In Part 1 of this series, we focused on how the 50-year NAIS governance experiment around mission failed to build constituency alignment. The resulting landscape is one of schools fragmented into siloes operating tactically because there is no alignment of strategy to the mission.
In Part 2, we examine how the resulting strategic vacuum gravitates toward extrinsic motivators instead of productive and aligned use of the mission. The evidence we see comes from an unusual source, many of those who have led and still lead NAIS.
This is important because in Part 3 we explain what needs to be done to avoid these extrinsic temptations and pitfalls on the road to achieving sustainability.
A Lost Opportunity
Over the last decade, a solution appeared that could have helped schools shift away from the focus on vague missions and instead, tune into pursuing missions that could be evaluated in a measurable way. Independent school parents had become increasingly fixated with grades in the narrowing zero-sum game for college and future success. It was almost impossible for high school principals and heads to manage this, particularly when donors and Boards were at their heels to deliver results.
The late John Chubb, former President of NAIS, proposed mastery or competency as a solution to this problem: with a mastery approach students would have more time to master learning, and teachers could offer more intervention and personalize teaching. Many of the founding schools of the Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC), including its Founding Board, several of whom served on the NAIS Board with John Chubb, saw this as the magic-bullet strategy for independent schools. Grades were cast as the villain of all education ills and thus by removing grades and replacing them with accomplishment by competency on a transcript (no grades at all but proficiency levels up to mastery), they thought the whole system (including curriculum, pedagogy, and student health) would change.
At OESIS, we initially supported the MTC effort, offering our conferences for messaging on the Mastery Transcript. Because we quickly had fundamental problems with the approach, we declined to participate any further. Here is why. The MTC Founders suggested that their approach could be implemented by a school immediately (see slides below shared at OESIS L.A. in February 2017) with one track for students who were being evaluated with grades and…