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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."

Bill Turque

By Bill Turque  |  September 16, 2009; 12:52 PM ET
Categories:  Bill Turque , Education  
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I'd don't know Annie Mair personally, but from all I've heard, she is a very good principal.

I wonder what it's like for her, someone who most likely has forgotten more about running an elementary school than Rhee will ever know, to be in DCPS right now?

I would love to know how she feels about spending a day a month in "The principal's academy." I can see how that programming (when the consultant isn't screaming at them) might be helpful for Rhee's fresh picked TFA and New Leaders for New Schools alum. I just wonder how much is relevant for an experienced professional like Ms. Mears? I know at our school, we miss not having our principal in the building those days.

As a DCPS parent, I appreciate leaders like Ms. Mair, who carry on despite the fact that they could leave DCPS and find a better, more secure position in a heartbeat. These men and women work long hours in an environment that Rhee has made hostile.

While I've never met Annie Mair, I appreciate her dedication to the students of DCPS.

Posted by: Title1SoccerMom | September 16, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse

I'm very happy to see that Mrs. Mair is still principal of Cleveland. I graduated from there 1990. Stern but very likeable lady.

Posted by: boo2 | September 16, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

SWBAT = students will be able to + the objectives is certainly not new. We teachers use it to save valuable board space. I know teachers in DCPS and PG County weho use this abreviated form. It's no big deal.

Posted by: chelita | September 16, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Brave lady, to speak candidly like that. let's see how she fares.

Interesting that Cleveland has done so well - steady rises since 2007 - and it's not among the schools that Rhee regularly praises. Perhaps because the principal is not a Rhee hire?

And how did you get in to speak with her Bill? That's a story in itself.

Posted by: efavorite | September 16, 2009 2:43 PM | Report abuse

OMG, SWBAT was very popular with CBC. The written objective had to include the audience, the action and the percentage of accuracy. ie; The student will be able to write complete sentences using the appropriate punctuation marks with 90% accuracy. That was in the 70's. And the chancellor was born when? Some of that good old stuff is still good because effective teacing is just that regardless of what you call it. Good for the principal. She kept something that worked. Seems very strange that seasoned teachers are going out and the new ones need to learn SWBAT.

Now class the first one who can state what CBC stands for gets an "A'". Extra credit can be earned if you can name the superintendent of DCPS that implemented CBC as instructional reform. Now that's how far back SWBAT goes with me.

Posted by: candycane1 | September 16, 2009 6:58 PM | Report abuse

SWBAT has been around for many years! It's not new, it's a piece of experience the chancellor managed to learn before she discarded many people who already knew and practiced it.

And clustering is not a difficult concept to grasp, nor should anyone be up until 1 or 2 in the morning figuring it out. Clustering is a part of lesson planning where teachers determine how their students best learn and then teach accordingly. It's just not that hard and is another concept that has long been around.

Posted by: southyrndiva | September 16, 2009 7:14 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Turque: you articles and blogs have been a ray of hope for many of us. JUST IN: Rhee sent an email announcing a RIF (Reduction in Workforce) and blaming it on the council for with holding money when they disagreed with her last spring's enrollment projections. However, the council gave her almost all the money anyway. In any case, her RIF is suspicious and interesting. In her opening day report (thanks again for your coverage) she boasted how she hired 900 new teachers to fill these vacancies and how they had very few unfilled positions. However, the real story (as reported by the WTU) was that all these excessed teachers were sent to schools this fall as "gifts" that are not part of their local school budget and for which there are no positions. So, how could Rhee possibly justify a RIF? Please cover this story. A RIF allows her to use different criteria to get rid of teachers (and avoid using seniority---seniority counts for 5% or something in the RIF equation). What she is doing seems very dishonest and misleading. How can you hire 900 new teachers and then call for a RIF three weeks later?

Posted by: mfalcon | September 16, 2009 10:27 PM | Report abuse

Rhee didn't do anything to improve teaching in 2 years, not even adopt textbooks. She hired a consultant (Moody) to come up with a teaching framework that Superintendent Janney had already tried. Rhee hasn't spent anytime improving teaching practices because she doesn't know how (besides the fact that she spends half of her time promoting herself).
There has been no training for teachers in the past 2 years and Cheryl Krehbiel, Head of Professional Development is a big joke. Turque, look at the turn over in Rhee's team. Almost everone who had reputation and experience already left...why? She dissapointed everyone.

Posted by: onemoredeadbrain | September 16, 2009 10:55 PM | Report abuse

SWBAT .... use a calculator???

DO IT IN YOUR HEAD!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: bs2004 | September 17, 2009 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Bill, contact the EEOC. Ask how many suits have been filed against DCPS. You'll get lots of answers right there. There aren't dozens of investigations for no reason. As Onemoredeadbrain put it, be sure that the experienced, credentialed people have left her circus far behind. And Rhee does spend a lot of time in California and all over the rest of the nation promoting herself. And she does lack the knowledge to reform the system. Where is the data on her performance in Baltimore? Amazing that no one can produce it.

One thing cannot be argued. The truth is DCPS isn't the same as it was when Rhee arrived. Truthfully, IT's WORSE than ever.

Posted by: southyrndiva | September 17, 2009 1:51 PM | Report abuse


In today's mathematics children are taught how to divide in their head, with paper, and with calculators. Using a calculator is factored into every chapter in Everyday Math, the textbook used by DCPS. It has nothing to do with "doing it in your head" and everything with familiarizing the student with how a calculator operates. A good teacher teaches all ways to find a solution.

Posted by: adcteacher1 | September 17, 2009 10:41 PM | Report abuse

Well none of you have answered my quiz questions above. With that, you haven't made AYP and I will absolutely not pay you to go learn that part of DCPS history. LOL

Posted by: candycane1 | September 18, 2009 8:47 AM | Report abuse

CBC= Competency Based Curriculum instituted by Vincent Reed.

Posted by: DC4Life2009 | September 21, 2009 6:42 AM | Report abuse

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