The EACH! Charter School Debate

A couple of weeks ago, the Frederick County school board voted to deny the EACH! Public Charter School application for a charter. The EACH! School was to be an all-girls high school focusing on science/math and languages. The reasoning for the denial of the chater were many, according to this Frederick News Post editorial:

Superintendent of Schools Linda Burgee, the school board, representatives from the Frederick County Teachers Association and several other local education employees associations found fault with EACH!’s application. They raised concerns about, among other things, the school’s proposed curriculum, provisions for students with disabilities, and whether the institution would adequately serve the county’s minority and low-income populations.

Those may be valid concerns, but the suggestion among some of the school’s detractors that EACH!’s proposed all-girl student body was somehow unfair is puzzling. Why is it unfair?

By their very nature, charter schools are created to encourage diversity and choice within a school district. EACH! would fulfill that role in spades as an all-girls public school at which math, science and critical-needs foreign languages such as Chinese and Arabic would be center stage.

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EACH!’s proponents, including prime mover Angela Phillips, argue that girls’ lackluster math and science performance in traditional school settings needs addressing. Their belief is that girls might perform better in these subjects if they were in an environment tailored to optimize their potential.

This is not a new or novel idea. Some studies strongly suggest that girls and boys learn best in different environments. Segregating them produces better results than integrating them into the same setting, which may fail to maximize learning potential of either gender. This same reasoning has been used to promote all-boy classes and schools. Baltimore Freedom Academy, a charter school, teaches its ninth- and 10th-graders in all-boy and all-girl classes.

I must admit, at first I was not enamored of the idea of an all-girls chater school. I am still not convinced that the problem of discrimination against girls in math and science classes still exists, but I will withhold judgment until someone can prove it either way.

However, in considering this matter, I have come to the conclusion that EACH! should not be denied a charter just because there is not a “need.” Part of the impetus, I will admit, is selfish. Even though my daughter is only in Kindergarten, I am not seeing that her education needs are being fully met and my wife and I are considering the only other charter school in Frederick and possible private schools. In short, I want another choice for my child. Does that make me selfish–yes and I am OK with that.

Further, Angela Phillips herself sent me an email suggesting I do a bit more research and I have. Yes, single sex schools and certainly classrooms appear to be on the rise in the United States. From what I have found, they tend to be charter schools, but some traditional public schools are experimenting with single sex classrooms. However, there remains some dispute as to the efficacy of such classrooms, as Elena Silva points out. But leaving aside the dispute as to the efficacy of single-sex classrooms, I think, at the very least, it cannot be any worse than classrooms already are and if there is improvement, even a marginal improvement, is that not reason enough to permit EACH! a charter? And anyway, how are we to determine whether single sex classrooms or schools are good for the kids unless we have single sex classrooms and schools upon which to study. Silva notes that some research is in the pipeline, but offers no indication when we will see it.

I also based my objection, in part, on a legal conclusion without sufficient legal research. I had said that a single sex school is, on its face, discriminatory. It still is, but that is not sufficient justification for opposing it, according to court rulings. I apologize to Ms. Phillips and the EACH! supporters for not doing enough research.

Of all the objections the school board cited, the only one that I think worthy of concern is the curriclum. All others can and probably legally must, be addressed. But as for the curriculum, I am not sure what is so objectionable, but let us assume that EACH! would have a science and math curriculum no different than currently offered, can the school board really be objecting to its own curriculum? Assuming that the EACH! will not be watering down the math and science curriculum (which would run counter to its stated goals), then the curriculum is not a particularly good objection.

Phillips has decided to appeal the County Board’s decision to the State Board of Education.

Philips has to submit the appeal by Dec. 13 — 30 days after the local school board voted to reject the all-girls charter school application. The state board will then have 120 days to respond.

State board members will have different options – to immediately reverse or affirm the local board decision or to ask Frederick County’s Board of Education to evaluate the application again.

Even if the state board doesn’t reverse the local decision, the appeal process may help clear some questions about the charter school application process in Frederick County, Philips said.

‘‘We need the state board to assert the legality of single-sex charter schools,” she said.

Philips is also hoping the state board will clarify if charter schools are required by law to meet an existing need in their school system.

Both issues were brought up when the local school board evaluated the EACH! charter school proposal. Some board members stated that girls’ test results in Frederick County did not show a need for all-girls charter school focused on languages, math and science.

So a decision will be reached in teh early spring.

Historically, Maryland has not had a particularly good track record endorsing charter schools and I wonder what impact Governor O’Malley’s recent appointees to the State Board of Education will have. Many chater schools in Baltimore have done very well serving that city’s needs. But I wonder if there has to be a “need” for a chater school or if that need can be satisfied by simply having parents wanting another option.

In short, I have changed my mind and I hope that EACH! gets a charter–and soon.

Cross posted at Going to the Mat.

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