March 7, 2007 (GBN News): Critics have raised numerous questions about the DOE’s institution of a new supercomputer system, ARIS (Achievement Reporting and Information System), to track academic performance. To answer these criticisms, GBN News interviewed a key figure in this program, IBM Assistant Senior Vice President for Educational Public Relations, Fredrick Lerner. Excerpts of the interview follow:
GBN News: Mr. Lerner, 80 million dollars for a computer system is a lot of money. How can the city justify this sort of expense?
Lerner: New York is expensive. Things cost a lot of money here. We’re here to do a job for you, and we do it right. You don’t think we can do our job if we eat lunch at McDonald’s, do you? If you want the job done right, you pay us for Le Bernadin.
GBN News: OK, but I actually wasn’t referring to your expense accounts. What I meant was, what are the capabilities of ARIS that can justify the 80 million dollar expense?
Lerner: It’s an amazing system. It can track just about anything, down to the most minute detail; from standardized tests to bathroom visits.
GBN News: Bathroom visits??
Lerner: You know, back in the old days, teachers used to keep track of those things. Remember the old “number one” and “number two”? It was obviously quantifiable, but they never actually did anything with that data. Now that we have the technological capability to track it, imagine all the ways we can use it!
GBN News: I think I’ll pass on that one. Changing the subject, critics say the system has no bearing on the quality of education for the children. How would you answer that charge?
Lerner: Nothing can be further from the truth. ARIS can track students’ achievement on a minute to minute basis. Remember those quizzes the whole class would bomb out on? Obviously, a teacher not doing his or her job, but you wouldn’t know it until the end of the semester. With ARIS, school administrators will find this out immediately. The teacher gets called in and reprimanded, and the kids had better improve tomorrow or that teacher will be looking for another career.
GBN News: Smart teacher! One last question: Many critics have suggested that a system that can track such minute detail smacks of “Big Brother”. How do you address that concern?
Lerner: You don’t think the DOE hires those high priced consultants for nothing, do you? With Alvarez and Marsal around, that 80 million will be cut down to size before you know it. The DOE will be lucky if it can use ARIS to play solitaire.
GBN News: Well, I’m sure that will be a great comfort. Thank you, Mr. Lerner, for your time.
Lerner: Thank you. Let’s see, that took about 15 minutes. At $650 an hour, that will be $162.50.