Thursday, February 26, 2009

Money for Nothing?

So the stimulus plan allocates $650 million to America's public schools for educational technology.  Is it enough?  Is it ever?

This money needs to be spent effectively and intelligently.  I worry it won't be.  (Nothing new in educational spending.)  There's a little over 95,000 public schools in this country.  The funds aren't distributed to states or school districts equally, but let's just pretend they are for a second - that's about $6,800 per school.  Not that it's chump change, but technology and its implementation is expensive.

For one, part of the money is to be spent on "data systems that track student achievement."  

Arne Duncan "said he wants states to use other funds allocated in the stimulus package to adopt accountability-oriented reforms along the lines of some recent New York City initiatives, such as the creation of a comprehensive data system, called ARIS, and the introduction of a program that gives some teachers bonuses based on their students’ test scores. The city Department of Education said in a press release...that it might try to use some of its stimulus money to expand those initiatives."

ARIS, or the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, "gives educators access in one place to critical information about their students – ranging from enrollment history, diagnostic assessment information, credits accumulated towards graduation, and test scores to special education status and family contact information. ARIS combines this information with an online library of instructional resources and with collaboration and social networking tools that allow users to share ideas and successes with other educators in their school and across the City.".

Doesn't sound bad, right?  How about at the bargain price of $80 million dollars for five years?  It's also used to "to give each school a letter grade, A to F, and will show whether principals are meeting their performance targets."  And, no surprise, it's been plagued with many of the problems that always plague the launch of these technological behemoths.  Elizabeth Green has a lot of good stuff on ARIS over at Gotham Schools, if you're interested.

Sigh.  Can someone please just give me the budget and the red pen?  Money doesn't grow on trees.  If it did, I wouldn't care about this "investment."  But $80 million dollars?  In one city?  For data mining?  Are you kidding?  This is precisely why I have a problem with non-educators running the show.  Almost all of the things that ARIS supposedly does could have been done with existing systems - at a much lower cost.  When I think about what that 80 mil could have been spent on...

And now we're stuck with a Secretary of Education who wants to repeat that on a nationwide scale.  Excellent.

I didn't initially plan to write this rant on data collection in schools, but that's where it went.  The part I originally planned to focus on was the computer lab part - I think it's an ineffective and un-integrated way of adding technology to schools.  I think computers and technology should be in the classroom, not down the hall.  Personally, I'd be happier with one or two computers in my room.  I understand, due to budgets and resources, that's not always possible, but I still see it set up that way in the "wealthy" school districts and I think it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the right way to integrate technology.  

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