Update: Frankenstein, Idaho’s 40 Million Data Monster is Aliv…err…Dead?

640px-Frankenstein's_monster_(Boris_Karloff)The J.A. & Kathryn Albertson Foundation executive director, Roger Quarles, recently announced that the foundation will shift their philanthropic spending away from education and more towards community spending projects.

If anyone was shocked by this move, they shouldn’t have been; the foundation lost over 20 million dollars last year in an educational data tracking project they had no business involving themselves in.

Albertson blindly ignored the advice of the federal government warning against giving money to the ill-thought-out project up when the US Dept. Of Ed refused to issue Idaho a grant for a longitudinal data tracking system citing a myriad of problems with Idaho’s proposal.

Despite this warning, Albertson ponied up over 20 million dollars in cash for the project themselves…dollars that were so dysfunctionally spent the foundation is now refusing to give another dime to the project.

A little context here: See, a few months ago I took on the task of calculating the total cost of ISEE/Schoolnet, Idaho’s longitudinal student and teacher data tracking system.

Not only did a narrative of a taxpayer checkbook out of control quickly become apparent with the project bloating even the wildest projections of cost to develop (upwards of 42 million and counting), but an additional narrative of total dysfunction also emerged.

That’s right. This multimillion dollar project designed to collect and track student data from crib to cadaver is still offline despite years of development and literal wheelbarrows of Benjamins.

Indeed, a recent quote by Superintendent Geoff Thomas of Madison School District is telling of both the cost and usefulness of the incompetent system.

It’s true that you really can’t just make up such a hysterical waste of time and taxpayer funded money at both the state and federal level that this data mining exercise has engaged upon.

Except, now, it gets better. Recent meeting minutes from the Board of Education illuminate just how dire and dysfunctional this project has become.

According the minutes, the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation has finally pulled their purse out of the project.

As a reminder, the feds denied Idaho’s multimillion grant request for funds to develop the system because they wisely understood that Idaho’s vision for such a project was far from flushed out. The grant proposal was so poorly done that the Fed’s even offered Idaho some free, if smug, advice:

Idaho would benefit from hiring a professional grant writer

Yet, with poorly written paperwork set aside, when the Feds denied the pot of gold to Idaho the Albertson Foundation blindly ignored the Feds findings and promised to dump millions of their own into the failing venture.

Keep in mind that statewide and federal money also contributed about 20 million additional funds to this project; unfortunately tax payers were swindled on this one just as much as the Foundation.

Now, it appears, the Foundation has backed out of their promise in funding the project. According to the minutes, Albertson is refusing to turn on the money spicket for the final stream of dollars it had previously committed and promised to the state.

Even more comical, Pearson, the company hired to develop and maintain the data monster skipped town. As in won’t be part of the project in the future. Ever. According the minutes:

Pearson (owner of Schoolnet) has provided what they can to Idaho and will no longer service or upgrade the system.

Transplantation: We made a big mess…have fun cleaning it up Idaho!

Executive Director Quarles’ statement in a recent Boise State Public Radio interview is even more telling of just how big the fiasco was. Said Quarles:

 It is extremely frustrating when you have exceptional lifelong educators, truly committed to improving the profession, that we have provided resources for, that can’t get [their innovations] adopted in a school and or a mpllbdistrict and or statewide. You have to look at that and go ‘fundamentally there’s some problems within that system.’”

Sorry, but in this case the only system that had problems was was ISEE/Schoolnet, and the only person that can be blamed for that problem is the Foundation itself; it was their own decision to keep their head in the sand despite such a harsh warning about the projects viability from the Feds.

Sorry. Stop blaming this on the “system” and instead take this as an opportunity for self reflection.

So where does this story we thought couldn’t get any better…err worse…leave us?

Remember the whole reason that this project was deemed necessary to begin with because districts in the state were using a hodgepodge of individual systems that were not compatible with one another.

The state, and some outside interests like the Albertson Foundation, desired a single uniform longitudinal data system with the ability to trace students data from their cradle to grave along with teachers’ yearly standardised data performance outcomes.

Fast forward five years and forty million dollars to the future: Well, districts are still using a hodgepodge of independent systems that are still widely incompatible with one another.

According to the state’s document, locally made Milepost software, which costs a tiny fraction of ISEE/Schoolnet, is the most popular alternative.

Other districts, like the West Ada School District (formerly Meridian School District) have invested a substantial amount of their money into making the data monster halfway functional despite the writing on the wall.

In other words, after millions of dollars and countless years, the monster still lies on Victor Frankenstein’s table unable to be shocked to life.

And perhaps it’s better that it stays there. After all, even Dr. Frankenstein learned what happens when you force something into life when it just wasn’t meant to be.

The story didn’t end well.

1 thought on “Update: Frankenstein, Idaho’s 40 Million Data Monster is Aliv…err…Dead?

  1. Lilly Wells

    One difference? Everyone remembers the monster’s name (or the doctor who made him). In ten years, we won’t remember School net’s name, except in satirical chuckles. Good riddance.



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