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National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) Supports Banned Websites Awareness Day (BWAD) | by Mel Riddle September 19, 2011

Posted by Michelle Luhtala in Banned Websites Awareness Day, Check this out!.
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For more information about Banned Websites Awareness Day, please visit the AASL BWAD site.

Background: Back in 1995, I was teaching an Internet course for our teachers. When I look at the syllabus for that course, I have a good laugh. Sad to say, we could do things in 1995 that would be difficult to pull off today. Yes, we were using ftp and a beta version of Netscape, but we were regularly videoconferencing with people around the world. Today, I would have to get special permission from our district to conduct those same video-conferences. The reality is that “brute force” filtering of Internet content has resulted in us regressing rather than progressing.

School leaders are unintentionally killing the motivation of our teachers and students to make the most use of technology in our schools, not by our actions, but by our inaction on the issue of web filtering.

Teachers repeatedly complain to me that their students cannot do research at school because so many web sites are blocked. Students are resigned to the fact that doing research on a school computer is next to impossible. So, they just wait until they go home.

Scotomas
To put it bluntly, many of our colleagues have developed scotomas or blind spots in relation to certain practices in their schools, and content filtering is one of the most prevalent examples. Instead of asking why, they simply shrug their shoulders respond with a deer-in-the-headlights look. I have asked a number of my fellow school leaders about policies and practices in their school and school system relating to content filtering. Most have no idea what is going on in their school regarding filtering or the frustration experienced by their teachers and students.

Flat World
No, the world isn’t flat, but when it comes to content filtering in schools it might as well be. Most school leaders react to my questions relating to filtering in much the same way that Europeans must have reacted when Christopher Columbus challenged the prevailing wisdom of the day by proposing that the world was not flat but was round. School leaders generally accept the status quo related to content filtering with a ‘that’s the way it is’ response.

A Good Day In IT Land
In fact, many school leaders are allowing IT folks to do what we used to joke a few isolated librarians would do–keep the kids out and the books in. That is certainly not the case in today’s school libraries. In fact, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) is leading the way calling for more access and less restrictive filtering practices by declaring September 28, 2011 as Banned Websites Awareness Day. The IT folks should follow the librarians lead on this issue.

Keep in mind that, for some, a good day in IT Land is when no one is on the network, and, thus, there are no problems. From my experience, IT folk are among the usual, but certainly not the only, suspects who are practitioners of ABC management practices–Administration By Convenience.

Over-Compliance
In an April interview, which is a must-read for all school staff and parents, Karen Cator of the U.S. Department of Education takes on what she calls “brute force technologies.” According to Cator, many schools are simply over-complying with federal guidelines.

What you must know about content filtering
In the interview, “Cator parsed the rules of the Childrens Internet Protection Act, and provided guidance for teachers on how to proceed when it comes to interpreting the rules. To that end, here are six surprising rules that educators, administrators, parents and students might not know about website filtering in schools.”

  1. Accessing YouTube is not violating CIPA rules.
  2. Websites don’t have to be blocked for teachers.
  3. Broad filters are not helpful.
  4. Schools will not lose E-rate funding by unblocking appropriate sites.
  5. Kids need to be taught how to be responsible digital citizens.
  6. Teachers should be trusted.

The Solution
If you, as a school leader, don’t advocate for your teachers and students, who will? Content filtering is an important part of any school-wide technology effort. I should know. In my former high school, every one of our 3,200 students had a laptop.

Yes, we blocked inappropriate sites. On occasion, our IT staff blocked appropriate sites, but we had a simple remedy. If a teacher came across a site that she wanted unblocked, she simply emailed me the name of the site and the URL. I forwarded a request to our IT people and, within minutes the problem was solved.

The key here is that, as the principal, I got involved and assumed responsibility. IT people are simply doing what they think is best. If they never hear from us, they have no idea that a problem exists. It is true that some IT people practice the ABCs (Administration-By-Convenience). However, I have found most IT people to be particularly helpful, especially when the school leader is willing to take the time to show interest and to get directly involved.

Don’t wait another day! Meet with your IT staff and discuss content filtering. Work out a plan to address teacher issues and advocate for improved student achievement through the effective use of technology.

Mel Riddle is the Associate Director of the National Association of Secondary Schools Principals (NASSP). He blogs at http://nasspblogs.org/principaldifference. He Tweets as @PrincipalDiff.

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