Klein Cashes in on Race to the Top
June 9th, 2011
The Daily News’ Rachel Monahan has an eye-opening story today that the state is about to award a chunk of its federal Race to the Top funds to the company now run buy former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. It’s hard to imagine a tale more rife with seeming conflicts of interest.
First the news, according to Monahan: The state Department of Education is about to award a $27 million no-bid contract to Wireless Generation to develop software to track student test scores, achievement and so on. The system would be similar to the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, or ARIS, developed for the city schools when Klein ran them.
The state, according to the News, said the no-bid contract is justified because ARIS already cover a third of the state (i.e. the city) and the system has received national recognition.
Recognition, yes, — but not all of it positive.
During ARIS’ development, many raised concerns about its $80 million price tag. While the original contract for it was with IBM, the computer giant hired Wireless Generation as subcontractor and that company has done the bulk of the work.
The system was slow to get off the ground, and parents and teachers complained they were not consulted about what they would want it to do. Now that the program is up and running, though many teachers and parents make good and frequent use of it. But it has shortcomings.
“Principals and data geeks can use it to sort out information for an entire school or grade, but it doesn’t have the details teachers want on a daily basis,” WNYC’s Beth Fertig concluded after speaking with teachers earlier this year. “Classroom quizzes, for example, never make it to ARIS.”
Schools can use ARIS for free, but according to a story by NY1’s Lindsey Christ, an increasing number of schools “are paying to use another systems instead,” with some of these systems developed by people working in the school system.
One would think the simple existence of these, albeit smaller systems, would be enough to prompt the state to open this contract up for bids.
During his time leading the school system, Klein seemed to be a big fan of Wireless Generation. He energetically promoted ARIS promising it would be “revolutionary.” Wireless Generation continues to work on ARIS — the city decided earlier this year to fork over another $3 million for improvements — and to trumpet its association with New York’s public schools.
Klein also spearheaded efforts to institute the School of One program to use technology to transform schools. Wireless Generation , according to its website, was ” the lead partner to the New York City Department of Education in the creation and ongoing evolution of School of One.” (In March, after Klein’s departure, the Department of Education announced it was delaying expansion of School of One.)
In November, Klein announced he was leaving the city schools to oversees investments in digital learning for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Klein’s base salary is reportedly $2 million, with a $1 million signing bonus and the possibility of hundreds of thousands ore in other bonuses.
Two weeks after Klein made this lucrative arrangement, News Corp., bought Wireless Generation. Wireless Generation would not tell a reporter how long the deal had been in the works.
The $27 million contract from the state will boost News Corp.’s digital learning business. And it might even bring Klein some of that bonus money.
In the meantime, though, itís prompting questions.
“It raises all kinds of red flags,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York told Monahan. “It just smacks of an old-boys club, where large amounts of public money are spent based not on ‘is this the best product?’ but ‘I know this guy and I like him and I want to be sure he makes a lot of money.'”
“I’m not a fan of no-bid contracts under any circumstances, but the New York State Department of Education awarding $27 million to Wireless Generation, a company owned by Rupert Murdochís News Corp. and headed up by former New York City school chancellor, Joel Klein, smacks of cronyism,” E.D. Kain wrote. ARIS may indeed be a useful tool for educators and administrators, but you have to question the very real conflicts of interest in all of this.”
Even before the latest revelation, Peridido Street School blogged, “Just how did the former schools chancellor get to sign all these contracts with Wireless Generation, then get to run the online K-12 for-profit education division of News Corp. after Rupert Murdoch bought the company?”
Interesting question.By Gail Robinson on June 9, 2011, 5:09 pm
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