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Another Chapter in the Corporate Destruction of Public Schools

Here's what "corporate solutions" to education problems look like. In January, New York City school chancellor Joel Klein and His boss Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that Neutron Jack Welch Jr, would play a major role in a new training academy for principals. Klein hired Robert E. Knowling, Jr., a corporate executive forced out of Covad, which went from boom to bust when he was at the helm. Knowling has a reputation as a motivational speaker. In his pitch, he says there are three best practices for leading innovation:

1. Leaders need to deliver a clear and compelling vision and strategy to the organization
2. It is Important for the leader to live the vision and strategy and to be the teacher of the process
3. Leaders must ensure that the metrics used focus people on what is most important

One might ask Klein, Bloomber, Welch, and Knowling how "living the vision and strategy and teaching the process" is possible when one announces to the New York Times that just 15% of the workforce is "excellent" and another 15% "incapable."

  • How would one determine the abilities of 1,200 people performing one of the most complex jobs in the world in just four months?

  • What criteria were employed to determine this?

  • There's an agenda here, and it isn't the education of New York city schoolchildren.

    Note: In a January 14, 2003, article, Abby Goodnough observed, "As a private-sector executive, Mr. Welch was quick to remove managers he deemed incompetent. In fact, he was known for forcing top managers at General Electric to identify the bottom 10 percent of their staffs and make them leave."

    Personal Note: I lived in Schenectady, for decades proudly calling itself "the GE City"; General Electric workers kept increasing productivity and measured excellence--and kept getting downsized and laid off. Has Neutron Jack come up with a plan yet for shipping New York City principals' jobs overseas?

    There's lots more outrage in the article below.

    What a fun time to be working in the New York City schools.

    A former corporate executive tapped by Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein to train principals said yesterday that he had come close to quitting twice because of the school system's enervating bureaucracy.

    The executive, Robert E. Knowling Jr., said at a business luncheon that he was astounded by "the perpetuation of incompetency" throughout the system.

    "I feel like everybody is rooting against us," said Mr. Knowling, who joined the Education Department in January after years of helping turn around corporations like Ameritech and US West. "I've never seen anything like it."

    As chief executive of the department's Leadership Academy, Mr. Knowling is responsible for recruiting and training principals from inside and outside the school system. Mr. Klein's top priority is improving the city's principal corps, because, he says, no school can get better without a strong, smart leader. There are 1,200 principals citywide, about 600 of whom are expected to leave in the next three years.

    Mr. Knowling said that of the current principals, about 15 percent were excellent and 15 percent were "unwilling, and in many cases they are incapable." He said he hoped to help the other 70 percent with ongoing course work that he and his 15-member staff were developing.

    Mr. Klein, with the help of Caroline Kennedy, his chief fund-raiser, is trying to raise $75 million in private donations for the principal academy. So far, the Wallace-Reader's Digest Funds have pledged $15 million over three years.

    The academy will open this summer with 90 recruits, most of whom will come from within the system, where they work as teachers or administrators. The recruits will receive intensive summer training, then be paired up and assigned to shadow 45 veteran principals for the first half of the school year, Mr. Knowling said. For the second half of the year, he said, the pairs of trainees will go to a different school to shadow a second experienced principal. Finally, the trainees will have a second summer of "intensive prep" before they are assigned their own schools in September 2004, Mr. Knowling said.

    The academy has received roughly 300 applications for its first class. It expects to be able to train 270 recruits in the next three years not even half the number of principals that the system expects to need by September 2006.

    This fall alone, Mr. Klein may have to hire as many as 225 principals, Mr. Knowling said at the luncheon, sponsored by the Center for Educational Innovation-Public Education Association, a nonprofit think tank. Making a bad situation worse, about 35 of the system's best principals are leaving their posts this summer to become instructional supervisors, each in charge of about a dozen schools.

    Mr. Knowling said that 10,000 school system employees were certified to be principals, but that many were less than ideal for the job. He said he could not afford to choose poor candidates because union rules made it hard to remove principals.

    "In the private sector I didn't have a problem getting rid of the 40 percent mistakes," he said. "So you'd better hope that your picking ability is much better here, because it is impossible sometimes to get rid of dead wood."

    He added, `I am going to create some discomfort, and you should be happy that I am, because some of these folks should not be teaching our children."

    Mr. Knowling did not, however, say how he would shake things up. Asked about union rules that might limit his authority, he said only, "There needs to be some lines drawn in terms of where representation has its place and where it doesn't."

    Mr. Klein vowed months ago to remove 50 poorly performing principals by the end of the school year. But the union representing principals lashed out at his plan, saying it was unfair for him to set a target before carefully evaluating everyone. Asked earlier this week whether he still intended to remove 50 principals, Mr. Klein would not comment.

    Mr. Knowling said he would make enemies not only among principals, but also among the many private vendors that the school system pays to provide training for principals.

    "This system is spending millions of dollars with several vendors, with no coherency," he said. "I expect that 60 days from now, I will be one of the most despised people because I am going to put big stakes in the ground about who's in and who's not in."

    — Abby Goodnough
    staff writer
    NY Times
    Trainer of School Principals Says He Almost Quit, Twice





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