As I’ve covered the Common Core State Standards for the past three years, it’s been impossible to escape a fundamental question: To what extent are school systems able to put the standards into practice? This week, we begin a series of stories that explores that question in detail, in one district, one school, and one classroom.
I have spent six months reporting on common-core English/language arts implementation in the District of Columbia public schools. Photographer Jared Soares and I spent many, many hours in 8th grade English/language arts teacher Dowan McNair-Lee’s 4th period class at Stuart-Hobson Middle School on Capitol Hill. We watched as she worked to infuse the new standards into her teaching, struggling to fill the gaps in knowledge that her students bring to school every day. We hung around with her in professional-development sessions and school-based coaching sessions. We followed the school’s instructional coach, Sarah Hawley, as she worked with teachers, and Stuart-Hobson’s assistant principal, Katie Franklin, as she tried to bring teachers along in their pedagogy.
We also watched the district’s vision for the common core take shape at the top levels of the district. We follow Brian Pick, who oversees all things curriculum-and-instruction for DCPS, as he moves some of DCPS’ tectonic plates, shoring up support for budgetary and calendar shifts to accommodate the intense push of the common core. We follow him on school visits, where he searches for signs of what is working and what isn’t.
Mostly, we watched how the vision of common core that originates at the district level makes its way downstream to the schools and teachers, mostly through a big group of instructional coaches. We see the strengths that DCPS brings to the work, as well as the limitations that encumber it.
I welcome you to read along with this story as it unfolds, and share your thoughts. Part 1 is running now. Parts 2 and 3 will appear in the first half of June. Then we’ll follow up in late summer with a final installment that explores what the year has meant for the district, and for those at Stuart-Hobson.
You can explore our first story a little differently here: check it out!
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.