Like all massive disasters, this has to take place in New York City. ARIS, the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, is New York City’s web-based portal for NYC school teachers and students. It is a case study that unfortunately typifies the experience of public education in technology. While I generally encourage educational institutions to move towards technology, I can’t help but abhor the incompetence in how they go about it.
First, those that sit on the school board have no idea what it costs to build a web application and thus the district is bound to get completely ripped off. ARIS was built for the NYC public schools for a sum of $80 million dollars. That’s a lot of money for IT infrastructure, even on a per student basis.
Second, due to the giant pain of the “sales cycle” in education, all but the most cumbersome businesses wouldn’t even touch the market with a ten foot pole. The company contracted to build ARIS was none other than IBM, and the result was precisely what one might expect: it’s down a lot, it’s painfully slow, it’s ugly, and few people use it outside of top-down mandates.
This amidst enormous budget cuts – of course educators and administrators are angry
Public Education is not taking cues from the rest of the world. If it was, they would let young (cheap) technologists have at it. Almost all the good web technology came out a few people sitting in their room tinkering, and within a year or two they created something useful, fast, and sometimes even pretty.
Innovation almost never comes from the institutional players; it comes from small teams of people that pop up out of nowhere with something groundbreaking. If education wants any piece of that action, they need to learn to skip the big money and the big companies and make room for all the little players out there trying to make products that make a difference to teachers and students.
Recommendation: Every district should set up a small committee with discretionary funds that can purchase or license technology on a whim with the specific objective of moving fast with smaller amounts of money.