Washington D.C. Charters, District Schools Collaborate Around College- and Career-Ready Standards

The rhythmic sound of poetry could be heard coming from the second-grade classroom at Ross Elementary School in Washington, D.C., though the students already had left for the day. Inside, teachers from several schools in the city were trying to find a poem that would captivate second graders, teach them about figurative language, and serve as the basis for a writing assignment.

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Ross Elementary School educator Kelly Worland Piantedosi leads a group of second-grade teachers in a discussion about literary analysis and poetry as part of the DC Common Core Collaborative. Photo credit: Nancy Zuckerbrod

The teachers are part of the DC Common Core Collaborative, which has about 200 participants from 22 District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and public charter schools in the city. They get together regularly to discuss how to align their instruction with new college- and career-ready standards, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which were voluntarily adopted by the District of Columbia and 45 States to prepare students for college and careers. The teachers work in small teams of about six educators, all of whom teach the same grade, but at different schools in the city.

Kelly Worland Piantedosi teaches at Ross Elementary School and serves as the coach for the group of second-grade teachers that met in her classroom that afternoon. She said the teachers get inspired by hearing about strategies other educators use. “The exchange of ideas is great—nine times out of 10 you hear, ‘Oh we hadn’t thought about that yet,’” she said. “I know for myself, collaboration makes me a better teacher.”

Now in its third year, the Collaborative is managed by E.L. Haynes Public Charter School. Haynes and the Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy were both awarded Professional Learning Communities for Effectiveness sub-grants from D.C.’s Race to the Top program. One of the purposes of Race to the Top was to ensure that teachers and principals were receiving the support, coaching, and professional learning opportunities they needed to help their students succeed.

While all States that received Race to the Top grants are working to achieve that goal in various ways, the District of Columbia program stands out because it helped forge connections among teachers in charter and district schools. Julie Green, the chief marketing and development officer for E.L. Haynes called the Race to the Top grant “really profound for the city,” in that it brought together the traditional and charter sectors in common purpose. “It was tremendous to move toward a unified vision for the kids in the city,” Green said.

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Ross Elementary School educator Kelly Worland Piantedosi leads a collaboration of Washington DC second-grade teachers. Photo credit: Nancy Zuckerbrod

The idea for the Collaborative developed when teachers at E.L. Haynes started to shift to the CCSS a few years ago. They were eager to share what was working for them and gain insight into the experiences of other teachers, Green said.

The teachers meet a few times a month for sessions that tend to last about an hour-and-a-half to two hours. They discuss what they are teaching and how it relates to the standards, produce lessons to try out in their classrooms, and set goals for what they want to accomplish with those lessons. The teachers report back to the group at a subsequent meeting on how well the lessons worked. A web portal also allows teachers in the Collaborative to share their work, such as videos of them giving their lessons.

The Collaborative is definitely working from the perspective of Raquel Maya, one of several Powell Elementary School teachers in the program and part of the team that met at Ross Elementary School. Maya said the group, and her coach Kelly Worland Piantedosi, gave her useful strategies for helping students access nonfiction. Maya said even teachers who aren’t participating in the Collaborative are benefiting from it.

“Once you have an idea from someone in the Collaborative, naturally you go back to your school and share your ideas,” Maya said. “For sure, it’s impacted teaching broadly at our school.”

So the promising collaboration can continue, the Marriott Foundation has agreed to keep the program going after the Race to the Top grant expires.

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