Charter Schools Aim for Fall 2003.(METROPOLITAN)

Article excerpt

Byline: Vaishali Honawar, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Two D.C. charter-school applicants plan to implement the phonics-based, direct-instruction curriculum promoted by Lynne Cheney, another seeks to work with high school dropouts and one intends to combine work with play to help preschoolers with special needs.

The D.C. Public Charter School Board has received five applications for schools that would open in fall 2003, said Tamara Lumpkin, the board's manager of school development. A public hearing on the applications will be held this month and final decisions are expected in August, she said.

The D.C. school board, the District's other chartering authority, also has received five applications, from a residential special-education program, a year-round performing-arts school, a vocational-education facility, an alternative school and a language-immersion school, a board spokeswoman said. Decisions are expected at the board's Sept. 18 meeting.

One charter school in the District that opened last year, Howard Road Elementary, already employs direct instruction - a program that relies on memorization and helps give children a grasp of the basics, say advocates. Mrs. Cheney, former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities and wife of Vice President Richard B. Cheney, is a proponent of direct instruction and has visited several schools around the country that use it.

Earlier this year, she visited City Springs Elementary in Baltimore, a school that went from being one of the lowest-scoring in the city to one of its top performers after implementing direct instruction in 1996.

At the time, she described direct instruction as a "program with real focus" and said it was a tragedy that it was not looked upon more favorably in schools. "Teachers don't hear about it, or if they do, they hear about it in a critical way," she said

Of this year's applicants, D.C. Preparatory Academy will seek to fill the gap between children's elementary education and the demands of high school by using direct instruction. The school, which aims to open in Northeast, would open with the fourth and fifth grades and add a grade each year until students reach the eighth.

"Our focus is to make sure students can enroll in top high schools and go to college. That is our mission," said founder Emily Lawson, who has helped set up charter schools in Boston and New York City.

Another charter school that would employ direct instruction has been proposed by the Coalition of Citizens for Educational Change. …