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Report: Over-filtering of Internet Content Hurts K-12 Education

According to “Fencing Out Knowledge: Impacts of the Children’s Internet Protection Act 10 Years Later,” a report from the American Library Association (ALA), schools and libraries are routinely filtering Internet content far more than what the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requires.

CIPA stipulates that public libraries and K-12 schools use Internet filtering software to qualify for certain federal funding, but according to ALA president Barbara Stripling, “Over-filtering blocks access to legitimate educational resources, and consequently reduces access to information and learning opportunities for students.” For example, she said, some school districts block access to websites containing information about foreign countries such as China and Iran, even as those websites are required reading for the AP curriculum.

Courtney Young, president-elect of the ALA, added that over-filtering hurts students from the poorest homes the most. “These children are the most likely to depend on school- and library-provided Internet access,” she said. “Other children are likely to have unfiltered Internet access at home or through their own mobile devices.” The report concluded that schools that over-filter restrict students from learning key digital readiness skills and hamper the development of their online presence.

“Fencing Out Knowledge,” which was based on a year-long study that included a two-day symposium during the summer of 2013, makes several recommendations. Among them is that school and library leaders should raise awareness of the negative consequences of over-filtering on K-12 education. The report also suggests that the American Library Association work with educational groups and associations to develop a toolkit of resources that refocuses filtering and access policies.

In his commentary on the report, Christopher Harris, chair of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy Advisory Committee and a member of THE Journal’s Advisory Board, advocated against over-filtering. He said, “The challenge is being confident enough in students’ ethics and digital literacy to stop with the most basic level of filtering…. I look forward to assisting with the implementation of the recommendations identified in the report that seek to increase awareness about the issue and identify new solutions.”

About the Author

Christopher Piehler is the former editor-in-chief of THE Journal.