Rhee Spells Out Teaching Expectations With 200-Page 'Learning Framework'

D.C. educators are preparing for the opening of school Monday. At the School Without Walls, Heather Pultz talks to fellow teacher Carlton Ackerman.
D.C. educators are preparing for the opening of school Monday. At the School Without Walls, Heather Pultz talks to fellow teacher Carlton Ackerman. (By Richard A. Lipski -- The Washington Post)
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By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 23, 2009

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.

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