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May 1, 1994
Vol. 51
No. 8

Transforming District Nine

Using the Results-Based Education Model (R-BEM), a superintendent restructured an inner-city district highly resistant to change and infamous for its problems.

Over the last two decades, Community School District Nine had become a microcosm of all that was wrong with inner-city education. Located in the South Bronx, District Nine sits squarely in the midst of the nation's poorest congressional district. Achievement levels were consistently among the lowest in reading, mathematics, and science of all New York City's school districts. Audit reports indicated that personnel and fiscal mismanagement negatively affected the instruction of children.
When I assumed the superintendency of District Nine in May 1991 at the request of New York City School's Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez, our community and its 34 K–8 schools were demoralized and staggering under the crushing weight of repeated systemic failure. It was obvious that a massive curriculum overhaul, coupled with an extensive professional development effort, was necessary if things were to improve for the district's more than 30,000 students, 2,017 teachers, 500 paraprofessionals, and 220 administrators.

The Philosophy

To begin a massive professional development effort, I drew on two interrelated core convictions. First, the individual teacher is the most powerful player in the educational process and the unit of change in the system (Bennis 1989). The exemplary teacher has internalized the belief that all children can learn at high-quality levels and possesses the skills required to put this belief into action.
In District Nine, however, more than a third of the teachers were “temporary,” not licensed or certified; another third were inexperienced and relatively untrained. The district's potential for success rested upon our ability to inspire all staff to believe that all children are capable of learning (Howard 1991). We set out to produce that shift.
My second conviction was that the district's many inexperienced teachers would have to improve and expand their instructional abilities (Shulman 1988). We wanted our teachers to embrace a methodology of instruction that, together with the new belief system, would ensure the success of our students.
Simply stated, we believed that better teachers produce better learners and that better learners produce better results in the classroom. Aggregate these results building by building, and you have a school district offering high-quality education.

The Plan

Introducing effective systemic change in an organization as complex as a large, urban school district is a daunting task. To change the mind-sets of large numbers of school personnel over time requires careful planning, an unwavering implementation effort, and the confidence and flexibility to fine-tune the mechanism at crucial junctures (Barker 1992).
I knew from past experience that initially the staff would not buy in 100 percent. Yet, I was certain that with careful planning, perseverance, and demonstrable success, many teachers and administrators would acquire ownership of the program and provide leadership for their colleagues. As our plan moved from theory to implementation, the ranks of those committed to change began to swell. The plan was two-pronged, and at the same time both simple and complex: (1) to promote educational change by structuring a systemwide professional development program, and (2) to rapidly increase our critical mass of trained teachers.
I accomplished these objectives by scheduling training for more than 2,000 teachers and administrators over a two-year period. All district teachers and administrators received the comprehensive training, spread over seven consecutive days, during the school day.
During the first phase, three days of Efficacy Training, we sought to strengthen each participant's belief in the capacity of children to learn. Staff members developed an understanding of how their attitudes and beliefs affect student achievement, and they began to accept the need for an instructional methodology that maximized each student's potential.
The second phase, conducted during four additional days, addressed the need for a common language for instruction and the application of effective teaching tools. We chose the Results-Based Education Model (R-BEM) because it is outcomes- and performance-based, and interdisciplinary. It also embodies successful practices in curriculum, instruction, and assessment (Crowder 1992).
In each district school, we selected a successful, experienced teacher to receive intensive, continuous R-BEM training and to become his or her school's designated staff developer. In this capacity, teachers supported the work of newly trained teachers and provide on-site coordination of the program. This built-in system of support and monitoring serves to assess and fine-tune the delivery of instruction (Gargan 1994).
Based on feedback from teachers trained early in the program, who told us they felt isolated and alone, we are considering training teachers in pairs. With two teachers from the same school and grade training together, each will have a “critical friend” both in training and upon returning to class. (The difficulties involved in hiring substitute teachers while teachers are in training, however, are heightened by negative perceptions about our location and related problems.)
Because each school had its own in-house trainer, the quality of support offered was naturally variable. Occasionally, those who arrived after their colleagues had been trained had presuppositions about the experience. We are attempting to overcome this difficulty by providing standardized, in-depth training at the district's training center. To ensure a uniformly rich training experience, we require that every teacher and administrator complete the full training cycle.

Designing Down

The Results-Based Education Model, developed by Bruce Crowder, offers an outcomes-based model that unifies instruction, learning, and assessment—while building in the greatest possible margin of student success. The delivery mode is thematic, integrated, performance-based, instructional units. The model's power rests squarely on its central focus—results. In their training, teachers and administrators are reminded of the Chinese proverb: “If you don't know where you are going, any road will lead you there.”
Planning begins with the identification of commencement goals, which represent what students will know, be able to do, and be like at the end of their educational experience (in District Nine, the end of the 8th grade). These goals are influenced by both our state goals and national goals (such as the President's Goals 2000 and the Secretary's Commission on Necessary Skills [SCANS]). For example, we want our students to attain such attributes as being a communicator, thinker, and risk taker (Darling-Hammond and Quinones 1992).
To extend the learner outcomes through grade 12, District Nine has collaborated with local high school curriculum experts. After setting 15 learner outcomes for graduating seniors, we then established specific benchmark outcomes at grades 8, 6, 4, and 2. This designing-down phase helps align goals, outcomes, and performance standards.
Performance standards, which are developed from the benchmarks, provide evidence of learning and accountability. Performances integrate the learner outcomes, where appropriate, and form the basis for portfolio assessment. To assess each performance authentically, teachers use a scoring rubric equipped with a scale, which assigns a quality dimension to the criteria and simultaneously sets the standard for performance.
Each of the elements, from commencement goals to performance standards, is nonnegotiable. What is negotiable is the model of operation that individual schools select in the way of structure, culture, organization, roles, relationships, and responsibilities.
A major strength of the total R-BEM planning is the collaboration of people from a variety of backgrounds. Once curriculum turf barriers are broken down, planners become part of a cohesive team, where indeed the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts.

Delivering Up

Teachers develop an R-BEM “unit template” to interface with benchmark learner outcomes, performance standards, and curriculum frameworks. In this model, textbooks and other materials are resources, rather than the curriculum. Themes typically run two weeks, with topics usually drawn from science and social studies. After teams of teachers select a theme and a topic, they develop an organizing idea for the unit. The units are enhanced by dimensions that ensure that they provide the necessary depth.
The unit template shows the instructional process operating in three segments. The first section, cue setting, sets forth the following: unit outcomes, behaviors to be assessed, concepts to be developed, essential understandings related to the concepts, integrating web, unit sequence, vocabulary, motivational activity, materials and other resources, and prior learning needed to be successful.
An “integrating web,” designed for each curriculum area, serves as a planning framework by arranging probable activities in the indicated subject domains. From the web, teachers develop a plan that illustrates the natural integration of content with the theme. The activity sheets provide a flow from the motivating activity, through the supportive activities, to the culminating performance. Each activity has an enrichment dimension.
Motivating activities are designed to capture the interest, emotion, and intellect of the students. For example, in a 5th grade unit entitled “Waste Not, Want Not!” the teacher scattered trash around the room. As the students entered their classroom, they were incensed and quick to point the finger at the custodian. The teacher recorded their reactions on the chalkboard, and a heated, teacher-prompted discussion took place.
The motivation proved successful. Students were then ready to move into a series of supportive activities (8 to 10) prompted by an authentically assessed evaluative question. During these active learning experiences, students acquire and apply the knowledge and skills associated with the unit. In the “Waste Not, Want Not!” unit, activities ranged from calculating trash accumulated in the average classroom each day to investigating the most cost-effective ways to deal with municipal waste in general.
The culminating segment of the unit is an activity, exhibition, or a performance demonstrating mastery of the original outcomes. For example, in a 3rd grade unit called “Habitats and Adaptations,” small groups of students made models of deserts and other environments. Each group compiled records and created a journal of daily variations. At the end of the unit, the students could tell their parents the specific skills they had learned.
Through these three segments, the Results-Based Education Model sets the stage for in-depth, cross-content learning, undergirded by a solid philosophy of instruction. It emphasizes student mastery of the higher-order thinking skills that form the foundation for lifelong learning (Hillman 1994).

Assessment and Other Matters

Prior to training, participants frequently place outcomes and assessments at the end of the instructional process. After training, they understand the importance of establishing outcomes before beginning instruction.
A major distinction to be understood before preparing a unit is the difference between learner outcomes and learning activities. Outcomes provide answers to the question, “When this unit is completed, what will the students know and be able to do as a result?” To illustrate the difference, think of constructing a pie chart to show the distribution of data as an activity. But being able to display information and data graphically for the purposes of analysis and communication is an outcome.
Assessment must also be addressed at the beginning of unit development. Teachers identify the behaviors inherent in the outcomes and evaluate each piece of student learning through both traditional and authentic means. Assessment should not be a mystery to the learner. What is expected and how it is to be measured should be made clear to students initially (Wiggins 1991).
Teachers give special consideration to prior learnings essential to mastering the outcomes. For example, if a unit contains an activity in which students will be asked to use map-reading skills, then map reading needs to be mastered either before the student begins the unit or as an early learning activity within the unit. Assessment and learning in an R-BEM unit are dynamic and interchangeable. The activity becomes the assessment.

Connecting the Curriculum to Technology

Although still in development, a recent exciting transformation in the Results-Based Education Model planning process is our conversion from pencil-and-paper unit creation to use of cutting-edge technology. IBM, our corporate partner, furnished the human resources needed to plan a training facility, as well as hardware and software to facilitate training.
At our new R-BEM Development Center, teachers have access to an array of computers upon which to create and edit their units. Built into our customized software are pre-formatted templates, training materials, and even a hands-on “walk-through” tutorial. As they create the units, the teachers/authors are also building a database that other teachers and schools can access. This new system from IBM, called Linkway, is an invaluable asset in planning comprehensive, multidisciplinary, multimodal learning units at all levels of instruction. As a result, we now possess a tool for planning, developing, implementing, fine-tuning, and sharing our teaching-learning packages.
In the future, incorporating emerging information highways, we will include in our lesson presentations video vignettes, animation, photographs, original or existing art, sophisticated graphics, music, and any material available on CD-ROM. Our technologically driven planning process is the next logical plateau in curriculum planning and delivery.

Our Message to Others

Near the end of our second year of using an outcomes-driven curriculum, District Nine has surpassed all our expectations of transforming teaching and learning. By scheduling a training component each summer, we have been able to prepare an additional 600 teachers and administrators over the two years.
At this point, the great majority of our staff are “online” with our plans. Our reading and mathematics scores have improved at the elementary school level. Our intermediate schools have stabilized and, in some instances, improved. However, the greatest needs are still in our junior high schools.
The rigidity of the secondary school administrative structure has, in many ways, hindered many of our objectives. Our challenge was to establish adequate blocks of time for common planning and work groups. We were able to accomplish some of our objectives through temporary rescheduling and other creative programming maneuvers. This hurdle underscores the need for common times to be built into teachers' programs during summer scheduling. A crucial factor in secondary school planning is jolting content- area teachers out of their single-curriculum mind-sets. We are now planning to have secondary teachers meet in symbiotic, diverse groups to generate cross-content learning packages—no longer in rigid departments.
Our message to educators who are change agents is that they must allocate time for adequate professional development, work painstakingly to build a success-oriented districtwide culture, and implement an outcomes-based, enriched curriculum to maximize the delivery of quality instruction in each classroom. Significant and real change can be accomplished even in a system that is resistant to intensive, comprehensive professional development effort. If District Nine can do it, so can other districts.

Barker, J. (1992). Future Edge: Discovering the New Paradigms of Success. New York: William Morrow.

Bennis, W. (1989). Why Teachers Can't Lead. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Crowder, B. (1992). “R-BEM: Outcomes Through Interdisciplinary Units.” Training Manual for CSD Nine. New York: CSD 9.

Darling-Hammond, L., and N. Quinones. (1992). “Building a Learning Centered Curriculum for Learning Centered Schools.” Interim Report of the New York State Curriculum and Assessment Council to the Commissioner and the Regents. Albany, N. Y.: NYSED.

Gargan, A. M. (1994). “Mainstreaming: A Promise Fulfilled or a Dream Denied.” Doctoral diss., Fordham University, New York.

Hillman, J. (1994). “District Nine Positions Itself on the Cutting Edge of Instruction.” Bridging the Curricula 2, 2: 1.

Howard, J. (1991). “Getting Smart: The Social Construction of Intelligence.” Efficacy. Lexington, Mass.: The Efficacy Institute.

Shulman, L. S. (1988). “Assessment of Teaching.” Educational Leadership 46, 3: 42–46.

Wiggins, G. (1991). “Standards, Not Standardization: Evoking Quality Student Work.” Educational Leadership 48, 5: 18–26.

End Notes

1 Both Lehman College of the City University of New York and our corporate partner, IBM, have conducted studies that document the extent and effectiveness of this effort.

Felton M. Johnson has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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