NYC schools chancellor Carmen Fariña has announced a new system for evaluating schools. Instead of grades and rankings, there will be a “school quality snapshot” and a “school quality guide.” These “tools” will be based on a new “capacity framework” (see image to the left).
At first glance, the framework is unremarkable and unobjectionable. Who can deny the value of “trust,” “effective school leadership,” and, at the very center, “student achievement”? Certainly terms such as “rigorous instruction” and “collaborative teachers” need definition—but doesn’t everything?
Yet the more I gaze at this framework, the more I wonder what it means.
First, I see that the terms have already been interpreted (in counter-intuitive ways) in the NYC DOE’s description.
From the NYC Department of Education website:
At the center of the Framework is student achievement. The core goal of education is to help students get to the next level and succeed. Surrounding that core are the three elements of student support: instructional guidance, teacher empowerment, and student-centered learning. Beyond the classroom, the supports needed are effective school leadership and strong parent-community collaboration. The element that ties all of these supports together is trust. Building trust across the system and within a school—between administrators, educators, students, and families—is the foundation of the Capacity Framework.
I am puzzled by the second ring. What matches with what? Is “instructional guidance” in the description supposed to be the same as “rigorous instruction” in the chart? Is “teacher empowerment” supposed to be the same as “collaborative teaching”? Is “student-centered learning” the same as a “supportive environment”? If that is the intent, then these equations (and relations) must be explained and defended, and there must also be room to question them.
First, how is “rigorous instruction” in the graph related to “instructional guidance” in the description? What is instructional guidance, and who is being guided by whom? How does the guidance promote rigor? What is rigor, for that matter?
Second, is a “collaborative” teacher necessarily an “empowered” one? A truly “empowered” teacher may exercise the option of working alone at times (or even for long stretches of time). (Of course, good collaboration involves solitary work, but I see no acknowledgment of this here.)
Finally, one does not have to be “student-centered” (in the usual senses of the word) to be “supportive.” You can have a highly supportive environment combined with something more like “subject-centered instruction.” (I object to the term “student-centered” in general; it is often used to disparage certain kinds of teaching and curriculum offhand.)
Enough about the discrepancies. What about the graph itself?
Student achievement is at the core, as it should be, but achievement of what? The graph does not mention subject matter or curriculum. (Nor does the explanatory paragraph.)
Now, student achievement (of worthy things, we presume) clearly needs supports. Some of these supports include instruction, environment, and something pertaining to collaboration and solitude. I am not so sure that leadership should be located outside of that ring, but no matter. The chart is supposed to be visually appealing.
But how can “trust” be the outer ring? The description says that it is the “foundation”—but you can’t generate trust out of nowhere, or demand it as a precondition. It is hard earned; it comes out of the other things: achievement, instruction, leadership, environment, and so forth. Granted, the description says that “building trust,” not trust itself, is the foundation, but how can the foundation be something that you build as you go along?
Maybe it is silly to quibble with a chart. But I can already imagine the speeches: “We have to begin with trust. Trust is the foundation of our enterprise.” Of course, from the outset there has to be willingness to trust, but that is different from trust itself.
I do not disparage this framework. It contains good things. Alas, it needs clearer language and ideas.