ARIS

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getting data right

data dump

New York

Liu: City hasn't gotten sufficient bang from ARIS's $83m buck

Graph of principals' self-reported satisfaction with ARIS over time, from an audit of by Comptroller John Liu. The Department of Education hasn't gotten adequate bang for its buck from more than $80 million spent on ARIS, its data warehouse, concluded an audit released by Comptroller John Liu today. Liu offered a solid clue to the audit's conclusions last week, when he lambasted the city's $10-million move to formally reassign its ARIS contract to Wireless Generation, which has managed the system for years. The audit began in March 2011, shortly after Liu held a series of town hall meetings to solicit public input about what he should investigate. The data warehouse, launched in 2008 by IBM, has attracted no shortage of critics because of its steep price tag and early glitches. Examining usage data, principals' responses to a satisfaction survey the city administers, and the results of a survey that it distributed to educators in June, Liu's office concluded principals' satisfaction with ARIS has fallen, that many schools substitute other data programs in whole or in part, and that use among school staff has leveled off since the system's first year, although use by department officials who work with schools has risen. What's more, the audit concludes, the city can't show that ARIS is leading to higher student performance — something that former chancellor Joel Klein signaled would be a result when he rolled out the system in 2008. "This costly tech program was much-touted by the DOE to help principals and teachers track progress and thereby improve student learning, even as long-time educators questioned its cost and effectiveness," Liu said in a statement today. "$83 million later, there is little discernible improvement in learning and many principals and teachers have given up on the system." DOE officials disputed the audit's methodology, conclusions, and very premise.
New York

A place for educators to steal their colleagues' best ideas

The BetterLesson profile for sixth-grade Roxbury Prep Charter School teacher and BetterLesson celebrity Jason Armstrong The most popular member of a new social network is neither Lady Gaga nor Ashton Kutcher, though Kutcher is a fan of the website. The distinction goes to Jason Armstrong, a sixth-grade teacher in Roxbury, Mass., who has more than 6,500 total views and more than 1,100 downloads on a new website for teachers called BetterLesson. BetterLesson's circle of about 7,000 teachers are downloading Armstrong's math lessons, grouped into six units: whole numbers, decimals, fractions, percents, geometry, and a year-ender called extensions and review. They can also download his quizzes and tests and become his "colleague" (the equivalent of a Facebook friend). Armstrong's former colleague and roommate, Alex Grodd, created the site — which Kutcher recently promoted in a Tweet, a stroke of generosity devised by a BetterLesson staffer. Grodd first came up with the idea for the site when he joined Teach for America in 2004. Assigned to teach third grade science during his summer institute training at a Houston elementary school, Grodd went online to hunt for ideas. Surely one of the other hundreds of third grade science teachers in the world had come up with a smart way to explain his assigned topic, the solar system. Why should he have to reinvent the pedagogical wheel? The last remotely relevant class he'd taken was Harvard's notoriously science-light "Natural Disasters." Hours of Googling later, Grodd came up with nothing. "This was 2004, it wasn't, like, 1994," Grodd told me today. "The Internet had been around for a while." BetterLesson is not the first attempt to solve the problem of teacher isolation, but it's already catching on more quickly than many efforts. Those 7,000 users are up from just 200 in June 2009, when the site launched to a small group, and Grodd won backing from NewSchools Venture Fund, the philanthropically financed new-idea incubator.
New York

Principals are optimistic about ARIS, but kinks continue

Nearly two thirds of principals say the Department of Education's $81 million online data warehouse could help improve teaching and learning at their schools.  The finding is among the results of a survey conducted by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum's office, which released a statement today emphasizing that more than a third of principals did not think the system was helping their schools. In its coverage of Gotbaum's report, the New York Times billed the system as being "supported by most principals," And the city has said that its internal survey results show that most principals see benefits to the system. ARIS's solid approval rating doesn't mean all of its kinks have been worked out. The Manhattan School for Children's parent coordinator sent the following e-mail to parents last week: ARIS and Classroom Assignments It has come to my attention that the classroom teacher assignments have been posted on ARIS and I have been trying to unravel the mystery as to how these assignments came to be posted. I have also discovered that there are many mistakes. The official letters from MSC will be sent at the end of August. I am also out of town and cannot access the ID numbers that many parents are now requesting. Please double check the letters that you received from your classroom teacher. Both numbers were given out at the same time. Again, you will be notified about your official class by mail. Please do not rely on the ARIS site for this information. The parent who forwarded me the e-mail said the incorrect information has been removed from the system but new information hasn't yet been uploaded. (The system opened to parents in May.)
New York

Fact-checking Bloomberg's education campaign promises

Remember how, in 2001, when he was first running for mayor, Michael Bloomberg vowed to require all public school students to wear uniforms, to bring in private companies to take over long-failing schools, and to re-evaluate tenured teachers every two years? These are among the fun facts included in a self-evaluation Bloomberg released today, running through all the promises he made in his 2001 and 2005 campaigns, and reporting that he's followed through with most of them (97% in 2005, the report says). The list of education promises Bloomberg terms stick-a-fork-in-it "Done" (as opposed to those he "reconsidered") includes many that did obviously happen, but it also includes claims that could inspire challenge. Four promises that caught my eye: Improve access to selective schools for students in under-served communities. (2005 campaign promise) The mayor's report notes that the city now offers summer workshops for parents to encourage them to consider having their children take the entrance exam for selective high schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science. The city has also offered summer test-prep institutes for low-income students. Still, The New York Times reported last year that proportionately fewer racial minorities were taking the admissions exam, and a lower percentage were passing. There was little change when the paper reexamined the figures this year. Gifted and talented programs for primary school students, meanwhile, have also gotten less racially diverse under Bloomberg's watch, The Times reported. Give teachers more control over how they teach. (2001 promise) The report explains that this "done" stems from the new availability of "a series of tools for teachers that highlight students needs and provides teachers the information to focus on helping students master their subjects." I assume that refers to projects like ARIS, the data warehouse, and the periodic assessments known as Acuity, meant to give teachers an ongoing portrait of what students do and don't know throughout the school year. While some teachers embrace these tools, others say the tools limit the way they teach, forcing them to focus too much time on test preparation.
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