Thursday, May 5, 2011

Good Grief! More Stories (Involving Computers and Schools) Deflating The Bloomberg Management Expertise Myth

(Above: Michael R. Bloomberg has created a plethora of self-laudatory faux websites, ", "," and ""- more about that here. It seemed fitting that one more be added to that Pantheon, happily supplied by NNY above, in light of recent news stories: "". Click to enlarge.)

Come on, quit it. Enough already. I am not looking to do another Noticing New York story on this. But, here it is. It can’t be avoided. Noticing New York has some new links for you.

If Bloomberg is supposed to have brought any expertise with him from the private sector other than self-salesmanship it would theoretically be that he knows how to manage a computer information empire. And if Bloomberg were to push anything to the forefront for consideration and public admiration about the top priorities and goals focused on by his administration it would likely be improvement of the city public school system.

Computers, schools.

It seemed as if Noticing New York had adequately dispensed with the subject of how inadequately the Bloomberg administration was doing in these touchstone areas, computers and schools with several pieces in the wake of two scandals recently in the news: the early forced resignation of Schools Chancellor Cathie Black and the $80 million fraud in the CityTime payroll and time sheet computer automating scandal where some of the core of fraud ironically involved falsification of time sheets.

See all of the following:
Saturday, March 26, 2011
The Myth Of Bloomberg’s Management Expertise Reexamined: What Happens When Government Doesn’t Manage Its Programs

Saturday, April 9, 2011
Add To Bloomberg’s Other Mistakes: Mistakes In NOT Acknowledging Mistakes, Including A Certain Ratner Mega-Monopoly

Monday, March 28, 2011
Take TWO (AYR’s) On Times Coverage- Revisiting Light Shed by CityTime Outsourcing Scandal When Reexamining Bloomberg Management Myth
Another Story Computer Fraud (Affecting Schools) Undetected By Bloombergian Management

No sooner had these articles put to bed what ought to have been a convincing case that Bloomberg overrates his own expertise when we get yet another revelation in this vein. And what does it pertain to? You got it, computers and schools, specifically another fraud during the installation of a new computer system, this time one for the city school system. Again it involves work that was contracted out to the private sector. According to the New York Times whose headline for their coverage was a summing up of this point, the work being done seemed suspicious to those on the sidelines (IBM contractors) as far back as 2002, a date when Bloomberg was newly in office and reportedly giving great scrutiny to the city computer systems (January 2002) and schools (March 2002). Selections from the opening of the Times story:
Sometime in 2002, a manager at I.B.M., which was working on a large project to wire New York City schools for the Internet, noticed something unusual about payments the company was making for some workers.
The manager asked a colleague if this was proper . . . The colleague said others at I.B.M. were also concerned, with one saying he “did not trust Lanham.” But Mr. Lanham . . . assured I.B.M. that he had spoken with a supervisor at the Education Department, who “was O.K. with it,” and the matter was taken no further. . . .

It was the first of several warning signs about Mr. Lanham, whom investigators have accused of stealing $3.6 million from the city through marked-up billings using a complex scheme of contractors and subcontractors . . . .. But because of Mr. Lanham’s unchecked power over the project, which the city was paying him $200,000 a year to oversee, virtually all of the suspicions came to naught.
(See: Doubts About Schools Consultant Charged in $3.6 Million Fraud Dated to ’02, by Fernanda Santos, April 29, 2011.)

It seems appropriate that Noticing New York provide an update. But it is also helpful to hearken back to put it in context because, otherwise, the busy reader might just wind up thinking they were reading the same story over again- “Oh, yeah, yeah, I’ve read that one already.” But you haven’t read this one before and while it's similar and amounts to piling on of more of the same, it’s a different story, something you might not realize from glancing over the Times Story or its headline until you get to this language buried in the middle:
The case, which comes on the heels of an $80 million fraud prosecution involving consultants on another city project, the CityTime automated payroll system, illustrates again the vast amounts of money the city is spending on technology, and the trust it was putting in independent consultants.
The Times story neglected to mention that these scandals are both in the area of the mayor’s vaunted expertise, computer data system management.

Policing the Police With Computers

Meanwhile, the Bloomberg administration is reassuringly selling computerization as the cure for the Police Department ticket-fixing scandal in the news the last few weeks. (See: April 22, 2011, Bloomberg Says Computers Will Cut Ticket-Fixing, By Diego Ribadeneira.)

And One More Story of Waste and Inefficiency Involving Bloomberg Bringing Computers to the City Schools

The foregoing stories about Bloomberg’s failures with respect to computer data system management also have to be distinguished from this other new story from WNYC, again involving a computer data management system for the city’s schools: Bloomberg By the Numbers: $80 Million School Data System Still Evolving, Thursday, March 24, 2011. Although this account involving “ARIS” (the Achievement Reporting Innovation System) doesn’t involve allegations of fraud it does involve allegations of disappointing waste and inefficiency.

Here’s how the WNYC report begins, together with a few excerpts from what ensues:
If there's one over-arching principle Mayor Michael Bloomberg has brought to city government, it's accountability through data. If you can measure something you can manage it better.

In 2007, the Bloomberg administration launched a new computer system for the city schools called ARIS, the Achievement Reporting Innovation System. The goal was to put information about test scores, attendance and student histories all in one place to help principals and teachers do a better job of reaching their students and improving performance. But the $80 million system hasn't yet achieved its full potential — even at schools that use it heavily.

* * * *

If ARIS is struggling to keep up with changing demands of teachers, that's partly because it had a difficult roll-out. IBM had to turn over most of the work when it fell behind schedule. The project was handed over to a subcontractor, the Brooklyn-based Wireless Generation (now owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, which also hired former Chancellor Joel Klein as a vice president for educational technology).

Sources said this wasted time and money. Plans to make the system more user-friendly for teachers to share information with one another got put on the back burner and so were plans to allow more regular updates of school-by-school data. But Suransky said ARIS should be able to add some of those features in by the fall with a feature called ARIS Local.
Troublesome Focus on Management by Troublesome Statistics

If you spend time absorbing the whole report (which is not all negative) you can form your own impression of whether Bloomberg’s constant emphasis on “data” and computerization makes managerial sense. It is possible that all this technology can just be a wall between real people and that in education the answers are really more about how real people interact with each other.

Also, sometimes Bloomberg data is just wrong and self-serving even as it goes unquestioned. Consider his statistics about the presumed growth of the city, or this respecting the Bloomberg administration’s statistics on: 1.) school test score improvements, 2.) addition of affordable housing units (as many were being lost as created), 3.) the lack of job creation and quality job creation, and 4.) police statistics. (On the presumed growth of the city see also this excellent piece summarizing a Francis Moronne Historic Districts Council address from Atlantic Yards Report: Friday, April 29, 2011, PlaNYC 2030, the questionable estimate of 1M more people, Morrone's history of erroneous NYC predictions, and the preservation movement.)

Bloombergian "Start From Scratch" Grandiosity

When you are questioning the reliability Bloomberg’s management expertise and the extent to which his statistics reflect a real world versus Bloomberg’s desire for an exulting edifice-complex oriented headline, the statement the in the Times about Bloomberg’s “big push” for an applied sciences school (“envisioned as one of the largest development projects in the city’s history” - What? Bigger than the Atlantic Yards mega-monoploy handed to Bruce Ratner?) has more ominous resonance:
William A. Zajc, chairman of Columbia’s* physics department, said the idea for an applied sciences school was a “field of dreams venture.”
(* Is this gripe just because Columbia doesn’t want competition for its takeover of West Harlem?)
(See: Bloomberg’s Big Push for an Applied Sciences School, by Javier C. Hernnandez, April 26, 2011.)

Some more tidbits from that Times story:
Critics have deplored the city’s willingness to offer incentives at a time of economic distress.

* * * *

“In a period of economic crisis, when we are so tight with our budget, we should not be giving incentives to private institutions,” City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan said.

* * * *

The idea is one of the more imaginative proposals to come out of Mr. Bloomberg’s City Hall, but it may also be among the riskiest.

* * * *

Some have faulted the city for not clearly articulating how it might recover some of its investments if the school does not turn out to be the economic engine that the mayor expects.
The Times story also includes criticism that the mayor should, instead, be thinking in terms of deploying the city capital (“the city has pledged to offer capital [$100 million or more] and public land”) to build upon and expand existing resources and programs rather than these grandiose plans to “start from scratch” which NYU’s proposal to the mayor dares to criticize:
“A ‘start from scratch’ approach that parachutes a new player into New York without the requisite ingredients that lead to success has the potential to be a waste of resources.”
Willlets Point, Atlantic Yards, Coney Island, even the Columbia expansion into West Harlem (potentially competing with the mayor's applied sciences school vision): Where else have we been hearing about the mayor’s intoxication with wiping the slate clean in order to “start from scratch” before building anything?

Yet, as the Times story notes, “Mr. Bloomberg has taken a strong personal interest in the project, embarking on a campaign-style effort to lobby university leaders and business executives” for his start from scratch approach.

Maybe Bloomberg is not serious about this new proposal. Maybe it is just that talking about parachuting “a new player into New York” just gives Bloomberg a better chance to roam around the country talking to power players on the national stage as he toys with the idea of replacing Donald Trump as the multi-billionaire Republican candidate to challenge Barack Obama in the next presidential election.

Net Net: When you read the Bloomberg stories in the news, they all have to be remembered and read together.

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