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More questions about Capitol Hill charter pitch

Red flags continue to flutter around a group's proposal to open a new charter school for at-risk youth on the D Street SE campus of International Graduate University (IGU).

Last week, Terry Shelton, the executive director of the proposed University High Public Charter School and IGU president Walter E. Boek assured neighbors that the new venture was merely renting space, and had no relationship with the struggling university that has lost its District license. But according to its application to the D.C. Public Charter School Board, IGU is prepared to lend the group $275,000 in start-up costs.

There are concerns with the group's application, which boasts some notable names on its list of founding board members, including philanthropist Judith Terra and Virginia Elizabeth Hayes Williams, mother of former mayor Anthony Williams. For instance, Shelton, a former treatment team coordinator at Oak Hill Youth Center, named Community College of the District of Columbia as a "possible" partner for the new school, which would have a college prep emphasis. That drew a categorical pushback from a CCDC spokeswoman this week, who said no such partnership existed or was likely to exist any time soon.

In addition, University High's application to the charter board -- which will review the group's bid next month -- contains passages that have almost identical wording to documents from unrelated groups. For instance, the section on curriculum offers this description of introductory algebra:

"This course familiarizes the student with the basic language and concepts of algebra. He studies the properties of the set of real numbers and learns to use the operations defined on the set to solve equations and inequalities. The concepts, properties and graphs of relations and functions are introduced. The subject matter includes linear equations and inequalities, systems of equations, polynomial functions, rational expressions, irrational numbers and quadratic equations. Required of all freshmen who have not already completed a similar course or who have not placed out of Algebra I by way of the Algebra Placement Test."

Which bears a strong similiarity to Algebra I as described on the Gonzaga College High School site:

"This course familiarizes the student with the basic language and concepts of algebra. He studies the properties of the set of real numbers and learns to use the operations defined on the set to solve equations and inequalities. The concepts, properties and graphs of relations and functions are introduced. The subject matter includes linear equations and inequalities, systems of equations, polynomial functions, rational expressions, irrational numbers and quadratic equations. Required of all freshmen who have not already completed a similar course or who have not placed out of Algebra I by way of the Algebra Placement Test."

Then there is this portion of the application's executive summary:

"As a result, there are persistent calls to improve access to higher education and to encourage both students and adults to continue their education beyond high school. However, reaching college remains a challenge for many low-income and potentially first-generation students who: (a) are not academically prepared, or (b) lack knowledge about how to apply to, and pay for college. College enrollment rates for these students thus continue to lag behind those of their peers despite overall improvements in college attendance."

Which reads a whole lot like this September 2009 Education Department report, "Helping Students Navigate The Path to College: What High Schools Can Do," which says:

"As a result, there are persistent calls to improve access to higher education and to encourage students and adults to continue their education beyond high school. However, reaching college remains a challenge for many low-income and potentially first-generation students who (a) are not academically prepared or (b) lack knowledge about how to apply to, and pay for, college. College enrollment rates for these students continue to lag behind those of their peers despite overall improvements in college attendance."

It conjures memories of deputy mayor Victor Reinoso, who copied significant portions of the Fenty administration's 2007 proposal to take control of D.C. schools from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools' strategic plan.

When I reached Shelton at IGU Tuesday afternoon he said he'd be happy to answer questions, just not mine. "You're persona non grata as far as I'm concerned," he said.

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By Bill Turque  |  February 23, 2010; 7:10 PM ET
 
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Comments

"You're persona non grata as far as I'm concerned," he said.

Bill, wear it as a badge of honor.
I don't think Hiatt or Armao will be dumb enough to back these amateurs.

Posted by: edlharris | February 24, 2010 12:52 AM | Report abuse

Readers,
you can reach Mr. Shelton at (202) 544-1555.

Posted by: edlharris | February 24, 2010 6:05 AM | Report abuse

"You're persona non grata as far as I'm concerned," he said.

He sounds like Michelle Rhee in pants.

I agree with Edlharris - the editorial board has enough on its hands trying to prop up Rhee and still pass itself off as a newspaper. I predict it will steer clear of this guy's enterprise, while continuing to support the general cause of Charters.

Posted by: efavorite | February 24, 2010 7:11 AM | Report abuse

Back in the day when I was teaching college-level courses, we called that plagiarism and I had students kicked out of my class for doing that! And these people plan to run a school???!!!! Outrageous!

Posted by: oldmh | February 24, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

I don't get the big deal with the copying of passages from other sources without attribution, either in this case or the earlier Reinoso brouhaha.

These are policy and operational documents. They aren't stealing speeches from "The Glass Menagerie." It's just boring, wooden blah blah blah. Sure, it can be seen as lazy, but education policy has as one of its cornerstone the adoption of best practices. This recommends--and in some cases requires--the cobbling together of other sources.

The issue is that if these policies are put out there, will the schools or school systems closely follow them. I don't think anyone can sensibly contend that an educational structure would be less likely to follow a policy they had crafted themselves rather than one which was pulled from another source because it said exactly what they were looking for.

But if the organizers of this charter school just hijacked a bunch of existing policies in order to complete a shiny application--with no intention of following through on any of them--then that's lazy and calculating and weak. I'm sure that during the chartering process the PCSB will compel Shelton to elaborate on the elements of University High PCS's proposed curriculum. If so, that weakness will be exposed.

Posted by: gardyloo | February 24, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Well, gardyloo,
it appears they aren't as smart as you.

Posted by: edlharris | February 24, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Why does this illegitimate enterprise even exist? It has the transparency of a cult without an effective method of getting through to its subjects. DC OPM made a terrible mistake in transferring this property, as it did with any number of other undervalued assets sold at firesale prices with minimal scrutiny in the early to mid 90s. this is the rare opportunity for the District to right one of these past wrongs.

Posted by: myron1 | February 25, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Also, what was so quite STRANGE...this group was willing to place a principal in the interim principal position without interviewing that person for the job. Rumor has it that the list of possible candidates for the position are all former principals who were let go during Janey's and Rhee's tenure.

Yeah...their keywords are "at-risk" students one could say that the leadership could be viewed in the same vain.

Posted by: PowerandPride | February 26, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

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