Wednesday, March 7, 2007

ARIS: Boon or Boondoggle?

“The city just awarded IBM a five-year contract to create a massive system to manage, track, analyze, and share information about student and school performance. But it won't buy Johnny new pencils.”

That's how a properly skeptical article from, of all places, Information Week, begins about the DoE purchase of the ARIS system, called “Can An $80 Million IBM Deal Save New York City's Schools?”

"How will this look in practice? Think of a teacher trying to help a student struggling with geometry... The teacher could tap into the system and search for best practices on geometry instruction, and get contact information for teachers identified as having strong skills in that area."

Sure, this is reasonable, for a teacher to pursue for his 150-160 students -- when it's too time- consuming for most of them even to be able to correct weekly homework.

"IBM says ARIS will be a highly secure system, yet it's likely some parents and teachers will voice concerns about a Big Brother approach to tracking the performance of more than one million students, and even teachers, which total about 90,000 in the public school system."

The conclusion?

“….businesses and schools are worlds apart on the types of challenges they face. Technology may help, but it'll never be able to address the all-too-familiar problems of overcrowded classrooms, overworked or inefficient teachers, and lack of parent participation and funding."



Patrick Sullivan said...

Has anyone who will be made to use the system had any input into it? Given the typical Bloomberg/Klein disdain for the opinions of parents and teachers, I can't see how this monstrosity will succeed at anything other than fattening IBM's bottom line.

Julius Adams said...

Again, as a former consultant with major firms and doing work for major companies, I am appalled at the lack of input from the stakeholders. Even IBM, for whom I worked, taught us that you MUST involve the stakeholders in needs assessment, design, implementation, etc. to make these things work. It was part of the training that was drummed into consultant heads through their training classes and huge manuals. Has that been forgotten in pursuit of the bottome line? Would any CEO allow this for their company? I truly wonder! And a 5 year project yet...look at the track record on most long-term projects...they don't last.

Anonymous said...

I don't think they are doing parent access until 2008. I am sure the consultants will be including parents then, as they are now including teachers and principals, in the needs asssessment, design, etc.

Patrick Sullivan said...


You have quite a narrow view of parents as stakeholders. So we are merely users who will be consulted to make sure the design is something we can handle? That monstrosity will be filled with every fact imaginable about our children. I expect our elected (not appointed) representatives on CPAC and the CECs to be consulted on why the thing is needed, what it will do and how our childrens' rights and privacy will be protected.

Julius Adams said...


ALL people who have children's futures at "stake" (thus stakeholders) should be involved FROM THE BEGINNING. I could see various focus groups running simultaneously for each type of stakeholder, then representatives from each stakeholder group in ONE larger brainstorming session, and finally the ideas from each put together to get some kind of consenus on WHAT THIS SYSTEM SHOULD BE, WHAT INFORMATION IS NECESSARY TO TRACK A STUDENT'S PERFORMANCE OVER TIME, HOW DATA WOULD BE HANDLED AND FLOW -- SECURITY ISSUES, BY WHOM, WHEN ACCESSIBLE, ETC., AND IF SUCH A SYSTEM IS EVEN WORTH THE $ OR NEEDED AS ORIGINALLY ENVISIONED. Teachers, principals, AND PARENTS should be in this-- YES PARENTS, AS IT IS OUR CHILDREN.

I am sure there are parents who understand data analysis and data mining systems from their work experience, AND parents should have a say on how their children are being judged over time as IT AFFECTS THEIR FUTURE. CPAC and CECs should also have input.

I am concerned that NOT ALL PARTIES are in this up front, and this could lead to more anger and frustration if the ultimate ones affected - parents of school children -- are NOT part of the process from the start. I have seen projects go very badly when users and stakeholders were NOT in them from the start per company request, and they very often fail. Involvement by all concerned is what SHOULD happen in such a large scale project to ensure WE ALL GET SOMETHING OUT OF IT THAT WORKS! That is IF WE NEED IT in the end.

We used to call this PHASE 0 of a change managament project -- needs assessment, mapping, brainstorming, issues discovery, what needs to change/what doesn't, and more --and it isn't being done correctly if ALL the stakeholders are NOT IN IT FROM DAY ONE.

Anonymous said...

As I read the comments, I am puzzled. Mr Sullivan asks the question "Has anyone who will be made to use the system had any input into it?" which is valid. All of a sudden J Adams states " I am appaled at the lack of input from stakeholders". Did I miss something? Did someone answer Mr Sullivan's question and state that stakeholders were not asked for input?

Patrick Sullivan said...


I checked with CPAC (Chancellor's Parent Advisory Council) and there was no input solicited. While it may be possible that DoE asked some random parents, it's important to realize the parents have formal, elected representatives who need to serve as stakeholders. Apart from the obvious need to have stakeholder input for any successful system, there is the issue of competence. Many NYC parents have experience in this type of work and the DoE would likely not be the subject of ridicule by industry insiders had they availed themselves of some of this parent expertise.


ak11357 said...

From what I have seen so far this ARIS system seems like a waste of money. It was supposed to be up and running this year for teacher use and no teacher in my school has had any training on it. From what I ahve seen so far the assesment test creation while a great idea in theory is not tailored to out students. Where has been the teacher input on this? It seem like a system that will not be used unless teachers can get what they trully need.

Ron Link said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron Link said...


I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again. There is a profound recognition within the pedagogical community that urban education is in a state of crisis. Has it always been this way or are we just more aware in our data-driven times of accountability? In a recent email to scores of teachers, administrators and students, I asked the question, “What is the number one problem with education today and how can it be solved?” Everyone who responded cares deeply about education. Most expressed their perception of the problem in terms of negative interactions between students, parents, teachers, administrators, and politicians. Most replies did not suggest solutions underscoring the level of frustration and concurrent need to creatively respond to our mutual challenges. It is critical to identify the underlying “why” of these negative interactions. Where is the anger and fear coming from and how do we effectively address issues of mutual concern? When common goals are identified, consensus building and work towards effective solutions can begin.

Ivan Illitch said, “Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting.” I fully agree that fostering an efficient environment of significance for everyone involved with student learning and achievement is central to the work of educator. Fundamentally, that focus must be even deeper. Today, I am part of the process that delivers the standardized tests I once graded. We quantify the value our students’ minds and in doing so immeasurably impact their hearts. Society and we, as educators, can ill afford to continue to fail them.

Over a hundred young peoples’ lives interact with mine for many hours on a near daily basis. I know their accomplishments and some of their fears. I also know some of what stands in their way; school cultures that message low achievement as a given instead of achievable expectations identified through collaborative process between teachers and administration; disjointed and reflexive curriculums instead of well-planned, research-based, responsive innovation; discipline that emphasizes martial order over harmony created through individual and community engagement; begrudging acknowledgement of individual learning styles as opposed to technologically innovative responses; and arbitrary, intimidation-based classroom and school management instead of impartial treatment and encouragement.

For the very fact of the many challenges so eloquently expressed in this forum, ARIS can be a useful tool for dialog with students and parents if teachers are adequately schooled in its uses and are inspired to make the effort.

Its strongest feature, notwithstanding its basic interface and functionality, is the collaborative opportunity it provides. Teachers will have a more holistic and realistic assessment of a student as a positive point of engagement for discussions with parents. Readily available student profiles provide data for support services evaluation, conferencing with parents and students about goal setting, past performance, strengths, trends and attendance. Teachers can also collaborate online with colleagues regarding instruction.

What I know it…

* IEP data is not in yet, will be in a few weeks
* It is “read-only”, pulling data from ATS (attendance), HSST (scheduling), and other systems.
* Attendance data is updated on a weekly basis
* Family Portal by the end of the school year
* Transcripts are coming in the Spring
* Customized reports that administrators can generate are coming in January

I’ve recently used ARIS to group Regents data to identify students who require special attention. At an even more customized level, I’ve created a sub group of students who like to use the recording studio I built in our school basement. One of my requirements to use the music studio outside of class has been passing grades in all classes and good attendance. Before ARIS, I had no practical way to determine who was meeting my music studio use rules. Now I do.

Teaching is a very difficult job. As I said earlier, when common goals are identified, consensus building and work towards effective solutions can begin. I will use whatever tools are available to help my students achieve and realize our mutual goals.


Ron Link
Teacher, New York City Department of Education