Education Week - May 22, 2013 - (Page 12)

12 EDUCATION WEEK n MAY 22, 2013 n COMMON CORE: A STEEP CLIMB Staff Training Central Force Of Endeavor quiet classroom after students had left for the day. “When they go to 9th grade, if something is missing, they can only point to me. These are my babies. What will happen to them?” ■ that it could influence the national dialogue at the nexus of race, poverty, and education. “We have the opportunity to rewrite the narrative on urban education in a city where everybody in the world is watching us,” says Chancellor Kaya Henderson. Teachers, coaches, and administrators have much at stake, too. They are being judged in part on their students’ and schools’ test scores. And for students, the stakes couldn’t be higher: How well prepared will they be for life after graduation? Ms. McNair-Lee has less on the line this year than some teachers do. For the past three years, she’s been rated “effective” or “highly effective”—the top two of the district’s five teacher-evaluation categories—so her job is safe for now. At present, she’s more worried about other things. “For two years, their [English/ language arts] experience here has been me,” she says, sitting in her The District of Columbia school system has been trying to answer that question with its intense focus on the common core. It was one of the first in the country to use a year-end test designed for the new standards. Its 2012 dc cas was revamped to include more complex questions that require students to analyze and compare text passages, and write brief essays citing evidence in those passages. District leaders theorized that the exams would serve as a vivid signal of what common-core classwork should look like. The state superintendent’s office, which functions like a state education department for the District of Columbia schools and redesigned the dc cas, issued a list of priority standards on which the test would be based. Teachers use what some call the “power standards” to guide their instruction. In fall 2010, a few months after the final version of the common standards was unveiled, the dis- Photos by Jared Soares for Education Week CONTINUED FROM PAGE 10 Assistant Principal Katie Franklin oversees English/ language arts instruction. As hard as her teachers are trying to teach the common core, she says many “are just not there yet.” DOWAN MCNAIR-LEE | Age: 36 8TH GRADE ENGLISH/LANGUAGE ARTS TEACHER AND DEPARTMENT CHAIR Stuart-Hobson Middle School D owan McNair-Lee’s life has been an exercise in struggling against the odds, and reaching safety through education. So she doesn’t hesitate to press her students when they start slacking. As they moan about the latest assignment, she is likely to tell them, “This is about your future!” or, “What are you gonna do when you get to high school?” The daughter of a Navy Yard clerk and a secretary, she grew up in the District of Columbia, her childhood a mix of loving security and instability. Neither of her parents attended college, but they were both big readers; books were always scattered around the house. She remembers being dispatched, at ages 5 and 6, to look up words in the big Webster’s dictionary for her dad as he did the Sunday crossword puzzle. Her parents nurtured her dreams of the future, buying her a nurse’s uniform when she saw herself tending to the sick and a blackboard when she imagined herself a teacher. Even with money in short supply, her parents kept her in “strict but loving” Christian schools, where she became known as the “smart little skinny girl with the big hair and the big vocabulary,” Ms. McNairLee recalls. By early adolescence, though, life got more unpredictable as her parents repeatedly separated and reunited, and money dwindled. She and her mother moved frequently, sometimes staying on friends’ couches. They ended up in nearby Lanham, Md. An injury had forced her mother to stop working, so there was no money for private school. Ms. McNair-Lee got her first taste of a public high school, sticking out from the neighborhood crowd in her preppy clothes. She went her own way, clinging to her cousin for security and befriending the Advanced Placement students. She credits her teachers, a guidance counselor, and her cousin for keeping her focused on college. Aching to get away from the tumult of home, she applied and was accepted to Hampton University, a historically black college in Virginia. Grants and scholarships diminished by her second year, and she began tutoring and writing her friends’ English papers to tide herself over. They urged her to teach, but she sought a career in medicine, saying she “didn’t want to be a broke teacher.” H alfway through her sophomore year, her parents divorced, and she was too broke and too upset to stay in college. She came home to Washington and worked temp-agency jobs for two years, then pulled herself together to enroll in the University of the District of Columbia. In an education class there, she found herself weeping, and realized she had found her place. “I had always tutored,” she says, “and I was always at my best when I was showing someone how to do something.” During her udc years, she had the chance, through a federally funded minority fellowship, to do graduate-level research on school funding disparities and their effect on college-completion rates. trict’s curriculum leaders brought teachers and central-office content leaders together to start writing a scope-and-sequence, or highlevel outline, for English/language arts instruction. In the following months, the school system would use similar teams to write themed instructional units spanning the school year. Officials put a premium on replacing textbook-based instruction with a range of “authentic texts”: high-quality literature and That work took her around the country as she presented her findings. In 2002, she walked across the udc stage with a bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude. The next fall, she took her first teaching job, in the city’s northeast quadrant, at Watkins Elementary, a feeder school for Stuart-Hobson Middle School. She taught 3rd grade there for two years, then switched to Stuart-Hobson, where she taught 6th grade reading for four years. By then, she had a 2-year-old son, and her mother cared for him while Ms. McNair-Lee taught and worked on a master’s degree in reading at Trinity Washington University, completing it in 18 months. She tried her hand in a charter school, teaching 6th grade writing for a year, but it wasn’t a good fit, she says; the hours were too long for a single mother of a kindergarten son with learning challenges. So she returned to Watkins and StuartHobson as the coordinator of gifted and talented programs for two years. She also began teaching urban literacy to graduate students at Trinity in the summers. She moved to the 7th grade in fall 2011, while she participated in the District of Columbia’s 18-month Teach Plus fellowship, which aims to involve teachers in district and federal education policymaking. In an unusual move, StuartHobson allowed her to “loop” with those students when they moved to 8th grade this school year. She has been focusing on teaching the common-core standards and preparing her students for high school. Many of those students face life challenges similar to the ones Ms. McNairLee endured growing up. She understands how that can complicate learning. But she sees school as their salvation. “I believe in the power of education,” she says. “It gave me so many opportunities. It —CATHERINE GEWERTZ was my way out.” informational books. Each unit lists a handful of “anchor texts,” along with dozens of articles, novels, plays, poems, essays, and other works as suggested readings. It sets out the “essential questions” of the unit, learning activities, target vocabulary, and the focus standards for that unit. Teachers and central-office staff are now working on more-detailed lesson plans within each unit that will include differentiated activities for students below, at, and above grade level. Although the district presses teachers of struggling readers in early grades to adhere to certain foundational programs, its overall theory of action is to capitalize on teachers’ judgment. “The idea is to put good stuff in teachers’ hands and let them elegantly adapt it,” says Brian Pick, who oversees curriculum, assessment, and professional development as the school district’s chief of teaching and learning. “What we are not doing is, ‘Do Open Court,’ ” he says, referring to a popular reading program. To align with the state office’s dc cas, the end-of-year test, the district crafted new interim assessments to give feedback to teachers as they teach. Those Paced Interim Assessments, or pias, echo the dc cas, requiring students to answer questions and write brief essays on literary and informational-text passages. A top priority was using highquality texts as reading passages and upgrading the writing prompts so students must read the passages carefully and grasp them well in order to answer. “We wanted more complex texts, authentic texts, texts that are worth teaching,” says Mr. Pick. “We’re moving from, ‘Write about a time you were scared,’ to a more text-dependent prompt.” To infuse their approach into classrooms, Mr. Pick and his team rely heavily on 113 instructional coaches—nearly one in every school building—at a cost of $13 million a year. They envisioned the school year as a series of “learning cycles” that last six to eight weeks and mirror the instructional units. While teachers teach those units,

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - May 22, 2013

Education Week - May 22, 2013
District Bets Big on Standards
FOCUS ON: EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS: States Stepping Up Mandates for School Safety Drills
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: Schools Facing the Expiration of Windows XP
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Debates Roil Over Control of Schools in Baton Rouge
Study: Teenagers’ Brains Are Wired for Peer Approval
Analysis Calls for Dual-Language Pre-K for Young ELLs
PROFILE: Brian Pick
PROFILE: Dowan Mcnair-Lee
PROFILE: Mikel Robinson
States Tighten Disclosure of Teacher Evaluations
Blogs of the Week
NRC Framework Seen as Valued Resource for Educators
A Spec. Ed. Twist on Common-Core Testing
K-12 Colors Campaigns in Virginia, New Jersey
Policy Brief
CYNTHIA G. BROWN: The ‘How’ of Equitable School Funding
JIM CHILDRESS: Designing Learning Spaces for A New Age of Discovery
JEANNE ZAINO: Teaching the Metric System: A Cautionary Tale for the Common Core
Topschooljobs Recruitment Marketplace
LISA HANSEL: The Common Core Needs a Common Curriculum

Education Week - May 22, 2013