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Advancing School Capacity

About the “Framework for Great Schools”

High-stakes accountability systems, here in NYC and around the nation, have put an important focus on student outcomes. But they have also been widely criticized for relying too heavily on student test scores and for failing to provide information that is useful to schools about how they might work to improve.

In 2014, the New York City Department of Education began developing a new approach to school improvement. A centerpiece of this effort was the adoption of a "Framework for Great Schools," which outlines specific areas of school functioning that are critical for improving student outcomes. Based on research initially conducted at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (CCSR), the Framework includes six elements: Effective Leadership, Rigorous Instruction, Supportive Environment, Collaborative Teachers, Strong Family-Community Ties, and Trust. The hope is that the Framework can be used to help schools understand their strengths and weaknesses and improve in areas that matter most for boosting academic achievement.

About Our Research Agenda

The development of the Framework in NYC presents the opportunity to learn about the kinds of information schools find useful as they work to improve their practice. Among the questions that the Research Alliance hopes to examine:

  • Do the organizational capacities that have been identified as essential in other cities also predict improved student outcomes here in NYC?
  • Are the measures that have been created to assess these capacities valid and reliable?
  • How can data on school capacity be best communicated, to reflect the unique assets and challenges of individual schools?
  • What kind of support do schools need to interpret and make use of their data?
  • How do schools make sense of capacity data in the context of other sources of information and their own experience?
  • What are the consequences of using capacity information for accountability purposes—in terms of the reliability and validity of the measures, and the utility of the information for school improvement efforts?
  • How can NYC continuously assess and enhance the Framework?

In order to develop the "Framework for Great Schools," the Research Alliance partnered with the NYC DOE to tailor the “essential supports for school improvement” established by CCSR to fit the context of New York City schools and communities. We also provided guidance for an overhaul of NYC’s annual teacher, student, and parent Survey, with a focus on measuring key elements of the Framework. This project is an outgrowth of our longstanding collaboration with the NYC DOE to improve the School Survey. It also builds on our larger body of work examining organizational factors that support effective teaching and learning


This project was made possible through general operating support to the Research Alliance.

Related Publications

The Research Alliance for New York City Schools

We're Not All Average: Reconceptualizing School Climate

What are we missing when we focus on the “average” student experience? How do students’ perceptions of school climate vary? And could a clearer picture of this variation inform efforts to develop more inclusive and equitable learning environments, within schools and across the system?

The Research Alliance for New York City Schools

Redesigning the Annual NYC School Survey

This collection and policy brief highlight key lessons from the highly collaborative NYC School Survey redesign process between the Research Alliance and the New York City Department of Education. This work also demonstrates how a robust research-practice partnership can inform school district decisions and create useful measurement tools for the field. (2018)

The Research Alliance for New York City Schools

Schools as Organizations

Could strengthening key aspects of a school's climate actually improve teaching and learning? This study examines how changes in school climate were related to changes in teacher turnover and student achievement in 278 NYC middle schools, between 2008 and 2012. (2016)

Project Team

Josh Wallack