MORE charter schools open in Oklahoma


Sunday, August 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ The four veteran teachers who founded Tulsa's latest charter school insist their curriculum and students will more than measure up.

``I think we're going to welcome being measured against other places,'' said Linda Stromblad, a math teacher of 24 years who co-founded the Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences, one of at least four new charter schools in Oklahoma.

Only in the second year, Oklahoma's charter school movement _ limited by law to Oklahoma City and Tulsa _ now numbers 10, with one more planned to open in the fall of 2002.

As many as 250 ninth- through 12th-graders in the Tulsa school will navigate courses aimed at helping them meet entrance requirements at the colleges of their choice.

The goal is to prepare them to take tests that will eliminate the need to take certain entry-level college courses. They will also be allowed to enroll for some classes at local universities while attending high school.

Suzanne Lee, director of the school, said success will be measured by the satisfaction of students, parents and teachers and by the same standardized tests taken by other Tulsa school students.

Nationally, about 2,100 charter schools now teach an estimated 518,000 school children in 36 states and the District of Columbia.

Oklahoma's 1999 law limits charter schools to the areas in and around Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Seven opened last year, but one closed shortly after opening. The Tulsa School Board revoked the charter of W.E.B. DuBois Academy, citing problems with finances, curriculum and leadership changes.

The state Education Department is compiling a report on Oklahoma's charter schools. That report is due out later this month.

The state's charter schools are approved by local school boards and get state funding and start-up grants. But the schools are otherwise free to hire their own teachers, manage their own money and put together unique curriculum, with the goal of using innovation to help students learn more.

The jury is still out in Oklahoma, but assessment test scores in a number of surveys, including ones for Pennsylvania, Florida and Texas, indicated that charter schools are doing as well or worse than traditional public schools in many cases, said Deanna Duby, senior policy analyst with the National Education Association.

In addition to an annual report, Oklahoma charter schools give standardized tests and meet guidelines set down by local school boards.

Without a guide to assess progress from previous years, Oklahoma City's ASTEC Charter Middle School administered the Iowa Test of Basic Skills twice last year to its 100 students, marketing director John Carpenter said.

``We had some kids who increased as much as 14 percent of their scores in certain areas,'' he said. Only about four sixth- and seventh-graders failed. The school, which offers core courses, but focuses on science and technology, is adding a grade this year.

The founders of the Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences say they will have to meet the same academic performance standards set by Tulsa Public Schools. But they may have to be more accountable because of the demands of parents and students.

``If they don't like us, there is another school,'' Stromblad said.

In Oklahoma, charter school teachers do not have to be certified by the state, which is required for instructors in public schools.

New charter schools get state funding based on a per-pupil average. But part of the average given to charter schools in the first year includes additional funds from averaging in special education and other program costs that the schools do not actually incur.

The state bill that created charter schools also mandated a more rigorous curriculum for Oklahoma public schools, but charter schools were exempt, said Carolyn Crowder, president of the Oklahoma Education Association.

The group supports choice and innovation but wants the state to require teacher certification for charter schools and hold them to high standards required of public schools, she said. Funding fairness is also an issue for public schools.

``We're not against innovation and we think these charter schools can come up with new ideas, but we want to make sure we're not coming up with new bureaucracy,'' she said.

Next year, per-pupil funding at the Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences will depend solely on an average for its students without additional moneys for programs it will not offer.

This year, teachers will include a professional photographer. Students can benefit from teachers involved in real-world occupations but who aren't certified by the state, Lee and Stromblad said.

The school is counting on other innovations.

Oklahoma schools have seven 48-minute periods a day for two semesters during the year. But the Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences will have five 70-minute periods daily during three 59-day sessions.

The structure will give the school almost a third more instruction time, but with the fewer classes, Lee said.

Courses will interweave math and science. World and American studies for freshmen and sophomores will include classes with two teachers that combine studies on history, literature and the arts.

Changes to curricula can be implemented much more swiftly than at public schools.

``We've wanted a school we could put our own children in,'' Lee said.