Take 5 Minutes for Civil Rights Today

You may have seen the following in your social media feeds:

ACTION ALERT: Through the Federal Register, the U.S. Dept. of Education is receiving comments on why it’s important to preserve and expand the Department’s Civil Rights Data Collection. The Obama Administration published this request for comments on December 30, 2016 and it is essential that we flood Secretary DeVos with comments that explain why this data collection is essential for enforcing civil rights statutes and helping to protect all students. 
Comments are due on Tuesday, February 28. Please click HERE to comment.
All you have to say is: “The Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) provides much-needed transparency and information on key education and civil rights issues in our nation’s public schools. This data helps the U.S. Department of Education achieve its mission of ensuring access to equal educational opportunity for all students. Secretary DeVos must preserve, expand, and publicly share the results of the CRDC.”
Copy and paste on Facebook, but do not share.
This is a real thing.
Here’s some background:
The CRDC collects a variety of information including student enrollment and educational programs and services, most of which is disaggregated by race/ethnicity, sex, limited English proficiency, and disability. The CRDC is a longstanding and important aspect of the ED Office for Civil Rights (OCR) overall strategy for administering and enforcing the civil rights statutes for which it is responsible. Information collected by the CRDC is also used by other ED offices as well as policymakers and researchers outside of ED.
These data range from enrollment numbers to math course offerings to instances of reported bullying. And, for the first time ever, OCR is including school internet access as a  component of healthy civil rights:
2. Access to Internet While many school districts have used the internet to enhance educational opportunities, there have been concerns that schools and school districts do not have equitable access to high-speed internet. This equity concern occurs at both among and within school districts. For the 2017–18 CRDC, OCR is proposing to collect new information regarding internet access:  Amount of school bandwidth in Megabit per second [see Attachment A-2, page 69 (Data Group 1014)] Do many school districts already collect (or could they easily obtain) school bandwidth data that would allow OCR to determine the existence and scope of any such access disparity? Are there other data about connectivity that OCR should consider collecting to gauge access disparity?
The comments you make, published to the Federal Register, require agency staff to respond to the significant issues raised in comments:

How can I use the Federal Register to affect Federal rulemaking?

Federal agencies are required to publish notices of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register to enable citizens to participate in the decision making process of the Government. This notice and comment procedure is simple.

  1. A proposed rule published in the Federal Register notifies the public of a pending regulation.
  2. Any person or organization may comment on it directly, either in writing, or orally at a hearing. Many agencies also accept comments online or via e-mail. The comment period varies, but it usually is 30, 60, or 90 days. For each notice, the Federal Register gives detailed instructions on how, when, and where a viewpoint may be expressed. In addition, agencies must list the name and telephone number of a person to contact for further information.
  3. When agencies publish final regulations in the Federal Register, they must address the significant issues raised in comments and discuss any changes made in response to them. Agencies also may use the notice and comment process to stay in contact with constituents and to solicit their views on various policy and program issues.

If you are someone like me who cares deeply about civil rights, then please take the five minutes to tell the Department of ED why knowing who is in our schools and how they are treated is still important information for our country.

108/365 Why Susan Crawford’s ‘Captive Audience’ is One of the Most Important Books You’ll Read this Year

I finished reading Susan Crawford‘s Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age. Now, I want everyone to read it. More than that, I think everyone should read it.

In a goodreads status update as I was reading, I noted that I was learning more in the book than I remember learning from any of of my high school or undergraduate history classes. Perhaps this feeling comes from the face that Crawford has taken as her focus something that is immediately important to my life and the lives of anyone else living in contemporary society – information and the way we gain access to it.

Traditionally, such books focus on media corporations and their editorial approach to the way newscasts are crafted or what they don’t tell their audiences about given events. While Crawford touches on this lightly, her focus is more on the tubes through which the information travels, who owns them, and the regulation of all of it.

More specifically, the lack of regulation. Crawford draws appropriate comparisons between America’s first Gilded Age and the evolution of how the public and subsequently the government came to think of utilities like the railroads, electricity, water, and the telephones. While information tubes, specifically wired and wireless Internet access provide quite similar services and have take a place of necessity in people’s lives, Crawford documents a series of missteps by regulatory committees in assigning the same common carriage expectations to information infrastructure that it has historically applied to the above utilities.

The result has become a sub-par, monopolized, inequitable information network that lags behind many developing nations.

What I appreciated more than the historical context of the book was the accessibility of the content. One goodreads commenter noted that this was a topic about which he was interested and saw as important, but he hadn’t found a way in to the information.

In this realm, as with her blog, Crawford succeeded tremendously.

The machinations of the corporate world are of great import as I learned in my brief stint as a financial journalist, but the difficulty lies in crafting narratives about those goings on that can call to attention an audience outside of the financial and business field.

Here, Crawford succeeds again. Each piece is logically presented and embedded in a storyline that presents readers with characters and actions that are understandable. While certainly a presentation of information and facts, Captive Audience is also written in such a way that those facts and information are part of a story.

It’s a frightening story with antagonists that seem too immense for the typical citizen to move against. The events and actions are presented as “Here are the things that are being done to you,” and “Here is where your representatives are failing to act on your behalf.”

This is where I found myself needing one more chapter or some supplemental material as I concluded the book. Crawford ends with a possible blueprint for a way forward that would provide the type of access and infrastructure that would break the monopolies and better serve American citizens, but she stops short of advising what those citizens who might not be elected officials or philanthropists can do to affect change.

While I put the book down feeling more informed and ready to engage, I am still unsure as to what I can do to act on that engagement.

Crawford has written an important, thoughtful, and eye-opening book. It is to the benefit of anyone with an Internet connection to pick it up and read it. I’m certainly glad I did.

For more on Crawford, see the below video from her appearance on Moyers & Company.