In Rowan Sharpe's sixth grade classroom, each day is arranged around a series of objectives. So is each week and each month.
Right now the goals for November are inscribed on large paper squares and taped to a blue wall over the backboard. There are 14 of them posted from "Identify Roman numerals" and "Demonstrate air pressure" to "Respect all adults" and "Have a Thanksgiving dinner."
Sharpe writes more goals on the blackboard for each day. Some of them start with the initials TSWBAT. letters that also appear in other rooms at Webb Elementary School in Northeast Washington, where Sharpe teaches, and throughout the D.C. school system.
The letters stand for "The student will be able to," a catch phrase that begins many of the thousands of learning objectives contained in the new competency-based curriculum, the centerpiece of Supt. Vincent Reed's efforts to raise the low average level of achievement in Washington schools.
The curriculum which officials call CBC is based on theories from behavorial psychology. The central idea, Reed says, is to break down complicated subjects into a sequence of clear simple skills that virtually everyone can learn, although at different rates of speed.
"Everything is much more detailed and much more organized than it used to be," said Sharpe, who has been teaching for 19 years. "Eventually they say there won't be any deviation from the lessons they give us. I have my own opinions about that even though I like most of what I've seen so far. Right now we only have to use the CBC lesson part of the day, but I put almost everything I do in the (same format)."
Over the past two years the Washington school system has produced a stack of new CBC curriculum books, weighing almost 15 pounds and reaching two feet high.
In unusual step-by-step detail they spell out how major subjects should be taught from pre-kindergarten to high school. They also contain the tests that students are supposed to pass to show they've mastered each objective.
In some cases the lessons are so detailed they even contain a script with the exact words for teachers to use in presenting new material.
"It's all laid out for teachers to follow," said Leon W. Holley, principal of Malcolm X Elementary School in Anacostia. "It's cut and dried. If a teacher can read, there's no way she can go wrong."
Another administrator calls CBC "the McDonald's approach to education."
"That's not something to be ashamed about," she said. "McDonald's isn't creative French cooking . . . They've got hamburgers and Big Macs that lots of people want to buy . . . You know, they don't leave anything to chance. The food is always okay no matter where the store is."
The school system's biggest problems now she said, are finding the recipes" to make the new curriculum work and "training the cooks (teachers) to follow them right."
So far doing both these tasks has been difficult.
Indeed, the whole CBC program isn't nearly as well developed as officials thought it would be by now when Reed first announced it in 1976.
"A lot of people think we can just wave a magic wand and everything will fall into place," Reed said recently. "They keep saying, 'When, when, when, when is it all going to happen?' Its not so easy. We don't want to jump and do something without proper support, without knowing whether it's really going to work . . . I'm not going to over-promise."
Last year parts of a draft of the new curriculum were tested in 29 schools. But evaluators said many of the lessons were not effective and had to be rewritten and reorganized. As a result, Reed postponed his original plan of putting the new curriculum in all D.C. schools this fall. He still is not sure when all schools will get it.
"We found out we haven't progressed as far as we planned," Reed said. "I just don't want to blunder into it."
This fall parts of the new curriculum are being used by about 700 teachers and 11,000 students in 56 schools - about 10 percent of the students in the system.
Teachers in all schools have been given new curriculum outlines for reading, mathematics, and science, but these contain goals without lessons and tests, and teachers are not required to follow them.
In addition, teachers have been urged to present every regular lesson in the new CBC format - with a clearly stated goal, at least two ways of teaching it, and three ways of testing whether children have learned it.
So far, according to one consultant for the school system, this usually has amounted to little more than "putting old wine in new bottles."
CBC is intended to be much more than just a new formula for teaching, according to Joan Brown, director of the administrative group developing the program.
Besides breaking each subject down into step-by-step details, Brown said, CBC involves having all students taught at their own rates of speed. No student is supposed to begin a new topic before thoroughly understanding the previous one.
Eventually, said Brown, students will not be promoted or allowed to graduate until they have mastered a minimum set of basic skills.
How stiff these requirements will be, and when they will be enforced, are questions that have yet to be decided. Also, despite official advice to the contrary, many teachers use CBC lessons and terminology while continuing to teach the whole class together instead of managing three or four different groups working on different levels at the same time.
On one recent afternoon, for example, Sharpe taught a lesson about homonyms, words that sound alike but have different meanings and are spelled differently.
He started things off by holding up cards with three samples - made and maid, mail and male, and to and too.
Then he asked the class, "Let's see if you can identify what was on the card."
After getting some answers, he pointed to an objective, which he had copied on the blackboard from a CBC curriculum book. He asked a girl to read it, which she did, stumbling slightly: "Given words among which there are homonyms for each word, the learner will distinguish the homonyms."
Then Sharpe passed out mimeographed work sheets containing practice tests, which he called "assessment tasks," the terminology used in the CBC curriculum books.
He told the class to take the first test and stop, which everyone did quietly. After a few minutes, Sharpe asked the students to tell him the right answers. Most of the 28 youngsters raised their hands to volunteer, some of them straining enthusiastically to get his attention. Sharpe let them all mark their own papers.
As it turned out, the test was easy. The students were asked to pick out the homonyms for a list of 12 words from another list right beside it. Only four students said they made any mistakes, and only one, a girl in a blue sweater, said she answered more than three questions incorrectly.
Sharpe said he would give more practice exercises the next day to those who needed them and then would give everybody a harder test to make sure they really had learned what homonyms are.
"Next time," he warned, "I will do the assessing."
"They tell us to individualize instruction," said Charles Riddick, a mathematics teacher at Francis Junior High, 24th and N streets, NW. "'Individualize' is a nice word, but with 30 to 35 students that's all it is. You've got to do most things with a group."
In some classrooms, though, mostly in the lower elementary grades, teachers are using the CBC curriculum with three or four small groups. Viola Villines, a third grade teacher at Fletcher-Johnson School, Benning Road and C Street, NE., regroups the children often as they learn new objectives, she said.
Like many other teachers using CBC, Villines complains about the paperwork, which is much more extensive than in traditional classes because detailed skill-by-skill profiles are supposed to be kept on each student.
Still, Villines and many other teachers support having a system-wide curriculum again after 11 years without one since the resignation of Supt. Carl Hansen.
"It's very good to know what we're expected to do," Villines said. "At first I was apprehensive and skeptical, but now I feel much better about it."
"There are a lot of good things in the CBC," said Riccick, "But it has to be a long-range plan. You can't take a student like many of those in the ninth grade now and expect them to come along too far. There are some of them who are just learning their subtraction facts, which ought to be done back in second grade . . . The way I see it, CBC really has to be a 12-year plan, starting with the children who are in the first grade now and keeping them up to grade level."
Without clear goals for graduation and standards for at least some grades along the way, the new curriculum is "very incomplete," said Henry Walbesser, an education professor at the University of Maryland, who has served as a major consultant on CBC to the D.C. schools.
"You hsve to have some way of verifying whether anything happens," Walbesser continued."You can't just have bits and pieces and expect very much to change."
Last week Reed moved part way to meet such criticism by announcing specific scores that he hoped third-, sixth-, and ninth-graders would average on standardized tests next spring.
Though still substantially below national norms, the new "target scores" would be a major improvement over the chronically low achievement reported by Washington schools for the past decade.
Reed said the new targets were averages for the entire school system, not minimums that individual students would have to reach, which is what CBC eventually is supposed to entail.
Associate superintendent James T. Guines, who is in charge of planning the new curriculum, said the specific skills and test scores needed for promotion and graduation probably will not be determined until 1981. They probably will not be enforced throughout the city, he said, until 1985, although 31 schools in Anacostia are planning to apply their own standards next spring.
"I'm getting impatient," said school board member Carol Schwartz. "I know it's difficult, and I know we've made considerable progress during the past two years . . . but I'm disappointed we're not moving ahead faster."
School board president Conrad P. Smith said he is satisfied with the way new program is developing.
"It's quite resonsible to introduce a new concept to the whole school system in a slow and deliverate fashion," Smith said. "We have to make sure that the parents and teachers and community all understand it and accept what we're doing."