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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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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."

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