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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.

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