Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Welch, Tweed, Farina, and Creative Destruction

A great discussion (started by Woodlass) broke out on the NYC Public School Parent listserve that led to the ideology of "creative destruction" behind much of what Tweed is doing today. A lot of it is laid to former GE chairman, Neutron Jack Welch, who was instrumental in setting the ideoligcal framework of the Principal Academy.

Carmen Farina's name came up because she was quoted in a Business Week article from June 2003. Farina replaced Diana Lam as chief ed mucky muck at Tweed and gave Klein educational cover for creative destruction of the system, but was declared obsolute after her usefullness was over, supposedly being told she didn't have the skill set for the job – which means she spent some time in the classroom. Note how she spoke out [below] about 10 minutes after hearing her name was being bandied about.

Farina's original BW quote from June, 2003:
"Jack Welch said one thing that really struck me…You can't allow an organization to grow complacent. When you find those kinds of organizations, you have to tear them apart and create chaos. That chaos creates a sense of urgency, and that sense of urgency will ultimately bring [about] improvement."

Farina's comment posted on the listserve Sunday, Nov. 11, 2007:
"Complacency is not the same as complicity in how to evaluate schools. The problem with the report cards is that they leave out the human touch from evaluation and evaluating the caliber of teaching. I am not for any report that focuses only on grades since most of us know a complete education for our children includes critical thinking, problem solving, humane education and writing skills. None of these are possible with this evaluation. Hopefully parents can see beyond the reports and evaluate for themselves how their own schools are serving their children. The people who are giving greatest credence to these reports are those who do not have children in our schools. My favorite choice for Charlie [grandchild] right now is not an A school but one that strikes the balance of all important issues and respect the development stage of his growth. It is also does not stress test prep. Don't know who is quoting me out of context but feel free to put this quote on blog."

Now she tells us. Farina was part of the enabling structure that gave Klein cover.
In the words of Ricky Ricardo, Farina has a lot of splaining to do.

Leonie Haimson followed up with this:
There’s been a lot of discussion about the Carmen Farina’s quotation and its source. This came originally from an article in Business Week – about the first phase of the DOE’s so-called “Children’s First” reforms, when they eliminated the districts, formed the regions, selected a uniform curriculum, etc.etc. following the expert advice of that renowned educator, Jack Welch of GM, along with a bunch of McKinsey consulants.

I quoted it in testimony during hearings in the fall of 2004 held by Virginia Fields when she was the Manhattan Borough President. (Her full testimony is here.)
This quotation was included in testimony I delivered in the fall of 2004, during hearings held by then-Manhattan Borough President Virginia Fields on the first phase of the Children’s First reforms. I was describing the free-wheeling attitude of the administration and the theory of “creative destruction” that was supposed to revolutionize education in this city, popularized by Jack Welch, former president of GE and the McKinsey consultants who were brought to DOE by Klein to bring change. They decided to dissolve the districts, and create the regions that would take their place, an decision which in turn, led to thousands of special education students being deprived of services and referrals for more than a year.

The regions are now gone, replaced by an even more inchoate management and organizational structure. Carmen Farina was subsequently promoted to Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning after Diana Lam left in disgrace; she lasted two years, until retiring in April 2006, to be replaced by Andres Alonso, who has since departed for Baltimore.

Klein may have endured longer than most modern Chancellors in the city’s history; but the top educator post in the Department has been a revolving door, reflecting the rapidly changing fads and fashions in the methods and theories of reform attempted by this administration.

It all seems so sadly familiar, even though the main actors have changed somewhat . Instead of Jack Welch and Mckinsey consultants ripping things apart and sowing chaos, we’re now dealing w/ new confusion and problems created by a former Columbia Law Professor and others, including a former executive at Edison schools.

Yet sadly, the attitude and underlying incompetence is the same, the extreme arrogance and a lack of any knowledge about what makes good schools work, and how to improve those that aren’t.

After reading Leonie's piece, I urged people to read teacher Mary Hoffman’s piece, Jack Welch is My Daddy, at the ICE web site and this led to Leonie’s response:

The article Norm cites is very interesting at It takes a look at the PBS series about the Leadership Academy, and examined the training given to principal recruits in relation to what was happening at the author’s own school and systemwide.

Here are two excerpts from the piece about the Jack Welch philosophy, the first showing its overriding emphasis on test scores, the second on ridding the schools of teachers who are contrary, ineffective, or who don’t buy into this philosophy:

“Jack Welch had invited the [Leadership] Academy’s students to GE’s upstate conference center for a weekend retreat. At one point they were all seated around him in a circle. The topic under discussion was the value of teacher incentives. I was heartened when one of the aspiring principals took issue with the idea that incentives should be tied solely to test performance. “Children are not products,” she said, heatedly, and went on to present her case: schools must try to consider each child’s individual needs and talents...

Mr. Welch squashed her outburst. “Oh, yes they are,” he said, with the absolute assurance of a man whose retirement package was so generous that it even raised eyebrows on Wall Street, and her protest petered out.”

“…This fall, the opening episode of the documentary about the Leadership Academy featured scenes from the ceremony for the first class of graduates. Chancellor Joel Klein addressed the gathering, as did Mayor Bloomberg. Again, Jack Welch played a role in the proceedings. When I saw him at the podium I wondered: would he wish the graduates luck? Tell them they could continue to call on him for advice and support? Thank them in advance for the years of public service they were about to embark upon?

“Get rid of your negative people,” he said.

Not an unexpected sentiment, coming from Jack Welch, if somewhat inappropriately – well, negative – for the occasion. He earned the title “Neutron Jack” for his slash-and-burn style of doing employee relations. His lack of concern for how his policies impacted on his employees is legendary.”

The Jack Welch philosophy, in a nutshell, is the ideological approach that now dominates Tweed. Make principals and staff focus solely on test scores, create as many incentives as possible to pump those test scores up, and get rid of any educators who don’t raise test scores sufficiently or don’t buy into this philosophy.

At the outset, this theory conflicted with what I call the District 2 ideology, that also another strand in the first wave of reforms and that the leadership of Carmen Farina exemplified – an overwhelming emphasis on professional development and sometimes heavy handed oversight of teaching methods, which it was believed would produce its own results—no matter what other problematic conditions might exist in schools, whether that be students of different backgrounds or needs, overcrowding, large classes, or anything else that might hamper these goals.

The D2 model led to the emphasis on the workshop model, constructivist curriculums, literacy and math coaches in all schools, etc. etc. I think this model of reform has its own weaknesses, but at least it exemplified a more holistic view of education – as well as an acceptance that leadership at the top has some responsibility for helping schools improve.

Now everyone in top leadership positions, including district superintendents, are supposed to take a hands –off attitude towards schools, and in the case of superintendents only “evaluate” the schools in their district rather than help them succeed. Just as kids are seen primarily as test scores, the evaluation of principals by superintendents and soon, the performance of teachers themselves, is supposed to be based on hard “data” alone – read test scores, attendance, grad rates etc.

This ideology has so infected Tweed that the management structure now is unlike any corporate model than even Jack Welch might have espoused, in that principals are supposed to rely on organizations outside the management structure (ie the SSOs) -- totally separate from their ostensible superiors (ie the superintendents), ostensibly so that principals can’t blame their superintendents if they haven’t received adequate support.

This peculiar management structure is completely unprecedented as far as I know, not only in any educational system in the country, but also in any corporation, where your supervisor is also supposed to act as your support officer – and if you don’t succeed, he or she is tasked with helping you do given the underlying conditions and environment that you are working in.

This is why supers are now Senior Achievement Facilitators – drafted into the cause of coaching schools in the use of the ARIS and all the data it spews – but only for schools outside their district. That way no personal relationship can infect their evaluations of principals in their district. Of course, this peculiar management structure also leads to an ignorance about the specific situations and needs of various schools – which in DOE’s eyes, are irrelevant unless they are already captured in ARIS. Thus, problems such as class size, overcrowding, and most specific characteristics of neighborhoods and/or students, are completely ignored -- besides a few demographic characteristics in elementary grades, and entering test scores in middle and high schools.


  1. John Elfrank-Dana left this very pertinent comment at the NYC Parent blog:

    Carmen forgot to mention that Jack Welch was proud of and known for creating a climate of fear at GE by firing 10% of employees to keep the others on their toes. This kind of culture is the exact opposite of what we need in our schools.

    The fact that Klein chose Welch to set the tone for the principals' training school should have sent alarm bells throughout the school communities.

    While I appreciate the concept of "creative destruction" I think it's somewhat an oxymoron. I would prefer the term, “Shock Doctrine” (light?). As a social studies teacher I make it my business to study larger trends of societal transitions. There’s a new book called the “Shock Doctrine” by journalist Naomi Klein ( While the goal is to create a new order, it must do so by placing the population in a state of shock, much as a psychiatric patient is through electro-shock therapy, to make him/her pliable to change. The shocks can be contrived or provided by nature. An example of the former would the coup in Chile, and the destruction of the Soviet economic system to introduce radical free market capitalism. Hurricane Katrina provides and example of the latter, allowing the push through of charter schools and gutting of the teachers union there. Klein goes on to mention in her book numerous other examples.

    I think it’s plausible that what Chancellor Klein and Mayor Bloomberg are trying to do is an adaptation of that Shock Doctrine light policy on our schools. Welch setting the tone for fear and intimidation, teachers losing due process rights and seniority transfers, new budgeting rules that will discriminate against experienced teachers, the summary firing of BOE staff to erase institutional memory, the movement toward merit pay schemes (currently in the school bonus phase); when taken collectively have put teachers in a state of shock. For the kids we have seen the end of social promotion, increased testing in the name of “accountability”. Parents have never seen an education regime that was as unresponsive. Add to this an effective PR machine of the DOE of cooking graduation numbers and having phony town hall meetings where the Chancellor is not taking questions and parent/teacher feedback is ignored and you have the softer side of this policy of destruction.
    It’s apparent to this teacher that a new education paradigm is emerging for NYC kids. Not all kids, as those in the elite schools will be protected. It’s a paradigm that fits a nation with a shrinking middle class; where the new schools system of scripted teaching temps and test-driven curricula are to produce citizens without the capacity to think critically but instead follow orders and carry out narrow specific tasks to fulfill the roles of: clerks, ground level law enforcement, military and other lower-level technical jobs. You won’t see such a paradigm shift in the affluent suburbs, nor for our elites in Stuyvesant High School or the other institutions elites send their children to.

    What will be interesting to watch is if the new regime that will take over from where the Mayor has left it will continue this march toward developing a lower caste educational system; where the assault on the teachers union and weakening of the public school system will produce a mechanistic and reductionist “free market” model of education. Could this happen under a Democrat mayor?

  2. Comment from parent Jim Devor, V.P. CEC-15 (Park Slope, Sunset Park area of Brooklyn)

    I especially like the District 2 v. Jack Welch discussion. It gets to what, to me, was originally exciting about the Bloombeg/Klein initiative (and why, BTW, Stern and Ravitch disdained
    it - on pedagogical grounds - from the beginning).

    I agree that Carmen's approach had its own pitfalls but it was (and perhaps still IS) entitled to a fair hearing. At a minimum, it was genuinely grounded on the belief that the test of an education system was its success or failure in the advancement of ALL children as well as her faith in the capacity of those children to ultimately be full participants in our society.

    Clearly, when Carmen was jettisoned, Klein discarded any idea of education as a means towards universal citizenship but instead, saw it as the creation of a trainable work force which, at its best, would be a 21st Century recreation of the mid 20th Century automotive industry (the system, BTW, which Welch successfully helped to destroy). And as Jack Welch has amply demonstrated, we all know how well that works out when we exclusively rely on the beneficence of the bosses.

  3. Please check out this article in the NY Times:

    Basically, Klein and Bloomberg have now hired a team of five lawyers to get rid of "incompetent" tenured the cost of one million dollars a year.

    They are so disgusting with their disdain of mention of the money spent to assist these teachers....

    And of course, this is more money being spent on lawyers and not in the classrooms.

    How much money should they spend to get rid of an incompetent chancellor???? And a sexual harrassing, incompetent mayor?

  4. Devor Says of CSD2:
    "it was genuinely grounded on the belief that the test of an education system was its success or failure in the advancement of ALL children as well as her faith in the capacity of those children to ultimately be full participants in our society."

    No, it was never proven to be a success for all children, but rather in district 2, which was one of the wealthiest in the city and where many parents resorted to tutors to supplement what the schools did not provide. The marriage of CSD2's philosophy to Tweed was not an anachronism, but done on purpose. They were both despotic. CSD2 felt school aides and paras were expendable. These are folks that have a connection to neighborhoods. That is exactly what Tweed wanted to cut off as well. Even with cooked books scores in CSD2 dominated Region 9 went nowhere in the incorporated CSD7 and CSD4. There is a direct connection to the BS of CSD2 to Alvarado and the Welch-like corporate model that he developed here and brought to San Diego where it failed. Yet he and his cronies are on the consultant and institute gravy train.

  5. Where is says above that "the management structure now is unlike any corporate model ... in that principals are supposed to rely on organizations outside the management structure ... totally separate from their ostensible superiors (ie the superintendents), ostensibly so that principals can’t blame their superintendents if they haven’t received adequate support."

    I see a close, though not direct parallel to Iraq here.

    Big chunks of the war machine outsourced to corporations diffuses not only the management of what we do over there but the responsibility for it.

    With funds deflected to non-military entities, the system Congress has so far tolerated and even legislated for paves the way for vulture-like corruption and misuse of public funds. It also guarantees that America's legitimate army of enlisted men, from the commissioned officers down to the grunts, do not get the support they need.

  6. I can't wait to retire.....this whole system is now officially making me ill. I love the kids, but the administration in my building mirrors BloomKlein and their only concern is for how they look. They hate the kids and see them as commodities and not as humans.....

    Teachers are miserable, morable is horrifically low and students are bored with all the test prep and frustrated that they are not learning real things.....

  7. this did not happen overnight and what has happened in this country overall is a result of a long-time dumbing down of our society and culture (or lack thereof) and that has been a slow debilitation...think of the controversy over the NEA so many years back and now look - the arts are for the most part completely eliminated in public schools! the right wing agenda is to get us all back to the caves, "Intelligent" Design, and all...with no one capable of fighting back or making an intelligent decision...BloomKlein did not invent this they just figured out that no one would be able to stop them and they were (ARE) right...


Comments are welcome. Irrelevant and abusive comments will be deleted, as will all commercial links. Comment moderation is on, so if your comment does not appear it is because I have not been at my computer (I do not do cell phone moderating). Or because your comment is irrelevant or idiotic.