Angela Phillips of Frederick wants girls to be able to raise their hand in math and science classes without a fear of being wrong.Anyone who has read this blog knows that I whole heartedly support charter schools. But this proposal may be treading a path I am not ready to endorse.
To that end, she is proposing Frederick County Public Schools open a charter school for 360 girls in grades seven through 12.
Her school would focus on math, sciences and critical needs languages such as Arabic, Chinese or Russian.
Phillips said girls won't take the risk of being wrong in a co-ed setting. "Right there starts our spiral of girls losing their voice, losing their assertiveness of saying 'I can do this.'"
I am not sure that the problem Ms. Phillips claims to be at the heart of her proposal actually exists. I am not sure that the whole "girls are afraid to raise their hands in math class" is still a problem in Frederick, in Maryland or in the country as a whole. Given all the publicity lavished on this problem a couple of decades ago, do we really have a widespread problem of girls not being encouraged to challenge themselves in science, math and technology. I am hoping that Ms. Phillips has tried to deal with an isolated incidence or a few teachers through other steps. So much attention has been devoted to improving girls' education that our young boys are starting to suffer. Educational opportunities abound for young women. Studies have shown that more girls are graduating from high school and college than young men, more than can be attributed to simple demographic differences.
While opening a science/technology/math focused charter school is a good thing, the location that Ms. Phillips is seeking is not only going to be difficult to find but expensive. Downtown Frederick is undergoing a significant building boom, with new condos, new shops and renovation of new homes driving the cost of land and rent to even higher levels. A science focused school will require lab space as well as traditional classroom space, and a 20,000 to 25,000 square foot building is not going to come cheap in downtown Frederick. It would be a shame to see so much of the charter's funding devoted to a facility that quite frankly can be located outside of the downtown area for far cheaper.
Finally, an all-girls school is, on its face, discriminatory and that raises a legal question. Charter schools are publicly funded and while they are generally free of the bureaucratic rules that bind tradtionaly public schools, they are still bound by the same legal rules as public schools, which means no discrimination unless there is a compelling governmental reason. Denying boys the opportunity to attend a public charter school for science and math must serve some compelling governmental need that cannot be accomplished by other means. Returning to my first reason, I am not sure there is a compelling governmental need to have an all girls science school in Frederick or in the state. There does not seem to be any evidence to suggest that girls are not receiving the same educational opportunities in math or science than boys in Frederick.
Having said that, if Ms Phillips wishes to have an all-girls math/science school she can open a private school. But I don't think a charter school is the right move. If it is true that girls feel intimidated in math and science courses, then other steps should be taken to train teachers and encourage girls to be more involved in their math/science education. But publicly funding a discriminatory facility based upon a notion or a few anecdotes of young girls not being encouraged to partake in math or science is simply a bad idea.