The California ed-tech firm that hired ex-schools Chancellor Richard Carranza cashed in on the COVID-19 pandemic in NYC, reaping millions of dollars from the Department of Education under his reign, records show.
IXL Learning, Inc. — which named Carranza its chief of strategy and global development — has been paid $3.3 million by the DOE in the past two years alone.
The Silicon Valley outfit has collected $2.1 million in NYC taxpayer funds this school year. That nearly doubled the $1.2 million it made last school year as the DOE expanded remote instruction, according to records compiled by the city comptroller’s office.
Observers expect IXL’s windfall to grow with Carranza as its salesman.
He “brings to the table a wealth of contacts and people who owe him favors” in New York, Houston and San Francisco, where he has led school districts, said Alina Adams, a Manhattan mom and writer who runs the website “NYC School Secrets: Parents Helping Parents.”
“Some of the people in charge of deciding whether or not to buy IXL products will be the same people that Carranza hired.”
Carranza’s new gig as a top executive for a DOE vendor raises serious conflict-of-interest questions.
Under NYC laws, city employees may not seek jobs — including submit a resume, discuss opportunities, or interview — with a company they are dealing with as part of their city job, the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) states.
Carranza announced his resignation on Feb. 26, saying he needed time to grieve 11 loved ones lost to COVID-19. IXL announced his hiring in a press release dated April 1, less than three weeks after his last day as chancellor.
The company did not respond to questions about when they began negotiating with Carranza. The DOE said Carranza “followed all job-hunting conflict and recusal rules while securing his job with IXL”
Other rules prohibit former city employees in the private sector from disclosing or using “confidential information” for personal advantage. They can’t communicate with their former city agency on behalf of a new employer or business for a year. And they can “never” work on a matter, such as a contract, for a non-city employer if they worked on it for the city.
“It’s a judgment call on what inside information falls within the prohibition,” said Brooklyn College and CUNY Grad Center education professor David Bloomfield. “It will be hard not to use the information [Carranza] has to benefit his new employer.”
DOE spokeswoman Danielle Filson said, “Former Chancellor Carranza has pledged to follow all conflicts rules and will not engage with DOE or NYCDOE school officials on behalf of IXL for one year.”
IXL provides educational software on math, language arts, science, and social students for grades K-12, and tools such as Rosetta Stone, the foreign language program IXL acquired, Filson said.
The DOE has paid IXL about $5.6 million since 2011, the comptroller’s records show. In 2016, under former Chancellor Carmen Fariña, the DOE awarded IXL a seven-year contract at a maximum cost of $1,041,869, but payments have exceeded that — against procurement rules.
“The DOE often spends beyond registered contract maximums before submitting amendments or extensions to the comptroller’s Office,” said Hazel Crampton-Hays, press secretary for Comptroller Scott Stringer.
Since last year, the DOE has installed IXL software, among others, in some 500,000 city-purchased iPads for students to study remotely due to COVID-19. This did not cost extra, the DOE said.
The IXL Learning website says: “1 in 5 NYC students use IXL. In the past school year, they have collectively mastered 240,046 skills and become proficient in 344,062 skills!” It adds: “14,130,041 questions answered by NYC students.”
The DOE could not vouch for the numbers and IXL would not explain their basis.
Many online reviews by students and parents nationwide blast IXL software, which “gamifies” instruction, for a point system that brings some kids to tears.
“I once walked into my daughter’s bedroom to see her poised to SMASH her computer on the floor after 3 hours of IXL,” a parent wrote.
A 17-year-old said in a post that nine of 10 kids “not only hate IXL but would rather read a hardcover book. That’s not normal for this generation.” He added, “I’ve also found that while answering questions in IXL people tend to get anxious, angry, upset, frustrated, and sometimes depressed.”
The reviews alarmed Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters.
“I have no gripe about Carranza getting whatever job he can after the stressful experience he was put through in NYC. However, he shouldn’t be working to promote a product with such distressing impact on kids,” she said “No district should use it, no matter what Carranza says.”