Despite sharp drops in state aid, New York City’s Department of Education plans to increase its technology spending, including $542 million next year alone that will primarily pay for wiring and other behind-the-wall upgrades to city schools.
The surge is part of an effort to move toward more online learning and computer-based standardized tests. But it comes just two years after the city declared a victory on the technology front, saying that every classroom in every school had had plug-in Internet connections and wireless access set up, an undertaking that cost roughly half a billion dollars over several years.
Some local officials are questioning the timing, since the city is also planning to cut $1.3 billion from its budget for new school construction over the next three years, and to eliminate 6,100 teaching positions, including 4,600 by layoffs.
While state law prevents capital funding, the source of much of the technology spending, from being used for salaries, both moves are likely to make class sizes rise.
“It is particularly large in the context of a fiscal crisis which the mayor reports is so dire that he may eliminate some 6,000 teaching positions,” Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, wrote in a letter to the schools chancellor, Cathleen P. Black, last week.
Other critics have cited concerns about how the city has managed other high-price technology projects — notably CityTime, the automated payroll system that swelled to $700 million from $63 million, including what prosecutors called $80 million in false billing and kickbacks. The city comptroller, John C. Liu, announced audits last week of spending on online learning and of the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, or ARIS, an $80 million school information database that cost more than projected and has been criticized for not living up to its promise of helping schools track student progress effectively.
“We’ve seen before how the city’s I.T. projects can run up exorbitant fees when they’re not properly monitored,” said H. Tina Kim, the city’s deputy comptroller for audits.
City education officials are not shy about their goal to more fully integrate computers into everyday instruction. Instead of a lonely desktop or two at the back of a room, officials picture entire classrooms of students going online simultaneously, taking Internet-based classes or assessments to measure both their and their teachers’ performance. This school year alone, the city has issued $50 million in contracts to build an online course-management system, called iLearn NYC, as well as to provide training and to pay companies like Rosetta Stone and Pearson Education to provide content. [emphasis mine]When I started using the term "Halliburton High," I was being facetious. But I wouldn't be surprised if it literally happened in the next few years.
They are going to slash teacher salaries and benefits, but they're not going to give the money back to the taxpayers; they're going to allow our schools to go the way of the military and become nothing more than a boondoggle that benefits a new generation of bloated government contractors.
Does anyone care about this? Or are we going to continue to be distracted by the possibility that we might have some teachers who get to go to the dentist?