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Quietly, the $80 million data system launches — er, relaunches

A year after the program was launched to a widespread “meh,” the $80 million ARIS data system that is supposed to give educators and families detailed information about students’ performance in school is now online, all over again!

This week, principals are beginning half-day training sessions to learn how to access their students’ data, and soon they will sign up two members of their staff to become in-house experts on the system. Signing up staff members is listed as a “***REQUIRED/HIGH PRIORITY***” item in this week’s newsletter from Chancellor Joel Klein to principals.

This launch is going to get political fast, especially in this budget climate. Many groups, including the teachers union, principals union, and an immigrant families group, have singled out ARIS as a line item that should be first on the chopping block. In terms of slicing jobs, the accountability office, which has been ballooning in size, partly in order to manage ARIS, is an easy target. (Right now the Department of Education lists nine job openings in the accountability office.)

The administration will argue that without ARIS, the department could not execute its innovative initiatives. Many people, not just Klein disciples, believe that teachers can improve their craft and raise student performance by looking carefully at student scores on well-designed tests given periodically throughout a school year. I heard the president of decidedly old-guard Teachers College, Susan Fuhrman, endorse this “new way” of teaching just yesterday, at a presentation on entrepreneurship in education.

Plus, ARIS powers the progress reports that are the way the department decides whether schools are succeeding or not. Even department officials will admit the reports are a work in progress. But without them, they would argue, there is absolutely no way to decide whether schools are succeeding or not — no way short of No Child Left Behind, that is.

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