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Introduction to the QSF

The Quality Schooling Framework (QSF) is the California educator's destination for timely tools and practices to guide effective planning, policy, expenditure, and instructional decisions at all schools and districts.

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The Quality Schooling Framework (QSF) identifies the ten essential elements of quality schooling. Learn more by viewing the information below. In addition, visit the QSF Video Library for videos that focus on how all schools can apply effective planning and implementation practices.

Introduction to the Quality Schooling Framework


What is the Quality Schooling Framework?

California's Quality Schooling Framework


Over the past 40 years, an ever-expanding body of qualitative and quantitative research has described the characteristics of successful schools. Most researchers and educators suggest that quality schools focus explicitly on student outcomes and have a robust and rigorous curriculum that is taught by talented teachers. In these schools, student progress is assessed frequently and educators use the results to modify instruction. These schools have a culture of achievement and a climate of support and trust. They are guided by competent, dynamic leaders, with support from families and the wider community.

Four elementary school girls

Across the nation, State Departments of Education, schools and districts, support providers, and others have woven these components together in a variety of ways to create frameworks to guide (and in some cases dictate) organizational and instructional practices. The California Department of Education has supported a number of frameworks over the years. With so many frameworks and models available, one might logically ask, “Does California really need a new framework?”

The Purpose of the Quality Schooling Framework

California’s Quality Schooling Framework (QSF) is a conceptual model for gauging and supporting a school’s effectiveness. The QSF starts with a systems approach to ensuring that all children learn and thrive. It is not an underlying rationale for a checklist or set of mandates, but a holistic model that connects critical dimensions of quality schools to help you figure out what is, or is not, working to support student success. It provides practical research and evidence-based practices that you can use as you plan and implement strategies to strengthen your human, fiscal, and organizational environment. QSF is grounded in the belief that good ideas and innovative practices originate when California’s education stakeholders work together to identify educational challenges and share strategies for improving teaching and learning. It also assumes that education is an increasingly complex endeavor that is not well served by a simple list of attributes or by a one-size-fits-all approach.

With 6.2 million public school students, the number of California public school students is greater than the entire population of more than 30 states. California has one of the most ethnically and racially diverse student populations in the country, including almost 1.4 million students in the process of learning English. In acknowledgement of and to build on this diversity, the QSF incorporates a wide variety of research- and evidence-based practices to enable schools to help all of their students learn and thrive across a range of contexts.

We encourage you to use the QSF as a resource, regardless of your school or district’s baseline performance, level of diversity, size, location, or other factors. The QSF is intended to support all districts and schools in strengthening their school practices. QSF resources should help you to:

  • Take a systemic and reflective approach to implementing evidence-based practices.
  • Engage others in constructive conversations about educational improvement by beginning with shared concepts and vocabulary.
  • Redefine student success as extending beyond core academic performance in a Kindergarten through Grade Twelve environment.
  • Access and share evidence-based practices and tools to support improved educational practices.
  • Respond proactively to equity issues and the needs of all students, including students at risk of failure; students from diverse racial, ethnic, and linguistic backgrounds; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, students; students with cognitive and physical disabilities; and low-income students.
  • Make policy, planning, and fiscal decisions based on a broadly shared conceptual model for educational improvement.
  • Engage in productive organizational partnerships to improve California’s schools.

How is the Quality Schooling Framework Organized?

The Quality Schooling Framework (QSF) is a set of interrelated elements with students learning and thriving at its center. QSF elements are research-based and they describe universal features of quality schooling that remain relatively constant despite the rapidly changing context of 21st Century schools. Students Learning and Thriving—the aim of QSF—represents outcomes that Californians envision their public school system will achieve for its students. These outcomes include not only academic outcomes based on the California state standards across all subject areas, but those outcomes that will ensure our students lead healthy lifestyles, are engaged members of our democracy, are prepared for the world of work, and are able to make good ethical decisions.

Male and female students

The instructional core of QSF acknowledges that the real work of achieving those goals takes place in thousands of classrooms across the state, where teachers use solid instructional practices to give students access to a rich and robust curriculum and conduct periodic assessment to improve teaching and learning.

Resources that support the instructional core include the teachers and leaders who engage in professional learning to provide direct instruction and support to students. Resources also include budgets, facilities, materials, and personnel supports. This section of the model describes ways the school identifies and allocates resources to support the goals and activities of the school.  In addition, schools can engage families/caregivers and the wider community in supporting their educational efforts.

School culture and climate emphasizes how the school environment, like family and community environments, has either a powerful positive or negative effect on whether students learn and thrive. These environmental conditions affect school experiences, attitudes, behaviors, and performance of both students and staff: how they think, feel and act; whether students are motivated to learn and stay in school; and whether teachers are satisfied with, and engaged in their work.

The QSF elements are designed to meet the needs of ALL students. Therefore, student groups such as English Learners or students with disabilities are integrated across the elements rather than segregated from the whole. Each element in the QSF includes discussions, research, tools, and examples of effective practices to meet specific needs of individual students and schools.

How to Apply the Quality Schooling Framework

Applying the Quality Schooling Framework

Educators can use a variety of Quality Schooling Framework (QSF) resources to ensure that students are learning and thriving. However, QSF concepts and resources are less likely to generate positive results for students if they are adopted in a partial or piecemeal manner. A great deal of research has shown that new educational programs and practices are often unsuccessful because they have been implemented in partial, inconsistent, and costly ways. (1) Although implementation failures can sometimes be traced to the selection of inappropriate practices, in many cases they result from a lack of coordinated action. Effective and sustained improvement in any organization requires shared goals and information, strong leadership, active stakeholder engagement, sufficient administrative and technological supports, and thoughtful evaluation. (2) Whether you represent a School Improvement Grant school, a Program Improvement school, an achieving school, or a brand new charter school, you can use implementation models to guide your work as you implement specific programs or practices associated with elements of the QSF.Three male students

A number of implementation models are now available to help districts and schools plan and implement new programs and practices in a coordinated manner. These models identify multiple, but overlapping stages of implementation that typically take place over a two to four-year period and include the following steps:

Building Teams and Strengthening Leadership

Leaders should take an active role in guiding the implementation of major programs and practices. Ideally, leaders or leadership teams will possess both technical and adaptive skills that allow them to direct and coordinate specific activities while adapting to changing circumstances and inspiring others to act. (3) Leaders should also work to build diverse implementation teams made up of individuals with the knowledge, skills, and influence needed to build capacity and motivate others to adopt new practices. A number of tools supply recommendations for systematically including teachers, parents and other school stakeholders in district and school leadership groups.

Identifying a Shared Vision and Goals

A clear vision and supporting goals provide the reference point against which organizational members can make decisions, take action, and assess their progress. (4) The QSF serves as a theory of action, encouraging all districts and schools to begin with their definition of students learning and thriving and establish goals to support this vision and outcomes to measure progress. A thorough needs and capacity assessment will help focus the work to a manageable level. Goals should involve a wide variety of student outcomes related to academics, physical and emotional health, etc. They should also respond to the needs of all student groups, including English learners and students with Special Education needs. Data on student performance are critical to identifying and prioritizing goals (e.g. addressing performance of English learners and Students with Disabilities). Ultimately, the impact of goal setting is influenced by factors such as individual commitment and confidence and the level of clarity about the nature of the goal and potential challenges. (5)

Assessing Needs and Capacity

The needs assessment should be structured around the elements of the QSF, but should be customized to provide information related specifically to the identified goals. Anyone undertaking this work will need to think broadly and look at data sources that include not only state achievement scores, but results of local assessments, course grades, fitness scores, healthy kids surveys, etc. While the gold standard for needs assessments includes surveys, interviews, focus groups, document reviews, student achievement data reviews, and classroom observations, it is critical that planning groups synthesize evidence and include a process to prioritize the needs, so that a real improvement focus can be articulated, supported and sustained. The end product of the needs assessment describes these areas in need of improvement and includes: what was the need and how it was identified, the target population, how programs or practices to be adopted address each need, and the implementation processes for programs/practices.

Selecting New Programs and Practices Based on Available Evidence

Wherever possible, new programs and practices should be identified and selected based on solid and relevant evidence produced by a reliable source. (6) Before allocating limited resources to new initiatives or entering into contracts with outside vendors, district and school leadership teams should ask critical questions about whether the recommended practices are based on clear evidence: are students more likely to learn and thrive when these practices are in place? Have pilots or studies been conducted in similarly sized districts with positive outcomes? In many cases, evidence is limited, but the QSF website provides a wide range of vetted resources in the form of promising practices, practical tools, and research reports.

Expanding Stakeholder Support for New Programs and Practices

Stakeholder interest and commitment is critical to program success. A number of prior educational reform failures have been attributed to insufficient stakeholder engagement. For example, a study of California’s short-lived Learning Assessment System found that a lack of teacher commitment and public communication contributed significantly to the system’s failure. (7) New programs and practices should typically be integrated into existing professional learning activities and leaders should take steps to make sure that those responsible for implementing new practices have the appropriate skills and resources to succeed.

Creating an Implementation Action Plan

An effective implementation action plan helps organizational members clarify expectations, establish realistic goals, and align their time, energy, and financial resources to support key programs and practices. Action plans should be organized around the QSF elements, but specific goals should support the school or district definition of what it means for students to learn and thrive. Action plans guided by implementation models address key factors that are likely to impact implementation success. For example, action plans based on implementation models will identify necessary administrative supports, establish roles and responsibilities, outline necessary coaching, and stipulate assessment methods. A number of tools are available throughout the QSF to help districts and schools engage in implementation action planning.

Developing a Cycle of Assessment and Improvement

Most implementation models are designed around some version of the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle. Therefore, schools and districts should adopt concrete strategies for encouraging implementation stakeholders to engage in reflective cycles. Leadership teams should use data on an ongoing basis to inform practices, but should refrain from making major modifications to practices until stakeholders have had time to implement practices fully and to thoroughly assess available data. Most implementation models suggest that full and sustainable implementation requires at least three years. The cycle of continuous improvement should be built into collaborative time early in an implementation process and supported by professional learning practices and tools. Most importantly, students should always be at the center of this process.

Although implementation models guide organizational improvements, they do not—and should not—be viewed as a series of checklists or straightforward recipes for organizational improvement. Implementation will always vary, to some degree, based on local context, varied levels of organizational complexity, and changing social and political circumstances. Nevertheless, by applying implementation models and tools to your work across the various areas of the QSF, you can:

  • Better anticipate factors that frequently support or hinder implementation.
  • Develop more effective—and realistic—implementation timelines and budgets.
  • Apply a common vocabulary and set of definitions to improve communication about implementation processes and challenges.
  • Share tools and resources that might spark important conversations, support new practices, and reduce duplicated efforts.
  • Develop progress assessment approaches that are constructive rather than punitive.
Ultimately, implementation models should help you make informed choices about how to select and develop programs and practices that support key elements of the QSF to help students learn and thrive.

Students Learning and Thriving

What Does it Mean?

We seek the day when all children in California — regardless of where they live, the color of their skin, or their economic circumstances — receive the start in life that comes with a world-class education. We seek the day when all students are prepared to pursue their dreams, participate in the rich cultural life of our state and compete in our global economy. (1)

The Quality Schooling Framework (QSF) is centered around an expanded understanding of what it means for California students to learn and thrive. Social and technological changes are transforming educational expectations in the United States and educators need new ways of thinking about—and supporting—student success.Two elementary students

Initially, schools focused on religious readings and then on the mastery of Greek and Latin. This education was provided to only a select segment of the population, so that some students received academic preparation while others were limited to vocational training. Then, in the 1960s, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act established expectations for equal access to education and high learning standards for all students. Although this act technically provided equal access, a disparity in learning conditions and outcomes persisted across different student populations. In 2001, the passage of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act defined a common goal for all students, seeking to highlight and close this continued disparity. NCLB focused primarily on English Language Arts and Mathematics proficiency, leading many to argue that the act unduly narrowed the curriculum as well as our definition of student success. The QSF seeks to honor NCLB’s intent to narrow the achievement gap while expanding the definition of what it means for all students to learn and thrive.

An Expanded View of Student Success

Despite an emerging consensus that definitions of a quality education should support an expanded view of success for every student (the “whole child”), much variation still exists in what we want for our public schools. (2) Nonetheless, most stakeholders agree that intellectual, social, and emotional development are worthy goals for public education. (3) A number of educational stakeholders also believe civic development should remain a central purpose for public schools. (4)

Intellectual Development

Intellectual development refers to the academic skills and knowledge we want all students to acquire as a result of their schooling. Critical thinking and problem solving are central to most intellectual growth models (e.g., Blooms Taxonomy, Marzano’s New Taxonomy of Educational Objectives). Emerging research indicates that intellectual development is also influenced by intellectual attitudes, including curiosity and a drive to learn. (5)  In California, desired intellectual skills and knowledge are clearly defined in the new Common Core State Standards.  

Social and Emotional Development

Social and emotional development refers to positive social behaviors such as respect for others, ethical concern, and the ability to work in teams. It also refers to individual characteristics and outcomes such as motivation, self-discipline, empathy, confidence, and independence. Research shows that social and emotional development plays an important role in improving students’ academic performance and lifelong learning. Positive social and emotional development also influences physical health. (6) Discussions of possible outcomes related to emotional development are often contentious, but this does not diminish the importance of positive social and emotional development for individual students and for society. (7)

Civic Development

Civic development has been a consistent topic in debates about the purpose of education in the United States. Civic development outcomes are associated with responsible citizenship at the local, state, national and now often global levels. Despite tensions over the specific content of civic instruction, there is a general consensus that civic development is about more than voting—that it is closely aligned with critical thinking capacity and social problem solving. Educational stakeholders in a University of California Los Angeles study about the value of education in California emphasized the role of public schools in promoting civic engagement and leadership in local communities. (8)

Determining What Students Need in Order to Learn and Thrive

Because the United States, California and local communities all have a stake in ensuring that students in our state are learning and thriving, all have a say in defining what that means at the school level.  For example, the United States has a vested interest in making sure that schools across the nation are producing globally competitive graduates with the skills needed to meet increasing 21st Century workforce standards. Similarly, California, with its diverse student population, has a great responsibility to encourage the civic development of those students. In turn, many communities prioritize specific outcomes such dual language immersion, drug-free schools, and improved physical health. In the end, the definition of students learning and thriving will not be the same for all schools and students. While most schools in the state will include both federal and state outcome priorities in their definitions, they will also develop a definition that addresses local priorities. A range of stakeholders have legitimate claims on defining outcomes, but it usually falls to the school community to weave these disparate interests into a coherent statement of purpose—what students learning and thriving means on a day-to-day basis.

This expanded definition of all students learning and thriving should not result in an overloaded curriculum that attempts to speak equally to all outcomes. In individual schools and districts, educators, families and district administrators should develop a shared understanding of what learning and thriving means to them so their definition can serve as the organizer for curriculum, instruction and assessment. For example, California academic standards for English Language Arts emphasize careful reading of non-fiction texts. Rather than creating two separate learning initiatives, communities wishing to emphasize civic engagement can ask students to read ballot initiatives and op-ed pieces as they prepare to meet English Language Arts standards. Similarly, schools can look for ways to help students apply mathematical or scientific knowledge to solve practical social or public health challenges. Meeting these standards not only contributes to a student’s cognitive development, but can also prepare him or her to be an informed and active citizen.

Even though California schools will have different definitions of all students learning and thriving, the expectation remains the same—all students will leave the school having met the most rigorous standards inherent in those definitions.

Questions: Quality Schooling Framework | | 916-319-0836 
Last Reviewed: Friday, December 09, 2022
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