“We are relentless,” Dr. Cashin said in a recent interview. “The secret is clear expectations. Everything is spelled out. Nothing is assumed.” She provides her principals, for instance, with a detailed road map of what should be taught in every subject, in every grade, including specific skills of the week in reading and focus on a genre of literature every month.
Dr. Cashin is obsessed with writing, and in most of her schools, student work lines the walls — not just the final product but layers of drafts. Even first graders have writing posted on the walls.
A feature used in every school is the four-square graphic organizer, a worksheet with four boxes like a window pane and a rectangle at its center that helps children develop a five-paragraph essay. Some progressive educators scorn it as a crutch; Dr. Cashin insists that it works.
While the city’s reading program focuses on story books, Dr. Cashin layers on lots of nonfiction. And, responding to research showing that impoverished children often lack vocabulary and basic facts, she has adopted a curriculum called Core Knowledge, which teaches basics like the principles of constitutional government, events in world history and well-known literature.