The state's education department plans to award a no-bid contract for building a data system to the same company that built New York City's ARIS system for tracking student achievement. The company, Wireless Generation, is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, where former schools chancellor Joel Klein now works.
Though former Chancellor Klein is now a vice president for educational technology at News Corp, and was involved in the ARIS project for New York City, Wireless Generation insists he had "nothing to do with" the new state contract.
Company spokesman Zach Silverstein says Wireless responded to the state’s invitation for companies to express their interest back in June of 2009, a year and a half before Klein joined News Corp. The state wanted to build a system for tracking children from kindergarten through the end of high school as part of its Race to the Top application. It eventually won the $700 million federal grant.
The Brooklyn-based Wireless Generation will receive almost $27 million for its work on the project. In a document given to the state comptroller's office, education department officials in Albany explained why it wanted to give the project to Wireless Generation without considering other bids. They stated that the cost of using Wireless Generation is reasonable, that it had experience in New York City, and that the state only has four years to build the new data system.
The city's data system, ARIS, was heavily criticized at first by many teachers and principals because it fell behind schedule and wasn't very user friendly. However, many insiders blame the main contractor, IBM, which later handed over the work to Wireless Generation. There are still features that aren't fully developed, though. Some schools spend their own money on other software programs to track student quizzes and classwork because they can't do it on ARIS. But the city says these features will soon be added to ARIS.
When asked about the contract, state education department's spokesman Tom Dunn said "Consistent with our Race to the Top commitments made well over a year ago, this contract provides for an integrated and flexible student data system in an open source, non-proprietary application that will save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars and improve education across the State."