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As Charter Movement Grows, So Does Variety of School Proposals

By V. Dion Haynes
Sunday, April 3, 2005; Page C04

One proposed school would cater strictly to boys, offering them a hands-on, fast-paced curriculum that would address their styles of learning.

Another seeks to emphasize athletics. It would prepare students not to be jocks but to take on behind-the-scenes jobs in sports law and medicine, agenting and coaching.

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And, recognizing Asian nations as growing powers, another would steep elementary school students in Chinese language and culture.

Interest in establishing new public charter schools in the District is building. As the local charter school movement prepares for its 10th school year, 2006-07, the application pool includes nontraditional offerings that are experimental in concept or associated more with private education.

"Charter schools provide the city with a wide variety of programs," said Robert Cane, executive director of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, a charter school advocacy group. "This is exactly the kind of creativity charter schools are supposed to bring to public education."

This year, 19 groups applied with the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which, along with the Board of Education, issues charters. The number of applications submitted over the years to the charter board has varied -- from 26 in 1997, the first year of the program, to five in 2001, to 16 last year.

The increase from last year occurred despite the charter board's decision to move up its application deadline from June to March.

One factor in the growth could be the Board of Education's recent moratorium on charter applications. The Board of Education has stopped accepting applications until late this year so that School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey could complete a "master education plan" that, among other details, would specify how charter schools could address the system's needs.

Applicants include former D.C. school system teachers frustrated that they couldn't make a bigger difference in the lives of students, as well as parents seeking to stem the exodus of their peers to the suburbs because of dissatisfaction with the public schools.

"We have parents who are committed to staying in the city, provided we start a charter school," said Gloria Borland, a television producer who founded the proposed Dupont Circle International Academy, a preschool to sixth-grade school that would immerse students in Chinese and offer the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

"China will be a major player in the 21st century," and it's important to have children prepared for it, she said.

The frustration expressed by Borland about the District's public schools is a major driver of the charter school movement. D.C. charter school enrollment has increased from 10,679 in the 2001-02 school year to 15,500 currently, according to the State Education Office, which audits enrollment figures for Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). The District has 42 charter schools. But the D.C. public schools' enrollment during that same period has dropped from 68,015 to 61,710, according to the education office.

The charter board will interview all 19 applicants this month and hold a public hearing on the proposals next month.

Josephine Baker, executive director of the charter board, said that if history is an indication, many applications will be rejected. In 1998, of the 13 proposals, only two were approved. In 2001, five applied, but none was approved. Last year, 16 applied, and seven were approved.

"We will approve a school we think has a chance of being a viable educational alternative for children," Baker said.

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