"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, December 01, 2008

How Paul Vallas and Arne Duncan Helped to Make SchoolNet, Inc. # 1

“You won’t see a business case for a new ERP [enterprise resource planning] system in a school district that doesn’t include the need to meet the requirements for No Child Left Behind,” he said. “That’s clearly a big part of the rationale for making these investments.” Philip Benowitz, Director, Deloitte Consulting Inc. 2006 from "'No Child" Fosters Compliance Biz"

When former tech geek and self-described "serial entrepreneur" Jonathan Harber (at left) pledged 50,000 shares of non-existent stock to his alma mater, Wesleyan College, in 2003, maybe he had good reason to imagine big things for his fledgling company. Five years earlier, along with veteran education think-tanker and business solutionist, Denis Doyle (see scary sample of ideas here), Harber became the co-founder of a school management software company that, since then, has shown meteoric growth.

It could be, I suppose, that when Jonathan was promising those imaginary shares at Wesleyan, he had already received the news that Paul Vallas had just approved $6,000,000 in Philly public education funds for SchoolNet to operate a "curriculum reform project." From budget documents online:
RESOLVED, That the School Reform Commission authorizes the School District of Philadelphia, through the Chief Information Officer or designee, to amend resolution #E-17 dated May 21, 2003 with SchoolNet to increase the amount payable by $342,000 for a revised total of $6,042,000 for Phase I of the curriculum reform project beginning June 1, 2003 and continuing perpetually.
Perpetually? Perpetually enough that it is reported that Philadelphia Schools have paid out $20,000,000 between 2004 and 2008. And still counting. Once these school systems sink several millions of dollars and input their data, it is very difficult to pull the plug--it is easier to just keep paying and keep buying the new software updates. 2003 was the same year Phllly school chief, Vallas, budgeted for Voyager $1.5 million and Princeton Review $2 million. No wonder Vallas left a huge budget deficit when he went to save another large contingent of poor people in New Orleans.

Why it is, exactly, that SchoolNet, Inc. has become the darling of the education privateers is probably discoverable, if there were any media outlet or curious reporter that wanted to know, but what we do know is that SchoolNet, Inc. has come from nowhere in just 10 years to now being included as a case at the Harvard Business School and in entrepreneuial discussions by the young, shiny, and hungry faces of the leaders in waiting at Yale.

But things just kept getting better for Jonathan, the young CEO, and Denis, the crusty dean of business miracles for schools. In the very next year, SchoolNet organized and hosted its 1st annual conference, EduStat 2004, to promote their technology solutions for all your data problems. And who does the fledgling company attract as speakers?
The EduStat Summit, which attracted superintendents, district chief information officers, and curriculum directors from the nation's largest school districts featured keynote addresses by Joel I. Klein, Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, Sandy Kress, principal architect of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), and Susan Patrick, Director of Educational Technology, Office of the U.S. Secretary of Education. Though unable to attend in person, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige provided a welcome message via video.

"I actually believe that data and understanding data can be transformative in understanding public education," Klein said. "If you can't measure data, you can't tell what performance is about."
It seems New York City has more interest in SchoolNet than just sending Chancellor Klein down to deliver words of wisdom to the gathered edupreneurs and desperate superintendents, who are all trying to figure a way to make AYP. In fact, the very next year, young Jonathan's company received a boost of $3,000,000 in capital investment by the New York City Investment Fund (NYCIF). This first infusion of cash signaled the beginning of strong relationship with NYCIF, so that now SchoolNet, Inc. is listed prominently among NYCIF's investment portfolio. Part of the "civic mission" that drives NYCIF, no doubt.

But NYCIF's civic mission for SchoolNet did not end there. It was one of three bundlers who infused another $12.5 million in 2008. This was after the Carlyle Group, yes that Carlyle Group, headlined another trio of outfits giving Denis and Jonathan another $19 million in 2006. It makes one wonder who all is getting infused with all those infusions.

But SchoolNet was not simply receiving handouts during this time. In 2007, in fact, Arne Duncan signed off on a no-bid contract that would send $4 million into SchoolNet coffers. Good boy, Jonathan. Despite a number of companies that provide the same kinds of services and products as SchooNet, the Chicago agreement claimed "SchoolNet is the only company that can provide the software in the context of the IMPACT project."

And now SchooNet just keeps rolling. DC Schools have joined the SchoolNet party at a price unknown, and in June, even during an audit investigating claims of wasteful spending by the Fulton County School Board, the Board approved on June 8, in a 6-1 vote, a contract for metropolitan Atlanta that has not yet seen the light of day--or if it has, we have not found it. Anyone at the Journal-Constitution need a story?

Maybe Jonathan will make good on that fantasy gift to Wesleyan, after all. It could depend on how well the latest experiment in NYC schools can be "brought to scale" and "rolled out." And, of course, it will depend on SchoolNet getting to develop the software in that free and open market that Denis Doyle is so fond of waxing poetic about. But then, the big announcement of first year results of the new technology initiative was made at EduStat 2008, held in Colorado--it was one of three cases selected and introduced by Jonathan and Denis and shepherded by none other than Chancellor Klein.
Case Study 2: New York City Public Schools, IS 237, New York: Using Data to Drive Instruction-A Paradigm Shift in Designing Instruction from Curriculum to Student Needs
  1. Presenters: Joseph D. Cantara-Principal Rachel Carson IS 237-Magnet School for The Arts and Stephen Galizia-Assistant Principal

  2. Topic Description: This case study will elaborate on and share with participants the first year's implementation of a specific protocol for looking at data by Middle School Teachers in a large suburban school setting to plan instruction in a way that was different from previous years. The Classroom Focused Improvement Plan (CFIP), developed by Dr. Mike Hickey, which was first introduced in September 2007 to the staff of IS 237 in Queens, New York, provided these teachers with a mechanism for the discussion, and analyzing of standardized test data, enabling them to better plan their instruction. This case study will outline the introduction of this new protocol, the issues, problems, and strengths encountered by the Teachers and Administrative Staff of IS 237, and provide the participants with an overview to the development of the CFIP at IS 237 over the course of the school year.
I guess it is true, after all: what goes around does come around.

Last update 12/02/08


  1. Anonymous1:12 PM

    How this Korporate-feeding BS can continue in this era of economic contraction and extreme budget cuts (imminent) just amazes me.

    These people are rotten-to-the-core, and are enemeies of American Education, all in the name of enriching themselves. What scum!

    Here in Los Angeles, they are discussing, among other extreme possibilities, cutting back to a 4-day schoolweek to save money in the Spring semester.

    The Educational Piue is shrinking right before our eyes---LET'S KEEP THE KORPORATE THIEVES AND FATCATS FROM STEALING EVEN MORE FROM US!!

    Also, we've got to find a way to get Susan Ohanian and/or Jim Horn alone in a room with President Obama for just 20 minutes!!

  2. Anonymous4:38 PM



    My bad.

    I was so mad about the topic I forgot
    to proofread!


  3. Anonymous6:43 PM

    We are teaching to the tests, no matter what administrators tell the press. As a result, the amount of actual information the children receive is in serious decline. There is no net gain. The only gains are achieved by administrators whose salaries are dependent upon test scores, and the numerous manufacturers of test prep materials. The children and the country will suffer as a result of this latest educational/political fiasco.