What is Worse Than a “Super Mugging”?

I don’t know what you call it, but I know it when I see it. A couple months back I wrote about IBM’s sweet $80 million contract to develop ARIS (Achievement Reporting and Innovation System) for the New York City public schools. At the time I used some harsh words to describe this fleecing: swindle...preying on clients’ lack of expertise...Dr. Evil...wasted time and effort.

News comes to me from Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, that the $80 million price tag is, well, a starting point. She pointed me to a recent article that describes the creeping costs:

The education department’s new $80 million student-tracking computer system just got more expensive - and some parents are questioning whether that’s the best use of the money.

To ensure that children’s test scores and other private data don’t get into the wrong hands, the city began accepting bids this week from companies that specialize in safeguarding information, which experts say could add several million dollars to the system’s price.

"What’s not lost on parents of kids in overcrowded schools is that with the money being spent on this, we could build and staff several more schools," said Tim Johnson, president of the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council.

Parents are also wondering whether the system’s mounting cost is worth it - and why education officials didn’t anticipate the extra cost sooner. —New York Daily News

It does seem odd that a $80 million system wouldn’t come pretty well stocked with security, particularly from a blue-chip vendor like IBM. On top of that, Leonie hints at other costs that aren’t being directly counted toward the implementation of this system:

This initiative has mushroomed into a huge expense that threatens to overwhelm the entire school system, with all the SAFS, data inquiry teams, tests, and even the community district superintendents gobbled up to interpret and try to "coach" schools in the use of the massive data that will be spewed out. The DOE wants to charge much of this to the "contracts for excellence" and our CFE dividend, though it’s a real stretch to see if any of this falls under the specific programs outlined by the state.

Good luck to Leonie, Patrick Sullivan and the others who are stepping up to question this white elephant project.