Monday, November 12, 2007

Jack Welch, Carmen Farina and BloomKlein


From Leonie Haimson on nyceducationnews listserve:

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, not before the City Council, but during hearings in the fall of 2004 held by Virginia Fields when she was the Manhattan Borough President.

The original Business Week article is here: Mike France, “Can Business Save New York City Schools?, Business Week, June 9, 2003;

I reprint my full testimony below – if you’d like to see all the citations, you can check them out at


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.

Leonie Haimson

Executive Director

Class Size Matters

124 Waverly Pl.

New York, NY 10011


“The Reorganization of the NYC Department of Education One Year Later: Are We Better Off Now?”

Hearings of the Manhattan Borough President

September 7, 2004

Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters

Almost exactly two years ago today, I wrote an article for the Gotham Gazette about the two most critical questions facing our school system, following the change in governance.[1] The first focused on my central concern, as always, which is class size, and the ways in which perpetual budget cuts and a lack of focused leadership in this area would mean that our children would continue to suffer in classes that were much bigger than the state and national average, and too large for them to receive an adequate chance to learn.

The other problem was my fear that with complete Mayoral control, and without any checks and balances, the system would become even more irrational and arbitrary in its decision-making than before, and even less receptive to the input of parents, teachers, and others who had a real stake in ensuring that our schools did not get worse, but instead, improved. I will quote:

“The second critical question involves what can be done to ensure that the voices of parents and other members of the community concerned about education be heard. The central Board of Education has been eliminated, and the community school boards are to expire at the end of the school year. Without a workable structure for public involvement, the school system will be even less accountable than before, with all power concentrated in the hands of two men -- the mayor and the chancellor -- neither of whom have ever had children in New York City public schools. Most worrisome is the lack of any process to guarantee that decisions be openly discussed and are the result of solid research and evidence.

Certainly, the Board of Education was flawed, as were many of the community school boards. Their decision-making was too often political and unresponsive to parental concerns. But at least their existence and procedures allowed for the possibility of public engagement. Now, there is a real danger that the system will become even more arbitrary, secret and political than before.”

Well, two years later, I think we can answer that question with some certainty.

The reorganization of our entire public education system was embarked upon with such rapidity, secrecy, and a lack of public input that it was breathtaking. Ten working groups were formed to address all aspects of the school system, from curriculum to staffing and organizational structure, whose members whose identities were kept secret until freedom of information suits were filed.[2] These committees operated without formal charge, and although DOE officials repeatedly said there were parents and classroom teachers on them, they refused to say who they were. Sure enough, when the FOIL requests were finally answered, there were none.

The committees produced no reports, held no hearings, and the when the “Children’s First” changes were announced, there was nothing formally written that could provide rationales or explanations for any of them.

As Bas Brams of NYC-Hold, then a Professor of math at NYU and a fervent critic of the constructionist math curriculum chosen for NYC, wrote in an email to Diana Lam:

“The New York City schools system is the size of that of a small country. I find it remarkable that the NYC DOE would select a mandated core curriculum through a process in which there is apparently no proper documentation of the considerations that went into that choice…There appears to be no clear record of the Department's priorities, no record of any comparative evaluation of candidate curricula, and no record of the expert testimony and opinion upon which you relied.” [3]

We know the embarrassing sequence of events that occurred as a result of the controversial curriculum choices that were made. The arbitrariness, secrecy and lack of rationale also held with the 200+ schools that were to be exempt from the new curricula; few noticed that there was almost no overlap between those schools selected and the list of the most improved schools over the last four years that had just been released by the state just a few months before. Indeed, many of the schools that had made the most improvements in math and/or English had to switch to the new curricula, despite all the progress they had made.

The rapidity and number of changes overwhelmed the ability of parents and others to protest. Districts were dissolved and new regional structures were built. In a little noted interview that Joel Klein gave to the SI Advance editorial board in December 2003, he explained that the suddenness and number of these changes were purposefully made to produce “creative confusion” in the system, and that in eight years we might finally see improvements:

"By doing the reorganization and actually causing some creative confusion in the system, it does make it harder for people to just rock back….I think in eight years you can expect the system will make adjustments." [4]

In Klein’s interview, he referred to Jack Welch, former head of General Electric, who has espoused a variant of this notion, which he called “creative destruction.” Creative destruction as practiced by Jack Welch at GE, and widely disseminated by McKinsey and Co., calls for divesting companies and subsidiaries and acquiring new ones, on a rapid and massive scale of experimentation, with the hope that this will lead to higher profits. This might have worked for GE shareholders, but it seems to me to be a particularly heedless approach when you have children’s lives at stake.

A few years ago, Welch was quoted in the Wall Street Journal about this management philosophy: “A small company can only afford to make one or two bets or they go out of business. But we can afford to make lots more mistakes, and, in fact, we have to throw more things at the walls. The big companies that get into trouble are those that try to manage their size instead of experiment with it." [5]

As we know, Jack Welch lectured to administrators at Tweed, and McKinsey had a central role as consultants in redesigning the school system in “Children First.” Many McKinsey’s employees, long on management theory and short on educational experience, were subsequently hired by DOE and continue to play a large role at Tweed to this day.[6]

In an article published in Business Week in 2003 about the reinvention of our schools by these corporate mavens, Carmen Fariña, then a regional superintendent commented: "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."[7]

Well, chaos we have certainly had; whether we had real improvement is another story altogether. In the words of Debra Eng, co-chair of President’s Council from D22 in Queens,

“Never has an administration been so unreceptive to parents and parent organizations, despite all the hype by the “Department of Education” to the contrary. In this past year the chancellor and the mayor have attempted to eliminate the independent elected parent bodies (PA/PA’s and Presidents’ Councils) in our schools and districts and replace them with employees (Parent Coordinators and Parent Support Officers), who ultimately answer to them. Without consultation, radical changes were made to the regulations governing everything from class trips, zoning, PA/PTA’s and President Councils, to deciding what beverages will be sold in every school building and what snacks are appropriate for our children to eat, right down to the “cookie cutter” methodology of how to teach all children….

Cuts to school budgets, more students in the classrooms, seasoned administrators and teachers leaving the system either through retirement, often earlier than they had planned, or finding employment outside the New York City Public School system, and a top heavy and bloated aristocracy at Tweed and the Regions, is what we saw happen this year and we foresee nothing better for the upcoming school year. We cannot even get a copy of a budget to show us where all the “savings” are in this new reorganization, and we understand that …our elected officials cannot get this information as well.”

Despite the please of parents and advocates, the only proposal that came out of “Children First” related to class size was a promise to limit middle school classes last fall to 28. Not surprisingly, the administration failed to follow up by funding the program and average class sizes went up in these grades instead of down. [8]

One of the worst changes in policy that resulted from the ceding of absolute power to the Mayor is the new 3rd grade retention policy, which might work as a political sound bite, but was imposed despite more than twenty years of solid research showing that such practices actually harm children and lead to higher dropout rates. Indeed, the consensus on the destructiveness of this policy is so overwhelming that Shane Jimerson, dean at UC Santa Barbara and an expert on retention, calls it “educational malpractice.”[9] Our open letter to the Mayor opposing his proposal was signed by over 100 academics and experts on testing, including four former presidents of the American Educational Research Association, the Chair and several members of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Appropriate Use of Educational Testing, and several members of the Board on Testing and Assessment of the National Research Council, to no avail. [10]

Imagine that the Mayor decided, on his own, that a certain surgical procedure should be used in all the public hospitals in the city, even though the professional consensus was clear that the procedure would lead to much higher rates of complication and mortality. Would he be able to impose his views on the practice of medicine? I think not. So why should it be any different in the field of education? If the change in governance had not occurred, this policy could never have passed muster.

So why did the governance change occur, and why did too many of us sit back and essentially allow this to happen, without fervent or organized protest? Honestly, many of us were sick and tired of petty squabbling between the Mayor, the Chancellor and the Board of Education, with each of them blaming the others when things didn’t improve. At least, we figured, if one person was responsible for the schools, he couldn’t try to displace responsibility onto someone else.

Unfortunately, this hasn’t worked. Instead, the Mayor and the Chancellor continue to shift blame for every problem that occurs, onto incompetent administrators, lazy teachers, uninvolved parents, and the “culture of complacency” that we are all supposedly instilled with. Indeed, one of Joel Klein’s favorite mantras is that anyone who criticizes the changes he’s made is a defender of the status quo, despite the fact that many of us, parents, educators and advocates alike, have been fighting for real reforms and fundamental improvements to be made in our schools long before he moved to New York City.

The other reason many favored the change in governance was that since the Mayor controlled the budget for schools anyway, he already had much of the power. Perhaps he would more adequately fund the system if he knew he was going to be judged on the results.

So has this worked? Again, unfortunately, no.

Schools and classrooms have now been cut back three years in a row, this year most unforgivably, because it happened despite a city surplus of almost $2 billion and an increase in state aid of $300 million. It is the first time in memory that school and classroom budgets are being cut in a time of fiscal plenty.

During his campaign, Bloomberg promised to accelerate and expand the process of school construction rather than build new stadiums. During his first week in office, he repeated, “At the moment, everybody understands - given the lack of housing, given the lack of school space, given the deficit in the operating budget - it is just not practical … to go and to build new stadiums.” [11] Soon thereafter, he proceeded to cut the capital budget for schools by 60% and appoint a Deputy mayor who argued that the most important thing to the economic future of this city was not improving education, but building a stadium and developing the West side of Manhattan.

I have a chart here showing that as a percentage of the city’s income, spending on our public schools has gone down steadily ever since this Mayor was elected. [12] You can also see that our spending has always been below the average in the rest of the country and far below the rest of the state. The small bump upwards this year results from the increases in the new capital plan – yet much of those dollars have not yet been spent. One can also see that based on city income and spending projections from OMB, our share of education spending is predicted to go down even further over the next four years.

As you might remember, the Mayor ran on a promise that he would improve education by redirecting resources to the classroom from the bureaucracy, but now is doing quite the opposite. As Noreen Connell of Educational Priorities Panel has discovered, even while our total education budget has risen, the amount going to instruction has fallen sharply. While the education spending has gone up this year by more than half a billion dollars, there has been a net loss of over $80 million for instruction. According to Noreen, this contrasts with previous administrations, in which even when there were budget shortfalls, every effort was made for the instructional program to be “"made whole" by securing savings in other areas of the system. [13]


Bill Cunningham, Bloomberg's director of communications, was quoted in the NY Times that because of the increase in state aid for NYC, “the city would pretty much be able to assure that there would be no cuts to classroom programs or materials for children.” [14] Yet no one seems to have told this to the officials at Tweed.

Instead, according to principals, these reductions are likely to result in higher class sizes and loss of many valuable programs, including after school classes, special ed services, labs, tutoring, and electives. [15]

When asked by the NY Times, Bruce Feig, the DOE finance director, said, “it still remains to be seen whether we're going to have administrative cuts or not." [16] Administrative cuts? The trend is going the other way.

As school budgets are being cut to the bone, the NY Post reported that 40% of the city employees earning salaries of $150,000 or more work at Tweed. [17] Five new “borough enrollment director” positions have just been hired, each of them earning between $94,000 and $135,000 a year.[18]

Huge consulting contracts are being bid out, without any accounting of the total spending, including a new multi-million dollar request for proposals for contractors to vet other contractors, in this case food vendors. According to a lawyer interviewed by Newsday, "If DOE was doing its duty ... this RFP wouldn't be necessary. I am not aware of any other city agency that contracts out its legal obligation to vet bidders for public work." [19]

But there has been nothing but obfuscation and outright deception from DOE from the beginning about these cuts. I have press clips from July in which the Mayor said that there would be no need for any layoffs, and Michelle Cahill claiming that principals were merely “confused”. The Mayor’s spokesperson was actually quoted that the cuts were merely “perceptual.”

When that didn’t work to dispel the outcry, Bruce Feig admitted that cuts were actually occurring, but that they were supposed to “equalize” funding and were limited to $200,000 per school.

When that turned out to be incorrect, DOE officials said that the total cuts only totaled $60 million and were due to the late state budget. Now they are saying they will restore $65 million, but that cuts to particular schools will remain. No one seems to know what the reductions really amount to in total, how many schools will be affected, or even if the restorations will be made in time to save teaching positions and critical services. This is stealth budgeting, rather than the way spending decisions are proposed and decided in school districts in the rest of the country. Is this the transparency and accountability that we were promised with a change in governance?

If DOE really needed to "equalize" spending, which is their present excuse, they should have equalized up rather than down, given the sorry state of school budgets and the fact that because of lack of resources, schools are already unable to provide an adequate education to our kids. Yet this so-called equalization appears to be only a cover story so that the bottomless pit that is Tweed can be kept well-fed.

In messages to parents who sent emails opposing the cuts, DOE officials are still maintaining that they have also added $75 million to schools, while not mentioning that much of this is to fund 3rd grade retention. Though the Council and the Mayor also budgeted $20 million for smaller classes in grades K to 3, DOE has released only $15 million of these funds, holding back $5 million supposedly for salary increases, but who knows really why. And given all the concurrent budget cuts it’s anyone’s guess whether we will get smaller or larger classes in the end.

When all the decision making is occurs centrally, it causes tremendous waste and inefficiencies at the school level as well. For example, at one elementary school in Brooklyn this summer there were 10 safety officers, a teacher and an administrative aide to staff a school lunch program that served an average of 15 children daily, while just a few blocks away there was another school with a full-fledged summer program, with only one safety officer to supervise breakfast and lunch for 750 students.

The question of equalizing budgets is an interesting one – apparently, the budgets for large schools are being cut more than small. This is consistent with a trend of widening disparities as a result of the botched implementation of the small schools initiative. By forcing new small schools into already overcrowded buildings, and giving some students the benefit of smaller classes, more resources, and more space, intense resentment has grown between the two groups, which has sparked rising rates of violence at many of these schools. This trend is likely to get even worse this year, as more small schools and even charters are put into existing facilities, many of them already far over capacity.[20]

There is really no excuse for this. The small school and charter movement could be a boon to the system as a whole, providing more choice and helping to lessen some of the overcrowding if only these schools and charters were encouraged to find their own space. This is the way that charters operate elsewhere in the country. Instead, the administration is playing a cruel zero-sum game, and for every student for whom it has improved opportunities, it has taken them away from many others at the same time.

I have no doubt at the end of this process, Tweed will report that the experiment has been a great success, and that the students at the small schools have a higher graduation rate than those at the large schools. But what will it all prove? Of course, if you give students more resources and smaller classes, they will do better. But did we have to show this by making things worse for thousands of others, and denying them the same chance to succeed?

What will change this situation? I do not anticipate that anytime soon, this Governor and this Legislature will reverse course, and take away Mayoral control of our schools. My hope is that the special masters in the CFE case will finally require the city to do the right thing by our children, and that they will decide that some of the extra billions we will receive from the state as a result of the court settlement will have to be earmarked to reduce class size in all grades, so that all of our children, no matter whether they go to Gates-funded small schools or large high schools, will have a real chance to succeed. Otherwise, according to the plan submitted by the city to the court last week, instead of reducing class size, the administration will waste many billions of these dollars on laptops, more “restructuring”, and thousands more administrators, consultants and staff, without improving classroom conditions one iota.

My other hope is that the Blue-Ribbon Commission appointed by the City Council will come up with a productive plan to use the CFE funds productively, and the Council will follow by voting class size limits into the charter, thereby accomplishing what voters were prevented from doing themselves when the Mayor kicked our proposal to create a Charter Commission on class size off the ballot last fall.

Clearly, our schools cannot fundamentally improve without more resources. But as this administration has shown, more resources can and will likely be wasted without a plan to use them effectively, intelligently, and based upon the true needs of our schools and our children.

From: [] On Behalf Of
Sent: Sunday, November 11, 2007 12:26 PM
Subject: Re: [nyceducationnews] Re: Do letter grades have ambiguity issues?

I thought that quote about Farina came from Leonie's testimony at the city council hearing but correct me if I'm wrong.

As to Farina finally coming out of the woodwork to "correct" the record, she still has a lot of splaining to do for her role in the BloomKlein debacle.


In a message dated 11/11/07 11:57:59 AM, writes:

In a message dated 11/9/2007 5:11:17 PM Eastern Standard Time, woodlassnyc@In a message date

In an article published in Business Week in 2003 about the reinvention of our schools by these corporate mavens, Carmen Fariña, then a regional superintendent commented: "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.In

Response to above quote from Carmen Farina:

"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."

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