Tuesday, July 15, 2008

No Computer Left Behind

The most serious indicator of how well the schools are doing is the graduation rate for high school seniors. So how well are the city's kids doing? Well, we just don't know because the state and city can't seen to calculate this complex data. As the NY Times reports this morning: "The Class of 2008 has already tossed aside caps and gowns for swimsuits and tank tops. The Class of 2009 has begun dreaming of proms, diplomas and exit strategies. But the public has yet to learn what percentage of New York State’s Class of 2007 actually graduated from high school."

It seems as if the DOEs of both the state and the city are running into computer programming problems that's making it difficult to determine who actually is graduating-a fine mess, isn't it? "Blame the state’s new data system, which is expected to cost $39.4 million over six years. Tom Dunn, a spokesman for the state’s Education Department, acknowledged that the system had been “not completely successful” in uploading and processing information from New York’s 695 school districts. He said the move to a single data repository had “caused a number of problems.”

And how about the city? It's hard to know since the 2006 rate wasn't announced until April 2007-and the move to a single data stream for both the state and the city hasn't been properly worked out: "Asking the public to be patient here is simply not an answer,” said Merryl H. Tisch, a member of the State Board of Regents, who described the delay as “frustrating and intolerable.” “I think the public should frankly demand more timely testing results and more timely graduation data,” she said, “because, after all, they’re being asked to invest an enormous amount of money in the system.”

The city's own computer system apparently has a few glitches, as Advocate Gotbaum told the Times: "Betsy Gotbaum, the New York City public advocate, noted that the city Department of Education’s own $80 million data system, developed by I.B.M. and called ARIS, has been criticized by principals and teachers as cumbersome and difficult to use, even as parents have questioned its hefty price tag. “We have already seen with ARIS here in the city how expensive and flashy computer systems are turning out to be clunky and flawed,” Ms. Gotbaum said in a statement. “The longer we have to wait for these data systems to produce results, the more skeptical people become.” Mr. Cantor said the city was improving ARIS. “While it did not come out of the box perfect,” he said, “we got an awful lot of information to a large number of people.”

This is all pretty funny, especially when we have a mayor whose billionaire fortune was built on computer technology. What it shows to us, and the NY Sun's article on testing underscores as well, is that we simply can't take anything that these DOE folks say for granted. It's time to educate the educators with an independent review of their so-called achievements.