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Gray: Ed Data Project "A Sordid Mess"

The D.C. Council spent a couple of hours hammering two senior District officials Friday afternoon about the collapse of the $12 million educational data warehouse it voted to fund more than a year ago.

On Sept. 9, the District dumped Williams, Adley & Co., the lead contractor on the Statewide Longitudinal Educational Data Warehouse (SLED), after spending $5.5 million on what officials said was a series of blown deadlines and instances of defective software. The system, considered a foundational element of school reform, was to be a repository for critical information about students, teachers and schools. Among the features was a "Unique Student Identifier," a number that would allow the District to track the academic progress of individual students from pre-K through college graduation.

Gray, joined by Council members David A. Catania (I-At-Large) and Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), told State Superintendent of Education Kerri L. Briggs and Chief Procurement Officer David P. Gragan that they approved Williams, Adley despite reservations about tight deadlines and the wherewithal of the firm. Gray said IBM, one of the other finalists for the job, "seemed to be eminently better."

"We were assured the deadlines were appropriate and that the contractor was up to the task," said Gray. Instead, the District has spent $5.5 million "to fund a project with no apparent tangible results," he added, calling the whole venture "a sordid mess."

Williams, Adley has not returned a series of phone calls and e-mails in the weeks since its contract was terminated.

Briggs inherited SLED from her predecessor, Deborah Gist, who resigned in April. But she was excoriated by Gray Friday for not informing the council about the project's troubles, which included the firm's own financial problems.

The District sent a "cure notice" to Williams, Adley in mid-June, warning it to correct serious performance issues, but Briggs did not brief Gray until late August.

"I can say we're going to do better attempts at communicating," a subdued Briggs said. But when she deflected questions about monitoring of the contract, citing possible litigation and the need to "preserve the District's options," Gray grew exasperated.

"Why aren't we entitled to know that?" he asked.

Catania said the issues were larger than SLED, and went to the nature of the District's contracting and procurement practices. Nine firms presented proposals for the project.

"Our contracting and procurement system has nothing to do with getting the best product at the best price," he said, calling the process "replete with gamesmanship, winks and subjectivity."

The District has retained Gartner, an IT research firm, to determine how to get the project back on track.

Bill Turque

By Bill Turque  |  October 23, 2009; 7:03 PM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque , Education  
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I saw that hearing today. She looked like she was about to break down and cry. But I didn't feel sorry for her. We lost millions behind it and can't sue because the company doesn't have a dime to give back. More waste!

Posted by: candycane1 | October 23, 2009 8:29 PM | Report abuse

sorry, my twisted mind says it was a set-up. A company that had a long history serving big deal clients (see comments on the link above) doesn't go down like this. I say Rhee never really wanted a legitimate database because she doesn't want legitimate data. So she chose a small company she could trash when they wouldn't play her game and then blame for not providing the precious data without which she can't track student progress.

This plan wouldn't have worked so well with an IBM. A big firm wouldn't be destroyed by one bad contract.

Then again, maybe it's just another indication of Rhee's poor management.

I think of a RIFd teacher reading this and thinking - that's where my salary went.

Posted by: efavorite | October 23, 2009 11:58 PM | Report abuse

it is clear the City Council is AWOL. It has long since abandoned its governance responsibilities and all the citizens need to call for voluntary resignations.

The district needs another control board this time for a commission to take control of basic day to day operation.

Posted by: JohnAdams1 | October 24, 2009 12:14 AM | Report abuse

"Data warehouse" was a big buzz-phrase of the 90's. What happened here is that someone in the public sector happens across it a decade later, thinks that it is what they want to buy, sinks a zillion dollars into it, and ends up with nothing.

All this because "data warehouse" was never anything more than a buzzphrase. It means nothing at all in terms of getting results.

I mean, a big manufacturer wouldn't sink a lot of money into a real physical warehouse thinking it would make up for the fact that he's manufacturing defective junk. Yet that's how a "data warehouse" is sold.

Posted by: Virginiadude1 | October 24, 2009 8:09 AM | Report abuse

What the heck are the City Council responsibilities?? Maybe there needs to be a JOB DISCRIPTION writen up so if there is a question about more failures, COUNCIL MEMBERS could be FIRED!!! Sounds to me that the Council is OVERPAID and UNDERWORKED!!!!

And the District is worried about HOME RULE and having a vote in the House and Senate. What a joke. Better yet "What a Disgrace."

Could the D.C. Government be a "microcosm" of the Federal Government????

Posted by: doughboy96 | October 24, 2009 10:18 AM | Report abuse

This City Council is a joke! Come on,start working for DC citizens.

Posted by: DCWatcher3 | October 24, 2009 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Let's see: the original choice was between IBM, a nationally-known blue-chip company, and a no-name firm whose main qualification seems to be that the principals were all members of the National Association of Black Accountants.

Looks like once again, racial favoritism on the part of DC's self-serving but incompetent black ruling class has made a move in favor of fat paychecks for well-connected members of the DC black elite, and against the competent provision of public services.

See also: DC public schools, etc.

Posted by: BenjaminL | October 24, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Everybody else gets a computer system but DC was going to get an "educational data warehouse".

"The system, considered a foundational element of school reform, was to be a repository for critical information about students, teachers and schools."

I guess DC does need this since 3 weeks ago a deputy of Ms. Rhee in public hearing could not tell which schools 79 Special Education students recently transferred into the DC public school system were assigned to.

A hint to DC. Find out which school system in the country has the type of system that you require and then duplicate it.

Wouldn't it be great if the federal government provided this type of service instead of billions being spent and misspent to obtain a pretty straight forward computer system by everybody having to reinvent the wheel?

But that would mean that school systems would save money and could actually use it on education, and that the Department of Education actually did something.

The FBI lost millions on a canceled computer system worked on by a reputable company.

Among the features was a "Unique Student Identifier,"

Every type of computer database system has to have unique identifiers and it would be worthless to have a computer system without unique numbers.

Posted by: bsallamack | October 24, 2009 6:19 PM | Report abuse

Funny, BenjaminL, I don't recall your making such statements when ineptitude was the order of the day--for eight years, no less--at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. by Bush, Cheney & Co. Oh, I get it. Racial favoritism is alright as long as whites are the ones being favored.

See Also: Halliburton, Inc. and The Bush Good Ole Boy network, etc.

Posted by: schooletal | October 24, 2009 7:04 PM | Report abuse

Among the features was a "Unique Student Identifier,"
In reviewing previous articles about this system I see there were problems in creating a student identifier.

One simple method is to not use a number system but rather a character system.
A unique identifier can be created by combining the birth date of a student with their full name.

This has an advantage over a random number system since the birth date in the identifier offers information. For example a list of all students of a certain age can be created by just processing the identifiers.

This also offers an easy method of using existing local electronic records to create the identifier and merge multiple local electronic records from different sources into a central computer system.

Hand assigning random numerical identifiers to local existing electronics is a nightmare and extremely expensive.

Posted by: bsallamack | October 24, 2009 7:12 PM | Report abuse

It's probably worth pointing out that this is an OSSE issue, not a DCPS issue.

Posted by: proxy_knock | October 25, 2009 1:35 PM | Report abuse

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