Monday, May 05, 2008

"I wish I could steal it." A quote from the Pgh Public School Biz Meeting, tonight

Tonight I went to a Business Committee Meeting of the Pgh Public Schools with administrators and most of the members of the school board. A few things came up.

The director of the school district's technology department gave a presentation. The 'dashboard' system is on its way out. Rather, they cooked up a new system.

A guy with a Pitt connection got to say a couple of words in support of what the district has been building. His main statement was, "I do a lot of consulting work with other districts around the region. I wish I could steal the system that you have. It is very good."

After he spoke, I went over to him and say, "You should be able to steal it. Why can't you."

He laughed.

I was serious.

There is no reason why the software that the Pgh Public School is building isn't open source software.

Furthermore, the first question from a board member after the presentation was, "Is there a revenue stream that could be developed with the software." The question came from Heather Arnet. It was her only question in that period.

It is a fair question, given the hype, but it is the wrong direction.

The answer from the tech administrator from the district was wierd too. He said that they've talked a good deal about the business model and the possibility of selling the software and such. But he was leaning to a 'service model' for a possible sales avenue. The PPS District could scan the test answer sheets from the classrooms of the various schools in other school districts and then offer them a turnkey data evaluation and reporting system.

The real value in the system now is the high-speed scanning and the quick turn around. When the central administration gets the test scores by 9 am, the results are generally kicked back to the schools by noon of the same day. Great.

So, the enterprise and value seems to be in the service provider elements. Interesting.

But, the system is NOT open source. And, there was NO discussion of open source, open access and open ways with the entire discussion.

The technology department is trying to be with a good customer service model. They are gearing up to be user driven. Fine. The users are the administrators, principals, coaches (science coaches, math, reading, etc.), and teachers. Humm...

Not a peep about the customers being the parents, the communities, the taxpayers nor the public.

As the public schools develop software, the work product should be put into the public domain.

I'm not looking to harvest personal data and make privacy screw-ups. But, I want the systems to work for the right populations and have the priorities that make sense.

The red flag was raised, slightly, by a couple of board members. The elected school board members are NOT part of the audience from the technology department. School board members have been totally locked out of the data so far. Total firewall. Total blackout. Total denial of services to school board members has been the norm from the get go by design.

The question was asked, and the bureaucrat said, "We'll look into it." He gave the wrong answer. Well, it wouldn't wash with me.

The school reports and data that is now being delivered is a work in progress and it has some merit. It is 'very good' for them to pat themselves on their backs about now. The teachers know nothing of these systems yet. And, teachers have always been a big sticking point.

But, very good isn't good enough, especially when talking about vaporware.

The golden ticket that I'm looking for was NOT mentioned. In this big packet of information there wasn't a peep given to "rate of improvement." That is the key. That is what needs to be identified.

I have a coaching friend in California that has done a lot of work with data and kids -- in swimming. Swimming has data like no other avenue. The golden key is 'rate of improvement.' That number (rate of improvement) needs to be generated by kid, class, teacher, grade, school, district, county, race, gender, subject, skill set and all the other benchmarks that can be imagined.

Kids grow older. We know that. And, they grow at different rates. We know that too. But I want to know if they are getting smarter and more skilled at a rate that is better than before, their peers, and expected.

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