Thursday, February 28, 2008

ARIS Smashed

See Comment #4 for letter from David Yasky and Robert Jackson calling for ARIS contract to be cancelled.

Remember the famous spoof of 1984 with that Apple Super Bowl commercial attacking IBM with all those lemmings going over the cliff? (You can watch it here.)

They landed at Tweed.

(Many years ago I said that one day Joel Klein would be taken out of Tweed with his coat over his head – I half expected to see him among the Gambino Family crowd. Maybe he will be joined by Chief Accountability Officer Jim Liebman.)

Poor ARIS, Joel Klein's $80 million white elephant. Getting trashed all over the place.

Gary Babad is back with a satire over at NYC Public School Parents Blog "DOE Plans Billion Dollar ARIS Upgrade."

I attended a press conference a few years ago when Klein announced how data would be accumulated for teachers to use. Based on my knowledge of the state of computer access in schools (which has suffered severe deterioration under BloomKlein) and the state of available time available during the school day for teachers to check such data (which has also suffered severe deterioration under BloomKlein) I raised this issue with Klein:

"The reality on the ground, is that teachers will not be able to access all this other than on their oen time at home, and that is just not real." Klein just shucked the question off (I guess he figured threats to send teachers to the rubber room for not burning the midnight oil at home checking the ARIS data would suffice.)

Shame on the NYC press corps for ignoring this issue.

ARIS has also been taking hits from the pros. When the system was announced a year ago, the juiceanalytics blog called it an $80 million super mugging.

Ah, the sweet smell of a swindle. Don't you just hate it when consulting companies cajole deals with hand-wringing about technology and, especially, preying on clients' lack of expertise?

Teachers are underpaid, hardly appreciated, and overworked. I can only wonder what the half-life is of a system that asks teachers to log on to get information delivered by the "chief accountability officer."

A new blog post follows up at It is worth repeating in full.

How to Feel Better About Your Data Warehouse Fiasco

Here’s a little predictive analytics:

About a year ago I took a swipe at the “$80 million supercomputer to analyze NYC student achievement.” It smelled more like a super sales job than a super useful analytical tool.

At the time I had said:

Teachers are underpaid, hardly appreciated, and overworked. I can only wonder what the half-life is of a system that asks teachers to log on to get information delivered by the “chief accountability officer.”

Well, it appears that things haven’t gone that smoothly with the supercomputer. Today I received a link from Leonie Haimson, a NYC education advocate, to a story entitled SCHOOLS COMPUTER AN $80M ‘DISASTER’.

Not only has the supercomputer struggled to gain much traction with users (“The school system’s new $80 million computer super system to track student performance has been a super debacle, teachers and principals say.”), it has coincided with severe budget cuts.

We see these data warehousing problems all the time with our clients, and the NYC supercomputer displays all the hallmarks:

  • Delivery delays: Nearly six months after the Department of Education unveiled the “first of its kind” data-management system, the city’s 80,000 teachers have yet to log on because of glitches and delays.
  • Bad user experience: Many principals have complained that it runs slowly, lacks vital information, and is often too frustrating to use.
  • Complicated training and set-up: School officials were hoping to have everyone hooked up and trained within monthsdelays in creating IDs and passwords for teachers
  • Trying to do too much; delivering too little: The principal added that she preferred to get student information from a combination of old data systems “rather than wait for ARIS to churn and churn and churn and maybe give me half the report I need.”
  • Massive cost: Complaints about the expensive system - on which nearly $35 million has been spent so far - have gotten louder since the city unceremoniously chopped $100 million from individual school budgets last month.
  • And yet, few success anecdotes to justify the investment: ARIS had already enabled her data team to analyze the performance trends of the school’s many English-language learners.

It does offer one thing that I haven’t seen before: a Chief Accountability Officer.


  1. They can ARIS all they want...all I know is that my son is in 7th grade and I had to teach him the spelling rule "i before e except after c except when it says 'a' as in neighbor and weigh". He goes to a middle school in a desirable area, so I'm thinking there's a lot to be desired in the pursuit of what education really consists of in New York City, especially under these data-driven non educators.

  2. If all this negative stuff is coming out about ARIS, do you want to predict what their PR campaign is going to look like? That machine's probably still well-oiled.

  3. How these clowns can get away with destroying the school system the way they have with taxpayer money, and probably over a $1 billion of it, is beyond me. How dense are the state legislators? Why is Bloomberg so omnipotent that nothing he does is questioned by either legislators, or the press? The emperor has no clothes, ARIS is worth nothing, and the corruption just keeps on comin', disguised as "reform". I will probably never use ARIS, but I can't even get a drawer in a file cabinet, ARIS or not.
    Ms. Tsouris

  4. Bravo to RJ and David Yassky!

    Joel Klein

    Chancellor, NYC Department of Education

    52 Chambers Street

    New York, NY 10007

    Dear Mr. Klein:

    We are writing to share our great concern about the state of the Achievement Reporting and

    Innovation System (ARIS) in today’s NY Post article titled Schools Computer an $80M

    ‘Disaster’. If the facts reported in the article are accurate, we urge you to terminate the contract

    and to use the remaining funds budgeted for ARIS to restore funding cut from school budgets.

    According to the Request for Proposals, the system is supposed to “allow Central, Regional,

    Network or school professionals to create their own assessments and capture student scores on

    the assessment. ARIS should also allow teachers to use third party provider assessments,

    administer tests both online and offline, process score calculation (both automatically and

    manually) and generate assessment data.” (Page 13)

    IBM’s Overall Statement of Work regarding ARIS dated February 14, 2007, promised a pilot

    release date of June, 2007, which was to include 20 schools and 100 users. A full release

    completion date—including all 90,000 teachers and principals—was promised for September 30,

    2007, as stated on page 97.

    Yet according to today’s article, “the city’s 80,000 teachers have yet to log on [to ARIS] because

    of glitches and delays.” Furthermore, the article states that school officials have no idea when

    the system will be fully functional and ready for use.

    In light of the recent cuts to the education budget, it would be a misallocation of resources to

    continue spending money on this failed system. I urge you to terminate the remainder of the

    ARIS program which we understand has already lost $35 million. The remaining $45 million

    should be put back into the education budget to help offset recent cuts.


    Council Member David Yassky and Council Member Robert Jackson


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