In New York, the state comptroller, Thomas P DiNapoli, has just yanked a $27m contract from Wireless Generation, the education company that News. Corp paid $360m for. Why? According to Mr DiNapoli, ‘We believe the record remains incomplete with respect to the vendor responsibility issues involving the parent company of Wireless Generation’.
So rather than waiting for judicial due process to take place in the UK and disregarding the US concept of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, Mr DiNapoli has unilaterally decided that Wireless Generation are guilty by association. Guilty of what is unclear, but Mr DiNapoli’s concerns don’t seem to extend to terminating the $44m Shared Learning Collaborative, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the software for which has been developed by guess who (Wireless Generation). Yes, the very same company who built and successfully managed the $80m Achievement and Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS) for the New York City Department of Education (NYCDE) about which a teacher (on the official NYCDE website) said, ‘I love the ‘new ARIS. It’s user friendly, quick and the amount of information available is amazing!’
From what I can find, it seems that there is a lot of dirty politics in this decision. Some of it relates to resentment towards Joel Klein who took a very senior job with News Corp, just prior to the purchase of Wireless Generation. There are rules that prevent former public officials working for companies or on projects with whom they had substantial involvement. Given the NYCED’s budget is almost $24bn p.a., ARIS would account for just 0.33%, hardly a substantial involvement.
A key influence in Mr DiNapoli’s decision seems to have been pressure from local teacher unions who lobbied the NYCDE against awarding the contract. One writer for the Huffington Post, Leonie Haimson, described as an education activist, is so virulently opposed to everything Joel Klein, Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch do in the sphere of education, she describes them as being part of ‘the educational-industrial-technological complex’. I’d laugh if this weren’t such simplistic agitprop pap. What the unions and Ms Haimson actually seem to object to is the idea that anyone who has anything to do with schools should make a profit. Well almost everything that goes into schools or is used by them is created by for-profit enterprises. Perhaps these misguided souls have never heard of a tiny company called Pearson, who a few months back paid $230m for SchoolNet, the major competitor in New York to Wireless Generation, who will certainly now be bidding for the $27m project funded by the Race to the Top programme.