Evaluating Pope Francis Using APPR*

*APPR -- Annual Professional Performance Review for Teachers

Pope Francis wooed crowds in Washington D.C., New York and Philadelphia. There was near universal praise for his humility and ability to connect with people. On television we saw grown men cry when Francis spoke to Congress. Francis was briefly a teacher in Argentina in the 1960s. But if Pope Francis were a teacher in the United States today, what would his APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) rating be like? In New York State the most commonly used rating rubrics is the Danielson Framework for Teaching which is aligned with federal Race to the Top mandates.

Danielson guidelines for evaluating teachers include 22 teaching components divided into 76 smaller elements and clustered into "four domains of teaching responsibility." In New York State teachers are graded as ineffective, developing, effective, and highly effective.

Let's start with Pope Francis' pedagogical strengths: Communicating with students and families, creating an environment of respect and rapport, and demonstrating flexibility and responsiveness. I do not think anyone who saw or heard him speak or interact with crowds would dispute high ratings in these categories.

But unfortunately, many of Francis' pedagogical weaknesses far out weigh these strengths. Basically, on television we saw a lot of lecture, which in teacher parlance is called "chalk and talk" or direct instruction. This is not good. Teachers are expected to demonstrate knowledge of students, set instructional outcomes, exhibit knowledge of resources, design coherent instruction, and design student assessments. Highest points are for student-to-student interaction and questions that promote critical thinking, especially questions raised by students during discussion. But we saw no evidence to document either student growth or Papal development in any of these areas. Basically there were no assessments so we have no way of knowing whether world leaders or Republicans understood anything Pope Francis said or will incorporate learning into action. Crying does not count. Francis gets no points here.

But of far greater concern is Francis' curriculum weakness. Teachers are supposed to demonstrate knowledge of curriculum content as well as pedagogy. But what if Francis were teaching economics to a senior class in a New York State High School? The primary focus of the state's curriculum framework for economics is on "free enterprise" as a "pillar of the United States economy." Students are expected to learn that the system is "based on the principle that individuals and businesses are free to make their own economic choices as they participate in these markets." In the State curriculum framework globalization is described as an "opportunity." Recession, depression, trade, unemployment, outsourcing, generational poverty, income inequality and the challenges of class mobility are all described as "unintended consequences" of the free enterprise system, rather than as structural components.

This certainly does not line up with what Pope Francis has been teaching. Francis has been traveling around the world calling the "unfettered pursuit of money" the "dung of the devil" and accusing world leaders of "cowardice" for refusing to defend the earth from exploitation. In a recent speech in Bolivia, Francis urged the poor and disenfranchised to rise up against "new colonialism" forced upon them by corporations, loan agencies, free trade treaties, austerity measures, and media monopolies. In remarks that sounded suspiciously like socialism, he actually called "working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth" a moral obligation for Christians.

As much as I loved Pope Francis' speeches and was annoyed by the traffic congestion in New York City, I have no choice but to give him an ineffective rating. Warning Francis, if this happens again you face dismissal.