13 charter schools sought in city

Applications received by the school board reflect a range of trends, philosophies

November 30, 2006|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,sun reporter

The Baltimore school board has received 13 applications from groups wanting to open charter schools, reflecting a broad range of educational trends and philosophies.

One stresses the arts, while another focuses on physical fitness. Some emphasize experimental and project-based learning, while others believe in a prescribed, back-to-basics approach. There's a proposal for a language "immersion" school that would teach pupils in Chinese, Russian or French. Two proposals would cater to children in foster care.

An application generating significant discussion calls for an all-boys middle school with year-round classes, a 12-hour academic day and mandatory Saturday activities -- an attempt to keep a vulnerable population off the streets, while stopping short of creating a boarding school. New federal regulations have made it easier to create single-gender classes and schools.

The proposals highlight a wide-ranging effort by educators, parents and concerned residents to reach out to failing students in Baltimore, now home to 17 of the state's 24 charter schools. And they come amid a battle between the city school board and charter operators over how such schools should be funded.

Charter schools -- public schools that operate independently under contracts with local school boards -- are supposed to foster innovation. In the Maryland suburbs, where academic achievement is higher, there have been fewer charter proposals. Anne Arundel County, for example, has one application pending. Howard County and Baltimore County have none.

Carl Stokes, a co-founder of the proposed all-boys middle school in Baltimore, presented grim statistics at a public forum Tuesday night as he made the case that something different must be done to save the city's adolescent males. He said more than 50 percent of fifth-grade boys at East Baltimore elementary schools are passing the state math test. But by the time those boys are in eighth grade at surrounding middle schools, the pass rates are in the single digits.

"It's so stunning -- and I'm not being dramatic -- it takes my breath away," said Stokes, a former city councilman and mayoral candidate.

The city's first charter schools opened in August 2005. Their results have been mixed. One, KIPP Ujima Village Academy, has the state's highest seventh- and eighth-grade math scores.

The Baltimore school board is scheduled to vote Dec. 12 on the 13 applications -- 12 for schools that would open in the 2007-2008 school year and one for 2008-2009.

Nationally, most charters open as new schools. But in Baltimore, some existing schools, including KIPP, have converted to charters. The new batch of applications would convert Dr. Rayner Browne Elementary, General Wolfe Elementary and the Baltimore Freedom Academy.

Many of the applicants focus on struggling children. Among them is the Bluford Drew Jemison Math Science Technology Academy, which would serve 300 middle-school boys.

Anne O. Emery, who would head the board operating Bluford Drew Jemison, said Baltimore now has one all-boys school: the juvenile detention center. "If we look at the dropout rate, if we look at the incarceration rate, we have failed our young men," said Emery, an educational consultant and retired school administrator.

The school would be named after three African-Americans successful in math and science: astronauts Guion S. Bluford and Mae Jemison, and blood bank founder Charles Drew, who discovered how to store blood plasma. Pupils would be required to wear shirts and ties.

For decades, the city's flagship high schools, Polytechnic Institute and City College, served only boys. Currently, the only single-sex school is the prestigious Western High for girls.

Stokes said Bluford Drew Jemison would offer many activities beyond the normal school day to keep boys out of trouble. Like many charter schools, it would have to raise money privately to offer the program it envisions. Meanwhile, the amount of public money that charter schools get is the subject of a lawsuit.

The city school board is appealing a ruling by the state Court of Appeals that school systems must give their charter schools the same funding as other schools.

The city spends the equivalent of about $11,000 per child in its regular public schools. Charter schools receive $5,859 per child in cash and the rest in services that the school system provides. such as special education and food. Many of the schools want the $11,000 in cash.

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Anica Butler, Gina Davis and John-John Williams IV contributed to this article.

Charter school applications

The city school board is scheduled to vote Dec. 12 on the following charter school applications:

Bluford Drew Jemison Math Science Technology Academy. The school would serve 300 middle school boys in East Baltimore, with an extended school day and school year.

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