The D.C. school system's competency-based CURRICULUM (CBC), a program designed to ensure that students can read and write before they graduate from high school, received a solid going over and some constructive criticism last week from four national education experts.
They said the school system should coalesce and clarify the plan; students should be encouraged to think rather than just memorize rules, and teachers should demand the best of all students, not of just the most intelligent ones.
Call CBC a "Herculean effort" to hel children read and write, W. James Popham, an education professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, said he thought there were too many objectives and recommended that school officials merge "lesser objectives under more powerful ones . . . often in education, more is less," he said.
Under the CBC plan, students are given a list of objectives they must master in each subject area. Teachers must ensure students master one objective before going on to another. Teachers in each school writer the day's learning objectives on the blackboard before teaching. A second grade math teacher, for example, might write as the day's objective: "Name the number that comes before or after any number, one through 99."
But Popham, who has done extensive evaluations of instructional programs, said he felt the number of objectives the system has outlined might "overwhelm" the classroom teacher. He said other cities that have adopted a similar curriculum have streamlined objectives for each grade.
Popham, president of the American Educational Research Association, also said officials should clarify the objectives for the teachers so they "will comprehend the nature of what they're supposed to be teaching."
The day-long conference of educators and D.C. school officials was held at Georgetown University last week at a cost of $9,000. Acting Superintendant James T. Guines said that the school system would publish the recommendations and that groups of school officials would be gin work this month to see how some of the proposals could be implemented.
Frederick Rodgers, professor of elementary and early childhood education at the University of Illinois in Urbana, expressed a concern previously noted by school board member R. Calvin Lockridge (Ward 8): the CBC program may be teaching students to recognize adverbial clauses, but is it teaching them to think?
"You should strive for more of a balance. What is it we would like for our children to be like as a result of this system?" Rodgers asked.
But Rodgers said CBS is a positive step for the school system because it gives the system a definite teaching direction. Under CBS, teachers at a grade level may still use different styles and approaches to teaching a particular subject, but the material covered in all class-rooms is basically the same.
Ronald Edmonds, senior assistant for instruction in the New York City schools, said he has done extensive research in pinpointing the qualities that make an "effective school, and found one of those characteristics sorely missing in the D.C. school high expectations. In the least effective schools, teacher behaved as though they expected some kids to make it and others not to," he said.
Under a new "pupil progress plan," students for the first time must master certain specified skills in reading and math before they are promoted to the next grade level at the midyear point and at the end of the year. Edmonds said not all school officials he interviewed said they thought "100 percent" of the youngsters would eventually master the skills. "You have a serious problem with this," he warned the D.C. educators.
J. Gilmour Sherman, psychology professor at Georgetown, referring to the uniformity of CBS instruction, reminded D.C. educators that students learn best under "personalized and individualized instruction." He warned them not to let the importance of the CBC plan ever supersede the needs of individual students.
He also encouraged teachers to relinquish some of their "power and control" in the classroom and let the students who had mastered the required work help those who have not.
Associate superintendent Reuben G. Pierce said that of all the recommendations offered, he was most interested in the idea that school officials must begin to have higher expectations of D.C. students.
Last year, when he was the assistant superintendent for schools in the Anacostia region, Pierce instituted Project Positive Image, an effort to help students adopt a postive view of themselves and their schools.
Acting Superintendent Guines said, "I tend to agree with 90 percent of the recommendations. I've already seen about 90 percent of those problems."