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March 30, 2010

A New Approach for Frederick County

Nick Diaz

Imagine that you could send your child to a school that reflected your aspirations for your child's education. Imagine not worrying whether your child was adequately challenged in the classroom, and feeling confident that he or she was truly prepared for college and beyond. Now imagine not going into debt to pay for this, since you are already paying taxes to fund this.


What you just imagined is what the USA's 5,000 charter schools have been doing for decades. A charter school is a public school that is given the freedom to implement an approach to education which is different from that of most public schools.


Do you want a school that emphasizes the arts or music? A charter school can provide that. How about a math and science school, or one that takes a traditional approach, or a progressive approach? With charter schools, parents can pick an environment that is tailored to their children. Since charter schools are public, they are not religious in nature, and do not screen applicants in any way. There is no tuition.


In a charter school, not only is there room for parental involvement, but it is emphasized. The attending families help to shape the school and contribute to its success. Currently, over 1.5 million children attend charter schools in the United States. In Frederick County, with over 40,000 students attending the public school system, we have only one charter school whose waiting list is approximately 854 for 12 slots.


Certainly, Frederick County parents are interested in school choice. Just look at the number of private schools around us, filled with Frederick County children, as well as the growing number of children who are being home-schooled. Parents do want school choice, and they are making the choice. Unfortunately, home schooling is difficult when both parents work outside of the home, and private school can be very pricey, especially for a family with multiple children. So, for most families, school choice is limited to the school that the government assigned to them based on where they live.


If you are interested in pursuing the idea of sending your child to a charter school, there is some good news. The Frederick Classical Charter School is in the planning phases right now. Over 20 founding families and many volunteers have been working for months to organize curricula, secure budgets and finances, investigate locations, raise funds, and educate the community. What this dedicated group of parents and ordinary citizens is doing has proved to be labor-intensive and sometimes frustrating; however, they believe their goals of securing school choice for their children are worthwhile.


The Frederick Classical Charter School's motto is "A Modern Approach to Classical Education." A classical education organizes education into three stages that roughly correspond with students' development. These stages are called the "trivium," and consist of the grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages.


The grammar stage is from grades K-4. Students learn not just English grammar but the "grammar," or fundamental knowledge and skills, of all subjects. In grades 5-8, students enter the logic stage, where they use reasoning to more deeply understand previous learning, as well as acquire more knowledge. The final stage, which occurs during the high school years, is called the rhetoric stage, and focuses on marshalling knowledge and reason to persuade others and express yourself. The emphasis at each stage is an emphasis, not a sole focus.


Knowledge, reasoning and self-expression are part of each stage. The school is "classical" because it follows the trivium, which emphasizes rich, interesting content that is well-organized, and is "modern" because the schools founders take research seriously and will use teaching methods that work, not passing educational fads. Once this school is up and running, the founders are open to creating a high school for children whose parents want to see a completion of the last phase of this classical education.


What one may not realize about charter schools is their effect on the quality of education in our local public school system. It's a little thing called "competition." Competition is a good thing. When educational institutions are competing for enrollment of students, those institutions are going to try a little harder to create a great environment for teachers and students to achieve at their highest level. Studies have shown that students enrolled in public school and private schools actually achieve more if there are charter schools available in the same area.


Frederick County Board of Education members have been heard to say that education is not "one size fits all." In other words, different students thrive in different learning environments.


This summer, our Board of Education will have a chance to review the proposal for the Frederick Classical Charter School. If the members of the Board of Education are true to their word, they will recognize the need for a school that meets the needs of students who thrive in an environment of low pressure, high standards, and an emphasis on rich, interesting liberal arts and science content, rather than test preparation.


If you think that Frederick's children ought to be able to attend a school that is tailored to them, I hope you will join me in contacting the Board of Education to encourage them to approve this school.


For more information on this charter school go to:


If you have questions, please address them to:


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