for the government.

+ Full Document (PDF)

The Way Forward: Moving From the Post-Bubble, Post-Bust Economy to Renewed Growth and Competitiveness

October 13, 2011 Comments off

The Way Forward: Moving From the Post-Bubble, Post-Bust Economy to Renewed Growth and Competitiveness
Source: New America Foundation

Notwithstanding repeated attempts at monetary and fiscal stimulus since 2009, the United States remains mired in what is by far its worst economic slump since that of the 1930s. More than 25 million working-age Americans remain unemployed or underemployed, the employment-to-population ratio lingers at an historic low of 58.3 percent, business investment continues at historically weak levels, and consumption expenditure remains weighed down by massive private sector debt overhang left by the bursting of the housing and credit bubble a bit over three years ago. Recovery from what already has been dubbed the “Great Recession” has been so weak thus far that real GDP has yet to surpass its previous peak. And yet, already there are signs of renewed recession.

It is not only the U.S. economy that is in peril right now. At this writing, Europe is struggling to prevent the sovereign debt problems of its peripheral Euro-zone economies from spiraling into a full-fledged banking crisis – an ominous development that would present an already weakening economy with yet another demand shock. Meanwhile, China and other large emerging economies–those best positioned to take up worsening slack in the global economy–are beginning to experience slowdowns of their own as earlier measures to contain domestic inflation and credit-creation kick in, and as weak growth in Europe and the United States dampen demand for their exports.

Nor is renewed recession the only threat we now face. Even if a return to negative growth rates is somehow avoided, there will remain a real and present danger that Europe and the United States alike fall into an indefinitely lengthy period of negligible growth, high unemployment and deflation, much as Japan has experienced over the past 20 years following its own stock-and-real estate bubble and burst of the early 1990s.3 Protracted stagnation on this order of magnitude would undermine the living standards of an entire generation of Americans and Europeans, and would of course jeopardize America’s position in the world.

+ Full Report (PDF)

New Report Calls for ‘21st Century Agenda for Pakistan’

September 7, 2011 Comments off

New Report Calls for ‘21st Century Agenda for Pakistan’
Source: New America Foundation

Today an expert study group co-sponsored by the New America Foundation and the National War College released their findings on U.S-Pakistan relations. The group, comprised of both American and Pakistani policy specialists, came together to devise practical ways to advance the U.S.-Pakistan relationship at a time when relations between the two countries are arguably at their most strained.

Peter Bergen, Michael J. Mazarr and additional members of the study group will discuss the findings at an 11 a.m briefing today at the New America Foundation.

The report states:

“In this post-Arab Spring, post-Osama bin Laden moment, military responses to radicalism have proven their limits, large-scale aid programs are becoming untenable, and the “leverage” of bilateral aid relationships has shown itself unable to produce sustainable changes in mindset. Pakistan, and its international partners including the United States, require a fresh approach that moves beyond security issues as the touchstone for policy, that lays out a vision for a more prosperous future, and that empowers civilian, democratic governments at all levels to become more effective.

“The strategic concept we propose to meet these goals is a collaborative agenda for Pakistan to take its place as a major power in a modernizing South Asia. This is a 21st century agenda for Pakistan, one based on progress, growth, trade, entrepreneurial energy, and popular involvement in democratic governance. It is a vision of an advancing, influential Pakistan standing at a vibrant crossroads of trade, diplomacy and geopolitics, at a time when the human capacities, natural resources, and mineral wealth of South Asia are destined to become increasingly important to global economic developments.”

+ Full Report

The Militant Pipeline: Between the Afghanistan-Pakistan Border Region and the West

July 13, 2011 Comments off

The Militant Pipeline: Between the Afghanistan-Pakistan Border Region and the West
Source: New America Foundation

A decade after 9/11, despite growing concerns over Yemen, Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and swaths of the country’s northwest arguably remain al Qaeda ’s main safe haven, and the area from which it can hatch its most dangerous plots against the West.[i] Al Qaeda’s presence in these areas has long threatened international security. It was in Peshawar in Pakistan’s northwest that al Qaeda was founded in 1988, and ever since Pakistan’s border region with Afghanistan has been a gateway for recruits joining the terrorist network and its affiliates, and an area in which its senior figures have felt comfortable planning operations, including the 9/11 attacks. After being driven out of Afghanistan, it was on the Pakistani side of the border that al Qaeda built up a new safe haven.[ii] And while bin Laden went to ground in Abbottabad in the settled areas of Pakistan some 70 miles north of Islamabad where he was killed on May 2, 2011, many of his key lieutenants remain in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Recent years have seen increased numbers of Westerners travelling to the region for paramilitary training, with 100 to 150 suspected of making the trip in 2009 and reports of recruits continuing to stream in during 2010 and 2011, according to Western counterterrorism officials.[iii] While many went there because the area is the principal point of entry to join the fighting in Afghanistan, the presence of al Qaeda, and its sustained ability to train recruits and persuade them to launch attacks in the West, continue to make the FATA what President Obama called in 2009 “the most dangerous place in the world.”

+ Full Document (PDF)

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