TIME Education

Teach for America Passes a Big Test

But the number of new teacher applications are down this year, for the second year in a row

New teachers who sign up with Teach for America (TFA) for two-year classroom stints in some of the nation’s highest-poverty schools are just as effective as other teachers in those same schools, and sometimes more so, a new study finds.

That’s good news for the national nonprofit, which has come under fire in recent years as battles over education reform have become increasingly contentious.

Critics accuse TFA, which is closely aligned with the charter-school movement, of devaluing the teaching profession by pushing its recruits — mostly young, bright-eyed college grads — into classrooms without adequate experience or training. The organization’s supporters, meanwhile, argue that these new recruits fill a vital role in some of the highest-poverty schools, which are often unable to find teachers at all.

The findings released Wednesday conclude that TFA’s first- and second-year elementary school teachers, who average just over a year and a half of teaching experience, were as effective as their counterparts in the same schools, who averaged 13.6 years of teaching experience, as measured by their students’ test scores in reading and math. A small subset of those TFA teachers — ones in pre-K through second-grade classrooms — were found to be slightly more effective in teaching reading than the national average in those grades.

The study, conducted by the research group Mathematica Policy Research, was required as part of a $50 million U.S. Department of Education grant that TFA received in 2010 to help it recruit and place more teachers in the neediest schools. It was designed to measure the quality of the new teachers recruited and trained between 2011 and 2013.

The study looked at 156 lower elementary school teachers — prekindergarten through fifth grade — from 36 schools across 10 states. TFA teachers were compared with non-TFA teachers at the same school, in the same grade level, who covered the same subjects. The study’s authors noted the results reflect similar findings in previous, large-scale random studies, published in 2004 and 2013.

TFA had planned to use the Department of Education grant to increase the size of its teaching team by more than 80% by September 2014, but fell short of that goal, according to the study. By the 2012–13 school year, it had increased its teaching pool by only 25%, from 8,217 to 10,251 teachers nationwide. The number of new applications are down this year, for the second year in a row.

TIME Education

Ghost of Common Core Haunts Conservative Gathering

CPAC Conservatives Republicans Chris Christie
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME New Jersey governor Chris Christie on stage at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 26, 2015.

For the politicians speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington this week, it’s usually pretty easy to give the grassroots audience the red meat it craves. Abortion? Against it! Taxes? Lower them! Obama? Don’t like him!

But one hot-button issue was trickier than usual for some of the politicians, especially the governors who are likely to run for president in 2016: Common Core.

With one notable exception, the speakers at CPAC were against the state education standards, saying they hurt local control of education and took the power from parents and teachers.

On Thursday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal demanded the immediate repeal of Common Core. That same day, Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon-cum-presidential hopeful, slammed it for eliminating parental choice, while Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz questioned the conservative credentials of anyone who doesn’t actively attempt to dismantle the program. “If a candidate says they oppose Common Core, fantastic,” said Cruz. “[But] when have they stood up and fought against it?”

Meanwhile, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker took turns condemning Common Core for being poorly implemented and impinging on state control.

That was all well and good–anti-Common Core lines tend to earn hoots and applause from the grassroots—but whenever the questioning on Common Core probed ever so slightly deeper, everyone seemed to cringe.

That’s because, just three years ago, the majority of Republican politicians—including Govs. Walker, Jindal, Christie and Jeb Bush—not only supported the implementation of Common Core, they outright championed it. In early 2011, 40 states, including nearly all Republican-led ones, voluntarily signed on to the shared standards. In the next two years, five more followed suit.

In 2011, Walker included Common Core in his first state budget, explicitly instructing the state education chief to come up with a Common Core-aligned state test for Wisconsin kids.

In 2012, Jindal told a crowd of business leaders that Common Core “will raise expectations for every child.”

In 2013, Christie told a crowd of educators that he was sticking with Common Core regardless of the “knee-jerk reaction that is happening in Washington” among Republicans who will simply disagree with anything President Obama supports. “We are doing Common Core in New Jersey and we’re going to continue,” he said boldly.

But as the politics around the issue have shifted, driven largely by a grassroots base of Tea Party conservatives, all of them have tip-toed backwards, either distancing themselves or outright condemning the standards.

All of them, that is, except Jeb Bush.

The former Florida governor has, in the past two years, earned the ire of the conservative base by not only refusing to condemn Common Core, but by continuing to support it. That’s awkward.

Some at CPAC responded to this rift by ignoring it entirely. In a panel about Common Core on Thursday—entitled “Common Core: Rotten To The Core?”—a group of vehemently anti-Common Core educators simply avoided saying Bush’s name. “Entire Common Core panel at CPAC happened without mentioning the words ‘Jeb’ and ‘Bush,'” tweeted Igor Bobic, a politics editor at the Huffington Post.

But others, including Laura Ingraham, who has made no secret of her dislike for the former Florida governor, came at Bush swinging. This morning, the conservative radio host told the crowd that there really wasn’t any difference between Bush and potential Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, citing the two politicians support for Common Core as among their similarities. “So I’m designing the bumper sticker,” she said. “It could be, Clush 2016: What difference does it make?”

TIME Education

White House Takes The Gloves Off in Education Fight

President Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with the Amir of Qatar - DC
Olivier Douliery—Pool/Corbis President Barack Obama looks on during a meeting with the Amir of Qatar, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Feb. 24, 2015.

After years of bipartisan language urging Congress to seize on “common goals” and “shared interests” to revise a dysfunctional federal education law, the Obama administration appears to be taking the gloves off.

In a conference call with the press this week, the Department of Education slammed the House Republicans’ proposed bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as No Child Left Behind, which is scheduled for a House vote Friday.

The Department of Education called the bill regressive, “bad for children” and said it would amount to hundreds of millions of dollars of cuts to education spending. It then stopped short—but just barely—of calling the House bill outright racist.

Those fightin’ words come on the heels of yet another pugnacious White House report, released Feb. 13, which described the House Republicans’ proposal as a vehicle for shifting federal dollars “from high-poverty schools to more affluent districts.”

Rep. John Kline, the Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, has parried the administration’s attacks, arguing that the bill does not cut funding at all and that it simply changes the way federal dollars are allocated to low-income districts, which serve mostly black and Latino kids.

But Cecilia Muñoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, told TIME that these issues are “very, very important” to the White House. “It’s very, very hard to reconcile the contents of this bill with the president’s long term goal of making sure every child is successful in school,” she said.

From the Obama Administration’s perspective, there are two primary issues at stake here. The first is how the new education law allocates federal dollars—known as Title I funding—to low-income school districts, which disproportionately serve black and Latino students.

Under the current version of ESEA, known as No Child Left Behind, Title I funding goes to districts with the highest percentages of low-income kids. The idea is that poor kids who attend schools full of mostly middle- and upper-middle-class kids are in a much better position—and therefore less in need of federal help—than poor kids who attend schools with lots of other poor kids. That analysis, a senior Department of Education official told TIME, is based on “decades of research” into how low-income students perform at different schools.

The House Republican proposal, which mirrors language in a recent draft of the Senate version of the bill, would fundamentally change that formula. Instead of funneling federal dollars to the schools with the highest percentages of low-income students, Title I funding would be allocated on a per-student basis. Kline has said that rejiggering that formula allows every low-income child who attends a public school to receive his or her “fair share” of federal assistance.

The Administration argues that would be a disaster. Allocating Title I funding on a per-student basis would lead to huge funding cuts in 100 of the largest school districts in the country, according to a White House report. Philadelphia City School District, which is 55% black, could lose $412 million, according to the DOE. Shelby County schools in Tennessee, which are 81% black, could lose $114 million.

Kline dismissed the White House’s claims, saying that they were “budget gimmicks” and “scare tactics” that entered “the realm of make-believe.”

The second issue at stake is the overall federal education budget. As it is, federal education spending is still at sequestration levels, roughly $800 million below where it was before. The House bill proposes to more or less leave that spending level in place, increasing it by only a smidgen—from $14 to 14.8 billion total—until 2021. It does not cut spending, staffers say, it simply retains a budget slightly higher than the current status quo.

A senior Department of Education official told TIME that while it’s technically true that the House bill does not cut spending, the point is that “it will feel like a cut,” especially in low-income school districts that, under the House bill, might see less Title I funding too. “The House bill cements sequestration level budget caps for an additional six years,” he said, and does not increase, even to keep up with inflation or rising enrollment. “The result is that by 2021, schools will have less money than they had before 2012.”

This week’s battle of words is mostly a dress rehearsal for a much larger fight over the final version of ESEA. Senate Education Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander expects to bring a Senate version the floor next month, with a vote on a final bill this summer.

The House bill, which is up for a vote on Friday, won’t have an easy path to victory. In addition to scathing criticism from the Obama administration, it is also up against a growing coalition of opponents on the right. This week, conservative mainstays like the Heritage Action and the Club For Growth have been pushing Republican lawmakers to vote against the bill on the grounds that it allows too much federal control over education.

In an effort to quell this conservative mutiny, Republicans adopted an amendment to the bill Thursday night that would allow school districts and states to come up with their own assessment systems—a move that further alienates the Obama Administration.

President Obama announced this week that if the final rewrite of the federal education bill ends up looking like the House version, he will veto it.

Muñoz, who spoke to TIME over the phone on Tuesday, said that the White House will fight hard for a bill that reflects “the president’s idea of what education should be.”

“It’s our job, the federal government, Congress’ job, to make sure every student is successful,” she said, adding that the House Republicans’ bill does not do that. “It’s just manifestly true that when you reduce resource to a place like Detroit and increase resources to a place like Grosse Pointe, you’re undercutting our primary goal of ensuring that every child is successful,” she said.

TIME technology

The Other Reason Cable Companies Are Sad Today

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler arrives at FCC Net Neutrality hearing in Washington
Yuri Gripas—Reuters Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler arrives at a FCC Net Neutrality hearing in Washington on Feb. 26, 2015.

The Federal Communication Commission earned a lot of ink today for its historic vote approving the strongest possible new net neutrality rules, a move that the cable and telecom industry has described as disastrous.

But just before that much-publicized vote was another, quieter one—one that has to do with municipal broadband rules. With that vote, the FCC approved two Southern cities’ petition to extend their publicly funded Internet services to nearby areas. The cable and telecom industry isn’t so happy about that move, either.

Like the 3-2 vote on the new net neutrality rules, FCC’s decision on municipal broadband was strongly opposed by industry groups, which have spent millions lobbying for the opposite result, and ended up breaking down on party lines—with three Democrats in favor and two Republicans against.

At first glance, what’s a stake here is relatively minute. The FCC’s decision merely grants Chattanooga, Tennesee, and Wilson, North Carolina, permission to extend their publicly funded broadband service to regions outside their city limits, where private sector Internet service providers don’t provide high-speed coverage.

But advocates and critics say it’s actually much bigger than that.

Organizations in favor of the FCC’s vote say it sets a powerful precedent for other cities that want to offer publicly-funded broadband networks to their citizens, but can’t because of state laws banning local governments from building or owning broadband services.

“[A]llowing communities to be the owners and stewards of their own broadband networks is a watershed moment that will serve as a check against the worst abuses of the cable monopoly for decades to come,” wrote Christopher Mitchell, the Director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, in a press release.

Meanwhile, organizations opposed to the FCC’s vote say it’s an effort to unlawfully expand the agency’s authority, since it attempts to preempt state laws. Lawrence J. Spiwak, the president of the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal and Economic Public Policy Studies, says it’s a pointless battle, since the issue has already been litigated at the Supreme Court.

A 2004 case, Nixon v. Missouri Municipal League, held that the FCC “lacks authority to preempt state laws that restrict or prohibit municipal broadband deployment,” Spiwak wrote.

Both of today’s big FCC decisions have been celebrated by public interest advocates and slammed by industry groups. But it’s not the end of line of either decision. Both the new net neutrality rules and the expansion of municipal broadband are expected to be challenged in court before the year is out.

TIME politics

FCC Votes ‘Yes’ on Strongest Net-Neutrality Rules

Net-neutrality advocates quite literally danced in the snowy streets Thursday outside the Federal Communications Commission in Washington just before the agency voted to approve the strongest ever rules on Net neutrality.

The vote marks the culmination of a yearlong struggle that pitted grassroots Internet advocates and Silicon Valley tech giants against the titans of the telecom industry.

The FCC’s vote is considered a historic victory for so-called open-Internet advocates, and a major blow to big Internet service providers, such as Comcast and Verizon, which will now be subject to stronger regulations.

Crucially, the FCC’s new rules were designed to give the agency explicit legal authority to regulate broadband-Internet providers by reclassifying broadband under Title II of the federal Communications Act.

Because of a weedy legal issue, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit found in January 2014 that the FCC did not have authority to regulate broadband, and therefore threw out the FCC’s previous rules on Net neutrality, which were passed in 2010. The court recommended that the FCC reclassify broadband under Title II in order to establish its regulatory authority. Mobile-phone companies and public utilities are also classified under Title II.

The ISPs strongly opposed the Title II reclassification. They argue that the move will destroy innovation and investment in the nation’s digital infrastructure by imposing burdensome regulations on the industry. For example, under Title II, the FCC technically has the power to dictate how much ISPs can charge customers for online access.

The FCC has vowed it won’t regulate broadband as strongly as it could and that it will not control broadband prices. The new rules include a line guaranteeing that the FCC will not regulate “unbundling, tariffs, or other forms of rate regulation.”

Many Net-neutrality advocates, including President Obama and Hillary Clinton, who did not immediately support Title II reclassification, have announced their support for the move recently. Clinton said at a conference on Tuesday that the move is the only plausible option available to the agency, which needs to establish its legal authority in order to regulate broadband at all.

Earlier this week, Republicans on Capitol Hill said they would not actively oppose the FCC’s new Net-neutrality rules, since any new bill would be nearly impossible to get through Congress without Democratic support. But Verizon, AT&T and their trade group, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, aren’t giving up quite yet. They are expected to sue the FCC again this year in an effort to have the rules thrown out.

The stakes in this battle are high. Net neutrality, the concept that an Internet-service provider can’t block, slow or otherwise hamper users’ access to any online site, has an immediate impact on nearly every business and individual in the country.

One of the biggest sources of controversy has been over what’s known as paid-prioritization agreements or Internet fast lanes. Open-Internet advocates and Silicon Valley tech firms, such as Google, Amazon and eBay, lobbied hard that any new Net-neutrality rules should explicitly forbid ISPs from collecting payment from web companies for delivering their content to Internet users more quickly or in higher quality in paid fast lanes. A record-breaking 4 million people wrote to the FCC last year to comment on its proposed Net-neutrality rules. The majority of commenters supported a version of Net neutrality that prohibited fast lanes.

The ISPs, meanwhile, have argued that paid-prioritization agreements should be allowed, and that the notion was not at all at odds with the concept of “Net neutrality.” (Comcast, for example, has spent millions of dollars on advertisements saying it is in favor of neutrality rules. But its definition of Net neutrality allows for paid-prioritization agreements.) The FCC’s new Net-neutrality rules, passed today, bar paid-prioritization agreements.

The FCC’s 3-2 vote Thursday broke down on party lines. Both Republican commissioners opposed the rules; all three Democrats, including chairman Tom Wheeler, who has close ties with the telecom industry, voted in favor of it. When the vote was announced, the room exploded in cheers.

Read next: The Other Reason Cable Companies Are Sad Today

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME technology

Grumpy Cat Grounded By Blizzard

"Grumpy Guide To Life: Observations From Grumpy Cat" Book Event At Indigo
George Pimentel—WireImage Grumpy Cat attends the "Grumpy Guide To Life: Observations From Grumpy Cat" Book Event on Aug. 9, 2014 in Toronto.

A mischievous plan by net neutrality advocates to hire an airplane to tow a banner-sized image of Grumpy Cat past Comcast’s corporate headquarters in Philadelphia on Thursday morning has been thwarted by a snowstorm.

The fly-by was originally timed to happen just after the Federal Communications Commission votes on rules safeguarding net neutrality.

The banner would have featured Grumpy Cat, whose look of withering contempt has become a popular meme for Internet lovers, next to the words: “Comcast: Don’t Mess With the Internet. Public wins. Team Cable loses. #SorryNotSorry.”

The three net neutrality advocacy groups behind the hijinks—Fight for the Future, Demand Progress and Free Press—perhaps chose the plane’s intended flight path to thumb their noses at Comcast, the nation’s largest broadband Internet provider, which has spent millions this year attempting to stop the FCC from passing the version of net neutrality rules it is considering today.

The Flight of the Grumpy Cat has been tentatively rescheduled for tomorrow.

TIME 2016 Election

Hillary Backs Strongest Net Neutrality Rules

Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gives the keynote speech during LeadOn:Watermark's Silicon Valley Conference For Women at Santa Clara Convention Center on Feb. 24, 2015 in Santa Clara, California.
Marla Aufmuth—Getty Images Former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gives the keynote speech during LeadOn:Watermark's Silicon Valley Conference For Women at Santa Clara Convention Center on Feb. 24, 2015 in Santa Clara, California.

Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate voices support for Title II

Hillary Clinton said at a Silicon Valley conference for women leaders Tuesday that she supports President Barack Obama’s call for the strongest possible rules to safe guard net neutrality.

That includes, Clinton said, reclassifying broadband providers under what’s known as Title II of the Communications Act, the most controversial option available to the government. It’s the first time the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate has voiced support for the Title II option.

Clinton’s speech and interview at the Lead On Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women marked the first time she has spoken publicly in the country this year. And while she didn’t directly address any 2016 plans, it was the closest she’s come to saying that she’ll run.

In an interview with longtime tech journalist and Re/Code editor Kara Swisher after her speech, for which she was paid handsomely, Clinton admitted she’s “obviously” thinking about running, but has to check a few more things of her list before making a decision.

“I have a very long list. I’m going down it. And I haven’t checked off the last couple of things yet,” she said, cheekily. The crowd, dominated by women entrepreneurs, applauded in approval.

While the former secretary of state’s prepared speech traded largely in platitudes about equal pay for women and breaking glass ceilings, the interview with Swisher afterward was one of the most substantive public discussions Clinton has had in months. Swisher asked primarily about technology-related policy issues, like net neutrality, encryption, and privacy.

Clinton was most precise in her policy position about whether the Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) should reclassify broadband providers under Title II of the Communications Act—a controversial move that puts Internet companies in the same category as more highly-regulated industries, like mobile phone companies and public utilities.

“For the FCC to… create net neutrality as the norm, they have to have a hook to hang it on,” Clinton said. “[Title II] is the only hook they’ve got.” The FCC will vote Thursday on whether to use Title II to regulate net neutrality rules.

With regards to former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, Clinton acknowledged that while she can’t condone his decision to leak secret documents about the agency’s surveillance programs, she said her own position is mixed. She called on the NSA to be more transparent with the public—”I think a lot of the reaction about the NSA was that people felt betrayed,” she explained—but added later that some surveillance is necessary. “I do want to get the bad guys,” she said.

As for the threat of ISIS in the Middle East, Clinton said she supports the Obama administration’s efforts against the Islamist militant group. “I think the right moves are being made,” she said, before underscoring the complexity of the issue. “It’s a very hard challenge because you can’t very well put American or Western troops in to fight this organism. You have to use not only air force but also army soldiers form the region, and particular from Iraq.”

Clinton laid blame on former U.S. ally, ex-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, for stoking sectarian conflict in Iraq and “decimating” the country’s army, which helped allow ISIS to become “a metastatcizing danger” in the region.

The interview ended with a couple softball questions. If Clinton could wave a magic wand and change anything she wanted in the country, what would it be? Swisher asked.

Clinton said she would “get us back to working together cooperatively again.” The crowd roared.

TIME Health Care

Should Mentally Ill People Be Forced Into Treatment?

A new study finds that involuntary psychiatric treatment programs can keep people from cycling through ERs, jails, prisons, and homeless shelters—and therefore save taxpayers gobs of money. Is it worth it?

During the 1960s, Americans were horrified to learn about conditions within the state mental hospital systems, where patients were often abused and neglected, made to submit to dangerous medical procedures, or simply left live in squalid conditions for life. The popular backlash, made famous through books and movies such as One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, led to a general consensus against forcing anyone, under any circumstances, to receive psychiatric treatment against their will.

Now that belief is beginning to fade in large part because of simple budgetary math.

As it turns out, it’s just plain expensive for taxpayers to care for the small number of people with serious mental illnesses who refuse treatment and therefore end up homeless, incarcerated or draining the public coffers with multiple interventions and hospitalizations. At the same time, new psychiatric medications and methods have made it possible for people to get well without becoming long-term inpatients in the first place.

A new study, released this week by the Health Management Associates, a consulting firm, found that states and counties that have passed laws to allow local judges to order people into short-term psychiatric treatment spend substantially less money on treating mental illness than states and counties that don’t.

These programs, known as Assisted Outpatient Treatment are basically narrowly tailored safety-net programs designed to stabilize people with serious mental illnesses, and to keep them from ending up in a hospital, homeless or incarcerated. They require states and counties to pony-up a significant amount of cash in the short-term in order to build or maintain inpatient and outpatient facilities and organize a networks of mental health professionals, who are then legally responsible for them.

But that initial expense then ends up paying for itself, the Health Management Associates study finds. The outpatient program in New York City, for example, produced net cost savings of 47%, the study found. In the five counties surrounding New York, it saved 58%, and in Summit County, Ohio, it saved 50%, according to the study. In all three locations, the main cost-savings came from reducing the number of psychiatric hospitalizations. In New York City, the number of such hospitalizations dropped 40%; in Summit County, they dropped 67%. People who are assigned to Assisted Outpatient Treatment programs must fit certain criteria: they must have a serious mental illness, like schizophrenia or another disease with psychotic symptoms, and have a recent history of repeated violence or criminal activity.

Technically, Assisted Outpatient Treatment programs exist in 46 states across the country. But in most places, they are in name only. That’s partly because taxpayers and politicians have been unwilling to spend the cash to to get these pricey programs off the ground in the first place. And it’s partly because the idea itself—allowing judges to force people to receive psychiatric treatment against their will—remains deeply controversial.

Many patient rights advocates argue that any involuntary treatment whatsoever is an violation of a person’s civil rights. Others argue that such programs discourage people with serious mental illnesses from seeking treatment on their own. Daniel Fisher, a psychiatrist and the founder of the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery, told TIME last year that he worries such programs represent “a slippery slope” back to the kind of mass institutionalization seen in the 1940s and ’50s.

But in many parts of the country, including liberal bastions such as the San Francisco Bay Area, lawmakers are beginning to embrace AOT programs on both fiscal and humanitarian grounds. Although people with symptoms of serious mental illness make up only about 4% of the U.S. population, they account for 15% of state prisoners, 24% of jail inmates and as much as 30% of the chronically homeless population, according to government records. People with serious mental illnesses are also nearly 12 times as likely as the average person to be the victim of a violent crime, like rape, and as much as eight times as likely to commit suicide.

The Health Management Associates study, which was presented to the Treatment Advocacy Center, an organization dedicated to promoting Assisted Outpatient Treatment programs, is the latest in a long line of similar studies that have attempted to quantify the cost of not treating the seriously mentally ill.

Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, has estimated that the total cost of non-treatment to the government—including things like Medicare, Medicaid, disability support and lost productivity—is as much as $317 billion per year. Other studies have suggested that it costs federal, state and local governments $40,000 to $60,000 to care for a single homeless person with a serious mental illness. There are roughly 250,000 mentally ill homeless people in the U.S. today.

While no single study has looked at the cost of caring for all U.S. inmates with serious mental illnesses, some state and local studies have found that it costs roughly twice as much to incarcerate an inmate with a mental illness as one without and can run states up to $100,000 per inmate per year. There are an estimated 356,000 seriously mentally ill inmates in the U.S. today.

TIME technology

Obama’s New Plan for Online Security Faces Some Big Questions

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks in Washington on Feb. 11, 2015.
Yin Bogu—Xinhua Press/Corbis U.S. President Barack Obama speaks in Washington on Feb. 11, 2015.

President Obama wants Corporate America to work more closely to fend off hackers, but his new plan won’t achieve much unless he can get Congress to work more closely with him.

At a tech conference at Stanford University Friday, Obama is expected to provide more details about a new federal cyber intelligence unit which is designed to better coordinate the analysis of various online threats.

The White House’s plan hinges on the idea that companies should unite in the face of a common threat. The basic idea is that if Anthem, Sony or Home Depot—all companies that have suffered major cyber attacks recently—shared in real-time how their defenses were breached, then other companies and the federal government would be better able to stop similar attacks.

To that end, Obama’s executive order is expected encourage companies to set up voluntary, information sharing and analysis organizations (ISAOs) to help other companies and the U.S. government disseminate information about cyber threats more quickly, according to a White House statement. (That part of the White House’s plan is not totally new. Voluntary Information Sharing and Analysis Centers, ISACs, already exist within many sectors, although in most industries, they’re flimsy at best.)

Senior industry figures as well as advocates and lawmakers concerned about consumer privacy say that while the Obama plan might sound good, it’s riddled with problems. They suggest that emphasizing rapid-fire, real-time information sharing raises a host of major legal questions ranging from privacy to anti-trust issues.

For example, analysts say that the kind of threat that companies would share at these new ISAOs are likely to include customers’ personal information. Privacy advocates say that such information would have to be carefully stripped-out or redacted before it could be shared—a process that would seriously slow down information-sharing efforts and give companies a reason not to share information that may get them in legal trouble later.

The White House, for its part, has gone the opposite route: it has proposed legislation that would legally shield companies sharing cyber threat information at ISAOs, but Congress hasn’t bitten. The executive action is expected to further that effort.

Others opposed to the Obama plan worry that the data shared at ISAOs could include highly-confidential or proprietary information about a company’s security system, which raises anti-trust questions. If two competing companies share proprietary information under the guise of sharing cyber-threat information, are they technically colluding with each other?

Meanwhile, some Republican lawmakers are opposed to the president’s plan because it suggests that the federal government would play too big of a role in the private sector by encouraging companies to communicate with government-monitored clearinghouses. “Unilateral, top-down solutions will not solve America’s cyber problems,” said Speaker John Boehner’s spokesperson, Cory Fritz, in a statement.

The White House has played down concerns about the new executive action, emphasizing that participating in the ISAOs would be entirely voluntary, that protecting civil rights would be a key component of the new sharing framework, and that companies would simply be encouraged to develop a common set of standards for better combatting cyber threats. White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel has said that the federal government can’t prevent cyber threats on its own and needs the private sector to take an active role in improving its own policies and sharing information.

Apple CEO Tim Cook is expected to speak at the conference at Stanford today, although top Google, Yahoo and Facebook executives have said that they will not attend. Their cooperation, as well as Congress’, will be the key to whether Obama’s ambitious new agenda actually happens.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser