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NYC Schools Approve $2.7 Million Deal with Murdoch-Linked Firm to Track Student Performance

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The New York City-based group Class Size Matters has just launched a petition calling on New York officials to reject a no-bid contract that would give the company Wireless Generation, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, access to the personal data of schoolchildren. The deal was awarded shortly after the former head of New York City schools, Joel Klein, joined News Corp.’s board. Klein attended the British parliamentary hearing with Murdoch on the phone-hacking scandal today in London. We speak to Leonie Haimson, a New York public school parent and executive director of Class Size Matters. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we talk about the Murdoch empire in the United States, which owns everything from HarperCollins to Fox News Channel to Fox Kids channel, Fox Business Network, TV Guide Channel, National Geographic Channel, also is part owner in some sports teams, including the Los Angeles Lakers, Colorado Rockies, Australia and New Zealand’s national rugby league, we’re going to talk about something else the Murdoch empire owns. We’re joined on Democracy Now! video stream by Leonie Haimson. She is a New York public school parent and executive director of the group Class Size Matters, which has just launched a petition calling on New York state officials to reject a no-bid contract that would give a Murdoch-owned company access to the personal data of schoolchildren. The deal was awarded shortly after the former chancellor of the New York City schools, Joel Klein, joined News Corp.’s board.

Leonie Haimson, tell us then what happened.

LEONIE HAIMSON: Well, actually Joel Klein, when he announced he was resigning from being chancellor of the Department of Education in New York City, immediately announced that he would head Rupert Murdoch’s new online learning division of News Corp., and in January he left to become head of this division. Right after he announced he was resigning, Murdoch bought Wireless Generation, which had contracts with the New York City Department of Education. And when there was a controversy about that, Murdoch’s spokesperson said that he had not consulted with Joel Klein before buying this company, which is very unconvincing, because if you hire someone to head your new online learning division, it’s somehow unrealistic to expect that you didn’t discuss it with the person who’s heading that division.

But in any case, a few weeks ago, it was announced by the New York State Education Department that they plan to give a $27 million no-bid contract to Wireless Generation to produce a statewide data system that would gather all the information, the academic information and personal information, of students throughout the state in order to track their academic progress. And obviously there are a number of concerns that we have with this contract. Number one, with all the allegations about phone hacking, etc., we really have concerns about the privacy of New York state and students, because anyone who has access to that information will have to guard it very closely. And secondly, the whole issue of no-bid contracts is one that we have concerns about, because obviously we want to have taxpayers get their money’s worth. We don’t want to open up the public coffers wide for the Murdoch companies to make money off of our kids.

And we also have concerns because we have this product in New York City that Wireless created, a data system called ARIS, which cost us already $80 million and is widely believed and discussed openly as an inferior product. There are many other data systems that are much better, and principals and teachers have said that this is a very inferior product, it’s not useful, and it was a really big waste of money. It’s widely conceded to have been a big waste of money when New York City acquired it. So now for it to go statewide really brings up yet another issue, which is conflict of interest. Why was this contract awarded Wireless Generation, when in New York City the data system is so widely regarded as being a failure?

So, we have a lot of concerns about this potential no-bid contract, and we’re hoping that the New York state controller will reject it and/or the federal government will look into it. Our petition is also to the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Education, because this data system is being bought with federal funds.

AMY GOODMAN: And has there actually been discussion with New York state? I mean, the contract was—the no-bid contract was approved, Leonie.

LEONIE HAIMSON: No, it was not exactly approved. What the New York state controller said is you can go ahead and consider it, but it has not been finally approved. There was two no-bid contracts with the New York City Department of Education also outstanding, and one of those has apparently been approved by the New York City controller. And then there’s a second no-bid contract that is still being—has not yet been registered. But the state contracting has not yet been finally approved, and that’s the purpose of our petition, among other things, is to prevent this from happening, because, of course, the allegations about privacy, hacking into the phones of murder victims, etc., has only arisen in the last few days. And we’re hoping that the state controller will now take a closer and sharper look at this issue and not register that contract.

AMY GOODMAN: Leonie Haimson, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of Class Size Matters, launched a petition to cancel the no-bid contract for the Murdoch company in New York, also edits the blog

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