If your district or school already has a web filter, you may think you’ve covered your bases. But there’s more to choosing the right school web filter than simply being CIPA compliant.
While you may think your current web filter is good enough, not all school web filters are created equal. For example, some come with important features as standard that provide a better experience for your teachers and students—and make your job easier. Others, however, do not. And though many free or appliance-based filters may seem to offer everything your school needs, there can be a lot of pitfalls.
Cloud-based web filters designed especially for K-12 education are among the easiest to set up and offer a range of helpful features. But with so many options on the market, your current filter provider might fall short in the areas your school or district needs support with the most.
If you can relate to any of these common problems, you’ll want to read on.
Problem #1: My school web filter doesn’t provide the control or customization options I need
The technology needs in a modern classroom aren’t one size fits all. You need to be able to quickly and easily customize policies and user groups if you want to keep your teachers and students happy online.
This is where many filter solutions fall short. If your web filter isn’t designed specifically for use in K-12 education, it may not provide the flexibility you need when deciding what sites to block and allow. Without this flexibility, you have to choose between blocking a site completely for the entire school or not at all. While this is fine for obviously harmful or inappropriate sites, others aren’t so clear cut. Equally, some sites may be required by teachers but need to be blocked for students.
Your school web filter needs to be flexible enough to support your entire range of usage as well as meet individual teacher preferences. At a minimum, your filter should allow you to:
- Create custom user groups without needing to modify your existing OU structure
- Adjust the allowed and blocked content for each group
- Use a single interface for group creation and policy management
- Apply granular controls, especially for sites like YouTube
Problem #2: My school web filter produces inaccurate alerts
For your school web filter, the reliability of your provider’s block list can make or break your filter selection. With over 250,000 new websites created every single day, you’re relying on your chosen provider to actively update this list—something many filters fall short on.
If your web filter is relying on a static or outdated list, there is no way it will catch new sites—or threats such as malware—before your students can access them. Adding to this shortcoming, your filter may produce inaccurate or undesirable results, which creates false alarms for your already busy teams. If you also lack the ability to customize your own lists or support multiple policies at once, your web filter isn’t really meeting your unique needs as a K-12 school.
Your school will be better served by a web filter that:
- Relies on continuously updated block lists that cover multiple categories, including malware
- Can automatically identify and block new sites that are harmful or inappropriate for students
- Allows you to create customizable block lists with definable guidelines
- Provides the capability to block at a policy level and have multiple block lists per policy
Problem #3: My school web filter isn’t very good at supporting BYOD or iOS devices
Your web filter needs to cover all of the devices and operating systems your students use. For example, if your students use iOS devices, like Macs or iPads, but your school web filter is unable to support user-level reporting without login requirements, this is a significant problem. While this may be fine for older students, younger kids can’t be expected to remember their credentials let alone enter them independently each time.
You may face similar issues with your web filter if your school allows students to use their own devices. Even if this isn’t an immediate concern for your school, with more children than ever owning a device from a young age, you may have to support BYOD sooner than later. This isn’t something a generic commercial web filter was designed to solve for, but a web filter designed especially for K-12 schools should address this.
Regardless of your particular technology program, you need a school web filter that’s capable of:
- Covering all the operating systems used by student devices
- Simplifying authentication and reporting for shared devices
- Providing a seamless user experience, regardless of the device
- Supporting guest networks and users who don’t have credentials
- Allowing separate policies for teacher and staff devices
Is It Time to Revisit Your School Web Filter in 2023?
You may be tempted to keep your current filter—problems and all. Staying the course may seem like the simplest solution given the other priorities you have to juggle. But if you’re experiencing any of these problems, you’re making your job harder than it needs to be. Besides, making the decision to upgrade your school web filter is easier than you may realize.
Read this short article to learn what other K-12 IT directors look for in a school web filter.