Monday, April 5, 2010
Last month, Jaime Escalante died. You can find an outstanding Los Angeles Times obituary here: http://www.latimes.com/news/
obituaries/la-me-jaime- escalante31-2010mar31,0, 7083760.story.
Back in 1999, when a handful of county teachers, parents, and other concerned citizens came together to present the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) with its first charter school application, we named ourselves after Jaime Escalante. I was the co-president of the group through two different charter applications. And if MCPS has been wise enough, as well as brave enough to vote to open the county’s first charter, we also would have named the school after Escalante. Why Escalante? Because we believed that he truly challenged poor brown students not just to aim high academically but to also accomplish real academic feats that no one imagined possible.
By the way, we did get Escalante permission to name the school after him. I’m somewhat surprised that a public school still has not been named after him. (If I’m wrong about this, blog readers should definitely post a comment.)
In a nutshell, the Escalante charter school wanted to take poor black and brown students and turn them each into International Baccalaureate (IB) scholars. Each scholar would be required to sit for all the required IB exams that would lead to the IB diploma. If things had gone well—if MCPS had opened the Escalante Public Charter Schools—it currently would be graduating annually about 60 IB diploma holders/scholars.
Now, I’m aware that MCPS has significantly increased its numbers of poor students taking IB courses, as well as College Board Advanced Placement (AP) courses. That is a good thing. But I would wager that the numbers of poor black and brown poor students earning the IB diploma is extremely small—as in we would be lucky to fill one average high school class with their numbers. Just guessing here but that number might hover around 30 students. Of course, since MCPS refuses to share these kinds of data with the public, who really knows how many poor black and brown students earn an IB diploma on an annual basis.
A couple of weeks ago, Jay Mathews of The Washington Post asked me if I thought MCPS would open a charter school anytime soon. I said no. By the way, Mathews wrote a 1988 book (Escalante: The Best Teacher in America) about Jaime Escalante, and during the Escalante charter school applications, he wrote several Post pieces that praised our application.
Even though I cannot see a charter opening in the county anytime soon, I did share a general charter school observation with Mathews. I’ll repeat the observation in this blog.
I can honestly see charter schools filling a creative void for MCPS—of course this would require MCPS and others to think outside of the box. So, for example, make charters part of the county's Smart Growth Initiatives. If I ran the world, I wouldmake the White Flint and Gaithersburg Science Complex developers build small dedicated spaces so that charters could operate small comprehensive school. What is small?—facilities housing between 400-500 students. The White Flint charter could be associated with Strathmore—make it a performing arts charter. The Gaithersburg charter could be some kind of science school.
But I told Mathews that no one is thinking like this. Instead, what we will get to spring up around these new massive complexes are the traditional old-fashion brick and mortar MCPS buildings.
And I can even think of other charter school ideas for the Gaithersburg complex. I could envision a comprehensive K-12 school on the complex that was just for employees' children. Think about how great that would be. Think about the time families would save. And if we are truly interested in "Smart" anything, think about how f__king smart that would be. Isn’t that a no-brainer?
Yet, unfortunately, there are no county leaders thinking about schools like this. We only think and focus on what we have and maintaining only that model. And this doesn't mean I'm against the normal squared brick school house. I'm not. I'm simply saying that there is a role for charters in shaping the county's future of what schooling might be. And those new models actually fit other thoughts and plans we say we have for the future of Smart Growth.