Friday, October 24, 2008

As Schools Face Cuts, Delays on Data System Bring More Frustration

Apparently only teachers, and studnets are held accountable by Mr. Three Term. Outside contractors are held to lower standards.


An elaborate $80 million data and information system that was supposed to be ready in September to allow New York City public school parents to see things like which courses their children need to graduate, or how their test scores compare with citywide averages, has been unavailable even to school principals so far this fall. In its absence, 21 principals have used up to $13,000 in school funds for a more bare-bones data-management program that was developed by staff members at a Brooklyn high school eager to track their own data in an age of accountability.

The status of the information system — known as ARIS, for Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, developed by I.B.M. and a group of subcontractors — is touching a raw nerve as schools throughout the city brace for $185 million in budget cuts.

Ernest A. Logan, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, the union that represents the city’s principals and assistant principals, said that he had had “major concerns” about the progress and cost of ARIS, and that this had been the topic of “ongoing conversations” with Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein.

“For something that would supposedly be a resource for schools and school leaders, it really has not come through as it should have,” Mr. Logan said. “I can understand the desire to have something that is supposedly helping, but I’m now looking at the amount of money that we put into this thing, especially when we’re thinking about cutting back.”

One Brooklyn elementary school principal — who, like a half dozen other principals interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from the Education Department, said in frustration:

“Principals are held accountable for everything, as you well know, but I.B.M. isn’t held accountable for $80 million that they’ve been paid for a system that they haven’t been able to get working?” A March 2007 news release announcing the I.B.M. contract described ARIS as a “first-of-its-kind data management system” that would “make innovations at one school available” to others, and projected that data would be available to teachers and administrators that September and to parents a year later.

James S. Liebman, the Education Department’s chief accountability officer, said on Thursday that the project was “proceeding in an appropriate manner” and “in the way we anticipated.” He said that parents would begin gaining access to the system in December, and noted that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, in his State of the City speech in January, said that ARIS would be online by the fall, not September specifically.

Mr. Liebman said that 7,500 to 9,000 school employees, including principals, certain teachers and central Education Department staff, had access last year to ARIS, which at that point included basic demographic information, as well as data used to compile the city’s A through F report cards, like credit accumulation, attendance and scores on Regents exams and other state tests.

He said that the system was shut down in July for an upgrade and that it would be back online for principals by the first week of November with more detailed student information as well as interactive functions like blogs that would allow educators to share information about reading curriculums or innovative ways to teach first-graders addition.

He said teachers would gain access to the system in November as well, with enhanced capabilities allowing them to compare data for all their students.

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