Few independent studies have been done to assess the effectiveness of Ignite's teaching strategies. Neil Bush said the company had gotten "great feedback" from educators and planned to conduct a "major scientifically valid study" to assess the COW's impact. The results should be in by next summer, he said.
Though Ignite's products get generally rave reviews from Texas educators, the opinion is not universal.
The Tornillo, Texas, Independent School District no longer uses the Ignite programs it purchased several years ago for $43,000.
"I wouldn't advise anyone else to use it," said Supt. Paul Vranish. "Nobody wanted to use it, and the principal who bought it is no longer here."
Ignite's website features glowing videotaped testimonials from teachers, administrators, students and parents.
Many of the videos were shot at Del Valle Junior High School near Austin, where school district officials allowed Ignite to film facilities and students.
In the video, a student named India says: "I was feeling bad about my grades. I didn't know what my teacher was talking about." The COW changed everything, the girl's father says on the video.
Lori, a woman identified as India's teacher, says the child was not paying attention until the COW was brought in.
The woman, however, is not India's teacher, but Lori Anderson, a former teacher and now Ignite's marketing director. Ignite says Anderson was simply role-playing.
In return for use of its students and facilities, a district spokeswoman said Ignite donated a free COW. Five others were purchased with district funds.
District spokeswoman Celina Bley acknowledged that regulations bar school officials from endorsing products. But she said that restriction did not apply to the videos.
"It is illegal for individuals to make an endorsement, but this was a districtwide endorsement," Bley said in an e-mail.