Schools use many ways to control web content–but results are mixed

School leaders employ a number of technologies and strategies to prevent students from accessing inappropriate material online, according to the latest federal study of the issue, released in February. But another recent study by an internet content management firm implies that the results of these efforts might be mixed at best.

According to “Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994-2003,” released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), nearly all public schools have technologies or procedures in place to control web content on all of their computers with internet access. Ninety-six percent of these schools use blocking or filtering software, 93 percent say teachers or other staff members monitor student internet access, 83 percent have a written contract that parents must sign, 76 percent have a contract that students must sign, 57 percent use monitoring software, 45 percent have an honor code, and 39 percent allow access only to their intranet.

Most schools (97 percent) use a combination of these strategies as part of their internet use policy–and, remarkably, there is very little difference in the percentages of schools using each these strategies when the data are disaggregated according to various student demographics. Even administrators in high-poverty schools–those in which 75 percent or more of the student population qualifies for free or reduced-price lunches–responded to the NCES survey in roughly the same manner as their colleagues in other schools.

In a separate survey released last summer, however, internet security firm St. Bernard Software found that just 39 percent of school technology decision-makers would give their districts an “A” for shielding students from inappropriate material online–and nearly one in five would give their districts a “C” or worse. The St. Bernard survey suggests that educators are still looking for help when it comes to managing internet content effectively in their schools.

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