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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Acountability Data - Unknown, To Be Announced

In New York City and New York State, there seems to be no limit to the amount of money (in millions, folks!) that can fix the basic data-gathering problems that exist. It seems to me that perhaps the Klein/Bloomberg Corporation is benefitting from this mess, as "they" are the spokespersons of success. What if the public had accurate information that "they" were NOT successful, then what? Are we, the public, to believe that we cannot get an accurate interactive telecommunications system in place in 2009?

I dont believe it.

By YOAV GONEN Education Reporter, NY POST

February 11, 2009 --
Less than three years after unveiling what they called a "groundbreaking" $30 million education data system, state officials are embarking on a costly effort to fix the problem-plagued platform.

The move by the state Education Department stems from complaints that the massive system is slow, laborious and error-filled.

It contains academic data on every New York public-school student in kindergarten through 12th grade, and is used to determine whether schools have met performance targets.

"You can wait 15 minutes while you watch this cube turning, trying to log on to the system," griped one middle-school principal.

Similar complaints have been lobbed by principals against the city's $80 million school data system.

Members of the Board of Regents said yesterday they're seeking nearly $8 million from the federal government to help with improvements to the state system. The fixes will include a redesign of the data infrastructure and the appointment of a new team to oversee the work.

As Schools Face Cuts, Delays on Data System Bring More Frustration
By ELISSA GOOTMAN, NY TIMES, October 24, 2008

An elaborate $80 million data and information system that was supposed to be ready in September to allow New York City public school parents to see things like which courses their children need to graduate, or how their test scores compare with citywide averages, has been unavailable even to school principals so far this fall. In its absence, 21 principals have used up to $13,000 in school funds for a more bare-bones data-management program that was developed by staff members at a Brooklyn high school eager to track their own data in an age of accountability.

The status of the information system — known as ARIS, for Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, developed by I.B.M. and a group of subcontractors — is touching a raw nerve as schools throughout the city brace for $185 million in budget cuts.

Ernest A. Logan, (pictured below with Mayor Bloomberg, Joel Klein and Deputy Chancellor Dennis Walcott) president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, the union that represents the city’s principals and assistant principals, said that he had had “major concerns” about the progress and cost of ARIS, and that this had been the topic of “ongoing conversations” with Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein.

“For something that would supposedly be a resource for schools and school leaders, it really has not come through as it should have,” Mr. Logan said. “I can understand the desire to have something that is supposedly helping, but I’m now looking at the amount of money that we put into this thing, especially when we’re thinking about cutting back.”

One Brooklyn elementary school principal — who, like a half dozen other principals interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from the Education Department, said in frustration:

“Principals are held accountable for everything, as you well know, but I.B.M. isn’t held accountable for $80 million that they’ve been paid for a system that they haven’t been able to get working?” A March 2007 news release announcing the I.B.M. contract described ARIS as a “first-of-its-kind data management system” that would “make innovations at one school available” to others, and projected that data would be available to teachers and administrators that September and to parents a year later.

James S. Liebman, (pictured above) the Education Department’s chief accountability officer, said on Thursday that the project was “proceeding in an appropriate manner” and “in the way we anticipated.” He said that parents would begin gaining access to the system in December, and noted that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, in his State of the City speech in January, said that ARIS would be online by the fall, not September specifically.

Mr. Liebman said that 7,500 to 9,000 school employees, including principals, certain teachers and central Education Department staff, had access last year to ARIS, which at that point included basic demographic information, as well as data used to compile the city’s A through F report cards, like credit accumulation, attendance and scores on Regents exams and other state tests.

He said that the system was shut down in July for an upgrade and that it would be back online for principals by the first week of November with more detailed student information as well as interactive functions like blogs that would allow educators to share information about reading curriculums or innovative ways to teach first-graders addition.

He said teachers would gain access to the system in November as well, with enhanced capabilities allowing them to compare data for all their students.

“We want to get it to them as fast as possible,” Mr. Liebman said. “Our educators have needed this for years, they’ve needed it for decades, and unfortunately for all the reasons that you’d expect, the technology didn’t exist and once it did exist, the resources and the will to build it didn’t exist.” Mr. Liebman said that so far, roughly $48.5 million had been paid to I.B.M. and its subcontractors, and that most of the money was earmarked for technology, so “if we didn’t spend it on ARIS we couldn’t buy more chalk for schools or hire three more teachers or whatever else.”

He described the development process as “quick and aggressive,” but added: “If we could have done it faster, we surely should have, and I can assure you we wanted to and would have.”

But Patrick J. Sullivan, the Manhattan borough president’s representative to the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, said the fact that parents have not gotten access to ARIS “is further proof of the disdain D.O.E. holds for us.”

“Parents need to understand what their children are learning and how they are progressing,” he said.

Frank A. Cimino, principal at Public School 193 in Brooklyn, said that he was managing well without ARIS and was “very concerned with the obsession with data that is not allowing principals to spend time in classrooms and have a human touch.” Philip Weinberg, principal of the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology, the Brooklyn school that developed the alternative data system, said he could not comment on ARIS. His system, called DataCation, is not as elaborate as ARIS, but also allows users to track things like the progress students are making toward graduation, as well as their schedules and grades.

According to an e-mail message sent to principals to advertise DataCation, they are charged $5,000 to track compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind law, $10,000 to monitor graduation requirements or $13,000 for both. Any profit beyond the costs of running the system go into Mr. Weinberg’s school budget, but he said it was not a big moneymaker.

“I think that our folks have developed a really interesting data system that’s helpful to schools,” he said. “Even before the advent of the progress report, schools always have been interested in ways they can better define how kids are progressing, or succeeding and not succeeding.”

Mr. Liebman said he was unfamiliar with DataCation, but that he applauded schools’ efforts to design and spend their own discretionary money on data systems that might complement ARIS.

“We certainly are not saying to schools and wouldn’t say to schools, ‘Don’t do your own system,’ ” Mr. Liebman said. “What we’re saying is, ‘Here are some tools, they’re very powerful.’ ”

Last year, principals who tried to use ARIS said they often experienced glitches like the program freezing.

Mr. Liebman said that it had been difficult to meld various information systems that were developed decades ago to track things like attendance and credit accumulation. Another challenge, he said, was ensuring that only authorized people would have access to confidential student information.

Parents, for example, will be able to see their own children’s scores and information, and to compare them against school and citywide aggregates, but they will not be able to see the scores of their children’s individual classmates.

A spokesman for I.B.M., Clint Roswell, described ARIS as an “ambitious, pioneering data reporting and knowledge management system for New York City educators and families.”

Jennifer Medina contributed reporting.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: November 3, 2008
An article in some editions on Oct. 24 about delays in an $80 million data system for New York City’s public schools that was supposed to be ready for parents in September misstated part of the name of a city education board, one of whose members criticized the delay as “further proof of the disdain” that the Department of Education holds for parents. The board, the successor to the Board of Education, is the Panel for Educational Policy — not Priorities.

From Editor Betsy Combier: New York State Comptroller Tom Napoli does do certain audits, but what about those cities - like New York City - that are uncontrolled messes? What do the terms "$30 million; $650 million", mean?

From Napoli's Office, the December 2008 Financial Plan for NYC:

B. Department of Education
The November Plan allocates $21 billion to the Department of Education (DOE) for
use in FY 2009, including $3.4 billion for pensions and debt service. Of this amount,
the City is contributing $10.5 billion, or 50 percent; the State’s contribution totals $8.7 billion, or 41.4 percent; and the federal government will contribute $1 billion,or 8.4 percent. The remainder comes from fees, grants, settlements, and restricted 18 The commission’s report does not indicate whether any of these resources would supplant State or City subsidies sources. Between fiscal years 2003 and 2008, City funding for education increased at an annual rate of 9.9 percent; State funding increased by 7.2 percent annually.
The allocation to the DOE in FY 2009 is $860 million more than last year. City
funding will increase by $547 million, or 5.5 percent, while the State contribution will increase by $403 million, or 4.9 percent, partly offset by a reduction in federal aid.
Although the November Plan assumes large increases in State education aid, these
increases may not materialize in the amounts anticipated given the impact of the
economic slowdown on the State’s finances. The Governor’s executive budget, for
example, would reduce education aid to New York City. While the State Legislature
may restore some of the proposed cut, the amount of education aid in the enacted
State budget will still likely be less than assumed in the November Plan, which could
require the City to increase its funding or to cut services.
The City has already cut back on planned increases in education aid to its public
schools. The June Plan incorporated a $303 million reduction in funding for FY 2009
and an average of $247 million in subsequent years. The November Plan calls for
further reductions in planned funding for education: $181 million in FY 2009 and
$385 million in subsequent years. The Chancellor has instructed the schools to
minimize the impact on educational programs and to concentrate on reducing material
and supplies, extracurricular programs, school-based contractual services, and
professional development programs. Other cuts include reducing maintenance and
repair work.
In addition, the City may have to increase funding or the DOE may have to reallocate
resources to fund unplanned costs associated with special education students who are
placed in private schools. The DOE spent $89 million on these services in FY 2008,
but the November Plan allocates only $35 million for this purpose in FY 2009 and in
subsequent years. Given current spending trends, these costs are likely to exceed
planned levels by at least $60 million annually beginning in the current fiscal year.
The legislation that granted the Mayor greater control over the DOE will terminate on
June 30, 2009, unless it is reauthorized by the State Legislature. The Mayor and the
Chancellor advocate reauthorization, as they believe the law has improved
accountability and performance. Others believe mayoral control has diminished
transparency and the role of parents, and has resulted in an increase in no-bid

Cost of Tracking Schools Is Said to Be $130 Million

The Education Department is spending roughly $130 million this year to track the performance of schools in New York City, according to a report published on Thursday by the city’s Independent Budget Office.

Efforts to establish accountability, like performance bonuses for principals and teachers, sophisticated student data systems and report cards that assign letter grades for schools, have been a cornerstone of the Bloomberg administration’s efforts to overhaul the school system.

While the budget office said that the figures in the current fiscal year included some spending that the Education Department does not explicitly count as projects aimed at keeping schools accountable, the report estimates that the city will spend $105 million on similar initiatives next year.

The report found that while private money initially paid for many of the accountability efforts, the same kinds of measures were increasingly being financed with city dollars. Many of the figures cited in the report had already been released, but this was the first attempt to detail the overall costs of Chancellor Joel I. Klein’s accountability efforts.

Betsy Gotbaum, the city’s public advocate, had asked the budget office to review the Education Department’s spending on accountability measures amid complaints from some parents, educators and public officials that the chancellor and his team were overly focused on standardized tests.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has asked the department to make cuts in its $20 billion budget of $181 million from the school system this year and another $385 million next year. Ms. Gotbaum, who has been an outspoken critic of Mr. Klein, said that education budget cuts should be made to the accountability office rather than directly to the classroom.

Ms. Gotbaum said during a news conference at her downtown office that because of the current state and city budget cuts, the Education Department should “re-evaluate the accountability system from top to bottom” to ensure that it is “cost effective and producing real results in the classroom.”

“There are hundreds of millions of dollars that are being spent without real assurance that our schools are getting any better,” she said.

She took particular issue with a student data program called the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, developed by I.B.M. and a group of subcontractors. The $80 million system has not functioned for much of the school year, even for principals, and is still unavailable to parents.

The report also found that the department spent $2 million on municipal report cards evaluating individual schools. The report card grades were released in September for elementary and middle schools, and this week for high schools. The city has also spent $6 million over three years on parent, teacher and student evaluations of individual schools, according to the report.

Mr. Klein said in a statement: “I believe the dollars we’ve invested in this work are some of the smartest dollars we’ve spent. Leading experts in education in America and around the globe agree and are working to create accountability measures in their schools and districts like the ones we’ve created.”

He added, “The report released Thursday misunderstands the purpose and importance of accountability.”

Thursday’s report also provoked a fresh round of criticism over how the Education Department reports information on its spending to the public. Unlike other city agencies, the department does not make a line-by-line accounting of its expenses available to outside groups like the budget office. Ms. Gotbaum and others have called for tightening the guidelines next year when the State Legislature considers renewing the mayor’s control over the schools, which he won in 2002.

The Independent Budget Office said that its findings on how much the city spends on accountability measures were somewhat subjective, in part because of having to rely on information the Education Department provided. The department repeatedly argued that the accountability efforts were narrower, and said it would spend $37.1 million on the initiatives this fiscal year and $48.5 million in 2009-10.

“It’s been a very difficult process,” said Doug Turetsky,(pictured at right) the communications director for the Independent Budget Office. “We’ve had a lot of back and forth over some things that seemed straightforward.”

One of the most contentious points was whether to include as spending on accountability the money that is used to pay for “periodic assessments” four times a year.

The tests are given at all schools across the city, but the results have no effect on a student’s or a school’s evaluation; they simply provide teachers with an idea of how well students are performing. The budget office found that the spending for such tests was $4.3 million in the 2008 fiscal year, which ended June 30, and that, under a new contract, it ballooned to $26 million in the current fiscal year.

The department was protesting some of the numbers in the report as late as Thursday morning. After the report was released, David Cantor, an Education Department spokesman, said it was unfair to include a $30 million grant program as an expense, because it used money that the city received from the federal government. The grants are awarded to schools that are struggling under state and city standards.

Among several initiatives that were initially paid for with private dollars but that are now publicly financed is a school review program, which sent consultants from Cambridge Education, a London-based company, to visit and evaluate schools. The $19.1 million contract is set to expire next August, after which officials from within the Education Department will conduct the site visits.

September 24, 2005
Progress and Concerns Noted in Special Education System

A study of New York City's special education system by a team of independent experts has found that the Bloomberg administration "is moving special education in positive directions."

But the report also identified a litany of concerns including mismanagement and confusion about staff responsibilities, insufficient collection of data, inadequate evaluation and referral practices, over-reliance on segregated classes and generally poor handling of hearings where parents are allowed to present complaints.

The report was conducted at the request of the city's Education Department and the plaintiffs in a long-running collection of lawsuits known as the Jose P. litigation that have produced court orders that now govern the city's special education system.

The team of researchers was led by Thomas Hehir, a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and included education professors who are experts in various aspects of services for children with disabilities as well as experts on the federal law governing education for the disabled.

The purpose of the report was to assess the Bloomberg administration's efforts to overhaul the special education evaluation and placement processes.

In response to the report yesterday, city officials, who first received report on Tuesday, announced that they would spend $38 million over the next two years to put some of the panel's recommendations into place.

Of that money, $30 million will be spent on a new data system to allow much of the current paperwork to be done electronically, including students' Individual Education Programs. The remaining $8 million will be spent on teacher training and support programs. Elisa Hyman, the deputy director of Advocates for Children, a nonprofit group that works to protect the legal rights of special education students, said the city should adopt all of the report's recommendations, but she said better handling of data and staff training should be priorities.

"Upgrading data systems and improving professional development are both very critical steps," she said. If the information is incorrect, it is nearly impossible to provide students the correct services, Ms. Hyman said. Carmen Fariña, the deputy schools chancellor for teaching and learning, who has made improving special education a personal priority, said she was pleased that the report recognized the substantial efforts by the administration to enhance services.

She said the Education Department had made strides making more services available to special education students in their neighborhood schools, reducing travel times.

Ms. Fariña said the department hoped to rise above the legal mandates to provide better services for children, including options previously found mostly in private schools.

"This is a real shift from just reacting to legal imperatives," she said.

June 23, 2005

The New York City schools misspent $870 million in Medicaid payments by channeling tens of thousands of poor special-education students into speech therapy performed by unqualified practitioners, often without proper referrals, according to a scathing federal audit released yesterday.

The school system's record-keeping was so chaotic and the speech services so badly documented that school officials often could not prove that students needed the speech therapy, or ever received it at all, said the audit, which covered the period between 1993 and 2001.

The city schools, chronically in need of money, are portrayed in the audit as having vigorously tapped into an antipoverty program, while doing a haphazard job at best of adhering to federal regulations.

Medicaid typically pays for health care for the poor, but since the late 1980's, it has also paid school systems nationwide for speech, hearing and other health-care services for poor children. Schools in New York State, especially the city's, have taken advantage of the program far more than those in other states, according to federal statistics.

The audit represents a new stain for the city's special education system, which has long been troubled and has been roiled in the last two years by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's effort to overhaul the schools.

In fact, even as the audit identified improper spending, many parents have often complained that there have been lengthy delays in obtaining special education services. In this case, because of what the auditors contended was a routine lack of proper documentation for speech services, it is impossible to say whether the therapy, if it was received at all, took the place of other special-education needs.

The auditors did say that while the violations might seem technical, they ''could have a direct impact on the quality of services rendered.'' They also said school officials disregarded the state's advice that speech referrals should come from a physician or a licensed practitioner.

State and city officials vehemently disputed the audit, which took three years to complete and was issued by the inspector general in the federal Department of Health and Human Services. The officials insisted that the findings be withdrawn.

Washington and the states share the cost of Medicaid. The auditors recommended that New York State be forced to return $435 million to the federal government, which is the federal portion of the questionable payments. The city school system itself is not being held financially liable, but if the state has to return the money, it could in turn punish the district.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, would not discuss whether it plans to penalize the state.

If it does, the amounts at stake are so high that the issue is likely to be catapulted into Congress. Senator Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat, has in recent years lobbied the Bush administration to rein in federal regulators and investigators over the issue of Medicaid speech services.

The findings in the audit were among the most critical appraisals of a state Medicaid program anywhere in the nation in recent years. The auditors estimated that 86 percent of 2.5 million Medicaid claims for speech services by the New York City schools from 1993 to 2001, totaling $870 million, violated federal regulations. The services were for 110,000 students.

After scrutinizing a sample of 100 claims, the auditors found that in 42 cases, they were unable to verify that the services had been provided, based on documentation offered by the school system. Most of the 100 claims either lacked correct referrals from a medical professional, or were not provided by or overseen by a properly certified speech therapist.

The audit represents an escalation of federal scrutiny into New York's overall Medicaid program, which at $45 billion is far larger than that of any other state. A 2004 audit by the inspector general found similar deficiencies in $340 million in Medicaid spending on speech services in schools in New York outside New York City.

The New York State Health Department, which oversees Medicaid, accused the inspector general of essentially picking on the state, saying that it had applied far stricter standards in this audit than it had in audits of speech services in other states.

The department said the federal government had over the years issued conflicting and confusing rules for Medicaid speech services, and as a result, it was unfair for the state to be penalized for not following them. It also said the auditors were applying rules intended for a medical setting to an educational one.

''There is no question that the New York City Department of Education billed for services it felt were provided to poor children with disabilities,'' Kathryn Kuhmerker, a deputy state health commissioner, wrote in response to the audit.

Margie Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the New York City Department of Education, noted in a statement that Mayor Bloomberg took office and gained control of the school system after the period covered by the audit. She questioned why the inspector general waited until 2002 to begin looking at claims going as far back as 1993.

''We disagree with this audit and will work with the state to have the recommendations reversed or changed,'' she said.

Jill Chaifetz, executive director of Advocates for Children, a nonprofit group that monitors special-education programs in the schools, said she was not surprised by the audit. "There has been a longstanding problem of lack of accountability in the system," she said.

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