A “Name Al Melvin’s Special Interest” contest


by David Safier

(h/t to Craig McDermott of Random Musings [who cross posts on BfA] for his Arizona Legislature: The Coming week… post that alerted me to this story.)

Here's the question: What's the name of the education company Al Melvin wants to give $30 million in state funds to? (By the way, I don't know the answer, but I mention a possibility at the end of the post.)

Al Melvin is the sole sponsor of SB1239, a bill that would give one "educational technology provider" as much as $30 million to furnish a "technology-based reading intervention" strategy to the state to be used with K-3 students whose reading skills are lagging. The bill has an incredibly detailed shopping list of criteria — about 20 in all — which makes it sound like there are very few companies that could meet all of them — possibly only one. There's no way Al Melvin or any legislator could have come up with such an extensive, detailed list without a lot of help.

Here are some of the criteria:

  1. The programs must be "research-based" and "technology-based."
  2. The programs must be "designed to accelerate language and literacy development by delivering individualized instruction that is designed to teach each pupil phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, comprehension and fluency."
  3. The programs must allow students "to practice reading on the computer by recording the pupil's readings and comparing the pupil's readings to the reading model."
  4. The programs must "explicitly teach pupils academic vocabulary that is related to core content areas."
  5. The programs must "provide tutorials that introduce pupils to the computer and mouse and other hardware."
  6. The company must "provide software that is current with frequent content and technology updates that occur at least once a year."
  7. The company must provide "on-site assistance and support for technnical problems in less than twenty-four hours."

Here's one more bit of information that may be relevant to discovering the identity of the company: In 2010, Melvin and Huppenthal submitted a similar bill with similar language, SB1319, to purchase educational technology for ELL students.

So, what is the name of lucky corporation that can do all this, including assuring updates "at least once a year" and on-site help "in less than twenty-four hours"? In his initial post, Craig McDermott suggested the company might be Scientific Learning, whose main headquarters is in Oakland, CA, and whose only other office is in Tucson. My preliminary research tells me it's a very good guess, but that doesn't mean he's right.

Any ideas?


  1. Yes, concerned, it’s almost certainly Imagine Learning. Here’s my latest post on the subject: http://www.blogforarizona.com/blog/2013/02/ladies-and-gentlemen-we-have-a-winner-in-the-name-al-melvins-special-interest-contest.html . It’s as close to a slam dunk as it gets.

    You clearly know your stuff, far more than I, a mere high school English teacher who took some elementary stat classes in grad school so I could get my Masters in Urban Studies. It would be great if you would lend some of your expertise to helping us figure out if this company has anything going for it worthy of $30 million in Arizona budget dollars. Feel free to email me at safier@schooltales.com.

  2. If it is Imagine Learning we should be concerned. I have not seen the software, so cannot comment on that. I did take a look, however, at links to the “scientific” evaluations provided on the website. The two evaluations I examined were conducted by different firms, but both were very weak and neither would have passed a peer review process. Neither report appropriately described how much of the intervention the children were exposed to for how long. Both evaluations had very small treatment groups raising questions about “scaling up” or taking the program to a larger audience (certainly not statewide). There were no comparisons of the treatment and control groups on key demographic variables. The statistical analyses is simplistic (t-tests), and in the case of the Illinois sample the author is reporting significant differences in composite percentages. T-test are for mean comparisons. Both reports had pre- and post-test measures, but neither employed repeated measures analyses, or controlled for pre-test scores. If you haven’t guessed already, neither of these evaluations should be taken seriously and neither is justification for a thirty million dollar purchase of software.

    PBS has many children’s programs with ample and strong evaluation support for good results, and those programs are FREE! This option would free up 30 million dollars to hire teachers!

  3. Bingo! I think we’ve got a winner. Thucydides was the first to mention Imagine Learning, but this information makes it nearly a slam dunk.

    Did I mention Imagine Learning is part of ALEC and recently got an award from a school choice group? More evidence.

  4. Students in need of intense tutoring and additional help many times tend to not be the kind of kids who are self-directed enough to use these types of programs.

  5. This could be Mindplay. The bigger issue is why 30 million? This is a ridiculously large amount. You could hire one-on-one tutors across the state for those kids and get better results. Evaluations of this sort of software are mixed at best. Usually they are of poor design with few controls. You can not argue that this money would create jobs as the software exists, thus the only jobs would be individuals packaging and shipping it to school districts and perhaps overpriced “trainer.” if the software is any good, it should be self-evident how to use it.

  6. Thucydides, this looks like a plausible company, given the criteria of the bill. I’m interested. What makes you think Imagine Learning is the intended company? Why would Melvin, and probably Huppenthal, want to select it over others?

  7. No, it is Imagine Learning, a very creative and presumably effective software program out of Utah.

    They have had some very large impacts on results in some environments, not so much in others.