More Power Politics in New York. Or, Another Hacking Victim

Mike’s “Stop the Madness!” plea to New York makes a lot of sense.  But, for better or worse, education governance is nothing if not political, which, as we know, is nothing if not a tad bloody.  And New Yorkers were reminded of that again yesterday, when the state’s comptroller pulled the plug (New York Times) on a multi-million-dollar no-bid contract to Wireless Generation to set up a data-base for New York City’s schools.

The intricate system of checks-and-balances that is a hallmark of our aging republic often seems more checks than balances. And the subject of Mike’s madness essay yesterday,  a court battle between State Ed and the state’s teacher union (round 1 to the union), sure seems worthy of an insanity verdict.  And today, as I read comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s decision, I would tend to agree with State Ed spokesman Johnathan Burman, who told the Times’ Sharon Otterman,

The comptroller has allowed political pressure to get in the way of vital technology that would help our students.

In this case, however, perhaps political pressure was a good thing.

Indeed, the $27-million Wireless Generation contract to monitor student performance is the result of a rather tangled web – WG was purchased by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation in November, just after it announced it was giving Joel Klein, who had pushed the WG contract forward as the city’s education chancellor, a job.  Given WG’s sterling reputation (it was already running a successful data system for the city’s schools) and the exigencies of Race to the Top deadlines to get the performance tracking system going, the contract might have overcome the appearance of conflict in the Murdoch/Klein shotgun wedding (News Corp says Klein had nothing to do with the purchase of WG), but it couldn’t survive the smell of the hacking scandal.

The anti-Klein legions will no doubt pounce on the comptroller’s decision as vindication of their criticisms of the Klein reforms – just as the state’s new commissioner of education, John King, must be tearing his hair out over another Gotham misstep (did someone say cheating?) while he’s trying to keep the state’s fragile reform engine running.  In fact, the moral here may just be the obvious one: the system, ungainly as it is, works.

–Peter Meyer

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