State board OKs four charter schools, three are bilingual

The State Board of Education on Tuesday approved four new charter schools, including three bilingual campuses scheduled to open in the fall of 2000.

The requests for the bilingual charter schools were approved despite concerns from at least one board member about the merits of using a language other than English to teach in the classroom.

“We believe schools should have the opportunity to succeed and fail,” said Chris Georgacas, chairman of the board’s charter school committee. “At the same time, it’s very clear some of us are skeptical about the ability for bilingual instruction to have an appreciative impact on student achievement.”

Traditional English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction immerses students in an English-speaking environment. Supporters of this approach say children are more likely to become proficient in English in less time.

Bilingual education supports teaching such subjects as math, science or history in students’ native language. They say it prevents nonnative speakers from getting left behind academically because of a language barrier.

Most metro-area schools use the ESL approach, but some with large immigrant populations use bilingual instruction.

The new charter schools are:

– Mexica Multicultural Education Charter School, serving at-risk students in grades 9-12 and sponsored by the St. Paul Public School District.

– Native Arts High School at Fort Snelling, aimed at American Indian students and sponsored by Augsburg College.

– El Colegio Charter School, a Minneapolis school also chartered by Augsburg that will focus on technology, arts and the environment.

– Rochester Off-Campus Charter School, an existing alternative high school with a new charter sponsorship from Rochester Community/Technical College.

The Rochester school is the only one that will open this fall.

Charter schools are run by teachers and parents, outside the traditional control of school boards, although local boards act as sponsors. Minnesota now has 54 state-approved charter schools in operation or in the works.

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