New York City’s Department of Education already has contracts with Wireless Generation — a Brooklyn-based education technology company — but the timing of this latest one is bound to cause a stir, fairly or not.
About six months after former Schools Chancellor Joel Klein joined News Corporation and the company bought Wireless Generation, the DOE plans to renew a $4.5 million contract — $1.5 million a year for three years. The document describing the contract says only that it is for “published and copyrighted assessment and testing materials.” A spokesperson for the DOE said a fuller description of the contract was still being written and would not be available until several days before the Panel for Educational Policy meeting on May 18, when the contract will be voted on. She said the city has been using Wireless Generation’s software for seven years and is voting to renew a long-standing contract.
[Update 5/5/11]: Wireless Generation spokeswoman Andrea Reibel said that the contract permits schools to purchase assessment software from the company. The software allows teachers to watch their students as they read or work on math problems and enter their observations into a program on a mobile device that can then sort and analyze the data.
“The $1.5 million is their [the DOE's] estimate of what the expenditure is likely to be so they can provide the Panel for Educational Policy with a sense of how much money we’re talking about,” Reibel said.
“It’s all dependent on how many schools purchase the software; there’s no guarantee there.”
When it was announced last November that News Corporation would acquire 90 percent of Wireless Generation, the New York Times wrote that conflict of interest laws would bar Klein from handling any business between the city and Wireless Generation. The paper noted:
City employees are never allowed to disclose confidential information about the city’s business dealings or future strategy, and they cannot communicate with the agency for which they worked for one year after they leave. The rules also bar them from ever working on matters they had substantial involvement in as city employees.
The contract description from the Panel for Educational Policy May 18th agenda: