The Center for Education Reform estimates there are 5,700 charter schools in the country serving nearly 2 million public school students. In the District, more than 40 percent of the city’s 78,000 public students attend charters, the second-highest concentration nationally.
Prince George’s officials said the modest growth of charters in the county is a response to charter applications and the desire of parents.
“If [applicants] come up with an idea that parents want and they can help children achieve, parents deserve that option,” said school board Chairman Verjeana M. Jacobs (District 5).
Since Maryland’s charter law was enacted in 2003, Prince George’s has received two to five applications each year to launch schools. Most of the county’s charter schools are run by small networks. Chesapeake, for example, is run by the nonprofit Chesapeake Lighthouse Foundation, which also has schools in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore. Prince George’s, which has closed a couple of charter schools because of financial and enrollment problems, opened its first charter school in 2006.
The three charter schools that have been running in the county for a few years have had mixed results, according to state records. Imagine Foundation met “adequate yearly progress” standards last year under the No Child Left Behind law and had higher pass rates in reading and math than the county average on the Maryland School Assessments.
Excel Academy and Turning Point Academy fell short of adequate progress under the law. Turning Point’s pass rates were comparable to the county average. Excel’s pass rate in reading was comparable to the county’s, but its pass rate in math was lower.
Jacobs said as long as an applicant adheres to the requirements of the State Department of Education in its application, “we can’t deny the opportunity.”
Hite said charters and some regular public schools with special themes known as “concept schools” can help improve the overall quality of the county system. Those schools that lose enrollment, he said, should face questions about how to get better.
“We can look at it as a market-driven model,” Hite said. “If I’m a school principal and I’m losing my population to another school, it’s incumbent upon me to improve my programs.”