At Cleveland Elementary, "SWBAT" Is The Word
Walk into just about any classroom in this handsomely restored, 98-year-old Shaw neighborhood school and you find signs of the Michelle Rhee era writ large.
Virtually every available wall or board space is thick with directives from the "Teaching and Learning Framework" she introduced to District educators last month. The work of each class is broken down into "priority standards," "cluster standards" and "essential questions," all designed to impose a common and consistent idea of what good teaching is supposed to look and sound like across the 127-school system.
And then there is SWBAT. It stands for "Student Will Be Able To," as in: By the end of the unit, the student will be able to demonstrate mastery of whatever has been taught.
"SWBAT test for divisibility by using a calculator," says the board in one fifth-grade classroom.
"SWBAT identify the main ideas and supporting details from the text," it says on another.
"SWBAT find missing numbers on a grid," is part of this month's grade three message.
SWBAT is actually the creation of a Cleveland teacher, but it reflects the degree of urgency, and perhaps anxiety, with which teachers are approaching the new regimen. Cleveland is one of the District's better-performing elementary schools. About 75 percent of its students were proficient in reading and math on the most recent DC-CAS. Can the new framework lift scores to the next level?
Some younger teachers find the new system daunting because it eliminates traditional "pacing guides" and requires them to "cluster" learning standards into a format that works for them. Some say they need a little more guidance.
"What keeps everybody up until one and two in the morning is learning how to cluster," said one freshly-minted instructor.
Annie Mair, who started her 23-year run as Cleveland principal when Rhee was a high school junior in suburban Toledo and has been through more Big Ideas than she can count, said the framework is nothing new.
"We have a new name for good teaching," she said, adding that she was confident she can make it "user friendly" for her staff.
Mair has other worries, including a school enrollment that has fallen 15 students short of projections. She fears Cleveland will be vulnerable to budget cuts that are rumored to be in the works. Asked what her greatest aspiration was for the new academic year, Mair said: "That I can maintain what I have."
September 16, 2009; 12:52 PM ET
Categories: Bill Turque , Education
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