Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

Rhee's 200-Page 'Framework' Spells Out Teaching Guidelines

Ohanian Comment: Ohmygod, let's codify teaching down to how many times a teacher blinks in 30 minutes.

Teaching as bus schedule.

Here are some comments from WP readers:

mosmandem wrote:
When you can't dazzle them with brilliance -- the baffle them with BS. Rhee has revived and given new meaning to the Peter Principle.

Frustratededucator wrote:
Two hundred pages!?!? Ms Rhee's inflated opinion of her abilities as an educator continues to astound.

readerny wrote:
Frighteningly stupid. Reminds me of the early 20th century childrearing advice to parents -- to keep babies on strict (bottle)feeding schedules so as to prepare the children for their futures in factory work, which required adherence to strict schedules and deadlines.

Other readers, including teachers, think Rhee's plan is great. You'll have to go to the WP website for their nonsense.

You can read the 50-page DCPS Teaching and Learning Framework [pdf file] and decide for yourself. Here's a snipped on Excellence. [Note: the article below describes a 200-page framework of the same title.

Rhee is big on behavioral objectives--for teachers and students. And there's no hesitancy in spelling out Excellence.

What excellence looks like
Based on the annual student achievement goal, teacher plans units by: 1) identifying the DCPS content standards that her/his students will master in each unit; 2) articulating well-designed essential questions for each unit; 3) creating well-designed assessments before each unit begins ("beginning with the end
in mind"); and 4) allocating an instructionally appropriate amount of time for each unit.
n For any given unit, all or nearly all students (4 of 4 surveyed)
can communicate (in a developmentally appropriate manner)
the essential question(s) of the unit.

My wish is that every teacher and parent in Washington, D. C. would read "The Bird in the Window" by David Hawkins. Actually, every teacher and parent in the country should read it. Clearly, Michelle Rhee and her cheerleader Arne Duncan wouldn't understand it.

We cannot lay out in advance a track that children are going to follow, because we don't yet know the things we will learn by observing them that will cause us to make decisions we haven't yet thought of. Therefore, there is an essential lack of predictability about what's going to happen in a good classroom, not because there is no control but precisely because there is control, of the right kind; precisely because the teacher is basing his decisions on observation of the actual children in their actual situation, their actual problems, their actual interests, and the accidental things that happen along the way that nobody can anticipate. . . . We all know that learning doesn't have any very close or intimate connection with adult logical organization. The order in which children come to understand such a logical pattern is not by following it from the beginning.
--David Hawkins, "The Bird in the Window," in The Informed Vision and Other Essays

I expressed such enthusiasm for the concept of the bird in the window when I spoke at the graduation ceremony at Goddard College that a faculty member sent me a lovely little ceramic window--with a blue bird flying in it.

Insisting that classrooms must be predictable is decreeing they will be dead.

Brian Betts, the principal who uses the nutty and offensive wet baby metaphor to describe teachers, was featured in a Dec. 2008 Jay Mathews piece, in which Mathews noted that middle school principal Betts "personally selected 28 of his 35 teachers and other workers last summer. He eliminated homeroom periods and recess as wastes of time. . . ."

By Bill Turque

So what exactly is D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's idea of good teaching?

A highly skilled teacher should never have more than five instances of "inappropriate or off-task behavior" by students within a half-hour of class time. At least three times in that span, an instructor should respond to students' correct answers by "probing for higher-level understanding" of the idea being discussed. And no more than three minutes of teaching time should be lost to poor organization or planning.

These attributes are included in a strikingly detailed set of guidelines and strategies presented to District teachers last week. The 200-plus-page document, the "DCPS Teaching and Learning Framework," is part of a wave of change about to hit students, instructors and parents when classes begin Monday.

Rhee's first two years at the helm of the 45,000-student system brought major upheaval, including school consolidation and closure, principal turnover, dismissal of central office staff and contentious contract negotiations with the teachers' union. Those talks are ongoing after nearly 22 months.

Classes also will resume Monday in Prince George's, Charles and Frederick counties and in some Anne Arundel County schools. By week's end, schools will reopen throughout Anne Arundel and in St. Mary's and Calvert counties. Montgomery and Howard county schools will reopen Aug. 31; most Northern Virginia schools open Sept. 8.

As Rhee's third school year begins in the District, she is clearly turning more attention to what happens in the classroom.

"Initially, we had to make the systemic changes so we were at a place where people were being paid on time and roof tiles weren't falling on people," she said Friday. "We also wanted to get an understanding of what was happening in the classrooms and what was needed and what was not."

Teachers will be subject to revamped evaluations based in part on the new teaching and learning framework, which will deploy a corps of "master teachers" to join principals in assessing instructors. The changes are an attempt to make performance reviews more objective and less vulnerable to school politics or personal issues. The new evaluations also are expected to include improvement in student test scores as part of the criteria by which some instructors will be judged.

Students will face a revised disciplinary code, with an emphasis on defusing conflicts before they start and minimizing the use of suspensions that keep students home or on the streets instead of in class.

It is a lengthy agenda, especially in light of Rhee's acknowledgement in a spring letter to educators that she might have tried to force too much change too soon. Some school administrators sound as if they are trying to catch their breath.

"The right things are happening, but everyone is a little uncomfortable with change. Only a wet baby likes change," said Brian Betts, principal of Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson.

Much of the teaching framework, which Rhee and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) are expected to unveil Monday, is gleaned from research and approaches used elsewhere. Some of it seems obvious. Teachers should strike a "dynamic presence" in the classroom using "engaging body language, tone and volume" and "emphasize key points in a memorable way," it urges at one point.

Rhee said Friday that the document is not a fundamental change as much as an attempt to bring clarity and consistency to expectations for D.C. teachers.

"The feedback we got from teachers was that things were very murky," she said. "They wanted more concrete guidance."

The framework covers everything from planning lessons and managing classroom behavior to assessing student progress and reteaching difficult concepts. It emphasizes the importance of delivering information clearly, checking carefully to make sure students understand and paying attention to various ways children learn.

Tactile learners, for example, who absorb information through touch and feel, could use popsicle sticks for a lesson about triangles. The plan also urges "scaffolding," or breaking incorrect answers into smaller components to work them through with children.

The new system also gives teachers and principals more responsibility for laying plans to meet District standards, the concepts and skills students must acquire in each grade.

"At the end of the day, we need really good teachers, and they will only be good if we engage them in the design process," said Michael S. Moody, president and chief executive of Insight Education Group, a consultant hired to draft the framework.

Some veteran principals scoffed privately at the plan, calling it a reprise of previous reform attempts. "My impression is that Michael Moody is just reshuffling old stuff," said one school leader who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak publicly.

Others were generally positive about the blueprint but expressed anxiety about how numeric benchmarks might be used in the new evaluation system, called IMPACT, which officials will unveil next month.

"I'm encouraged by what I see so far. I like the simplicity of it. But I hope it doesn't turn into a counting game," said Cosby Hunt, a social studies teacher at Columbia Heights Education Campus.

Rhee said that the benchmarks are not meant to be binding and that the framework is not final. It will be tweaked, she said, until it achieves "the right level of specificity."

Revisions in the disciplinary code, which the D.C. Council approved in the spring, hold teachers accountable for keeping more students in the classroom.

The old code permitted suspension for such an array of offenses that the punishment lost any real meaning, officials said. Principals were allowed to send students home for dress code violations, which is not permitted under the new rules.

According to the most recent available data, suspensions grew from 1,303 in 2006 to 2,245 in 2008 -- a 72 percent increase. School officials say that removing students from school only puts them behind in class and can lead to truancy and trouble with the justice system.

Borrowing from models in Prince George's and elsewhere, the new code organizes student misconduct into five "tiers." The first two, which cover everything from showing up without completed assignments to leaving class without permission, require responses, such as parent-teacher conferences or a behavior contract.

Tiers 3 to 5, which cover cheating, bullying, sexual harassment and assault, provide for suspension, with an emphasis on keeping the suspended students in school. Some schools have "respect centers," or classrooms to accommodate suspended students, but most have not been given extra money to develop those.

LaCrisha Butler, guardian for a nephew attending Wilson High School, applauded the changes.

"It does no good to send these students home," she said. "Oftentimes, suspension ends up being like a day off and partying."

— Bill Turque
Washington Post





This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.