University High: A Lesson in How Not to Start a Charter School
When Capitol Hill residents smell something funny in their backyard, they get busy. For years, they've been concerned about a strange educational outfit at the corner of 13th and D Streets SE called the International Graduate University. The building just sort of sits there, with few students coming or going; the District government delicensed the university last year.
So when locals learned that a charter school called University High was seeking to move into the university's buildings if it receives a charter, they developed a healthy interest. An investigative interest, even.
Among the first steps was to vet the school's charter application. Aha! They discovered that portions of the application were nearly identical to articles on Web sites. The residents forwarded their findings to reporters and Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells. The Post's Bill Turque wrote about how the description of a proposed algebra class at University High is identical to a course description at the District's Gonzaga College High School. The plagiarism is much wider-spread, though: With the exception of one class, every one of University High's courses has a twin at Gonzaga.
University High isn't too eager to discuss questions of curriculum originality. "I don't think I should talk to you," Virginia Hayes Williams, a founding member of the high school and the mother of former mayor Anthony A. Williams, told City Desk. Williams said she and the other founders worked too hard on the application for anything to be plagiarized. “I know that there are so many people that try to stop anything good that comes."
When Williams refers to all that hard work, she's surely talking about some serious cutting-and-pasting operations. Take a look at the similarities—no, samenesses!—between course descriptions at the would-be school and the longstanding school:
University High's description of its proposed United States History Course:
UNITED STATES HISTORY /full year
This course covers major trends and events in the formation and development of the United States, beginning with the era of exploration and extending to the post-war era. It emphasizes the process of understanding and expressing the significance of historical events. In achieving those ends, students will learn to use historical documents and inquiry in the writing of well-crafted historical essays. During the fourth quarter, the writing program will culminate in a cooperative effort with the Library and English Department to develop the students' understanding and mastery of a longer thesis paper. Required of all juniors.
The description is nearly identical to the description of a United States History at Gonzaga:
UNITED STATES HISTORY (430)/full year
This course covers major trends and events in the formation and development of the United States, beginning with the era of exploration and extending to the post‑war era. It emphasizes the process of understanding and expressing the significance of historical events. In achieving those ends, students will learn to use historical documents and inquiry in the writing of well‑crafted historical essays. During the fourth quarter, the writing program will culminate in a cooperative effort with the Library and English Department to develop the students' understanding and mastery of a longer thesis paper. Required of all juniors.
The nearly identical descriptions continue throughout the schools' curricula. In a political science course at University High, for example, students could expect to study the exact same eight philosophers as they would at Gonzaga. In the charter school's description of its English courses, the reader is referred to a class that does not exist in University High's application, but does at Gonzaga.
The only University High course without an equivalent at Gonzaga is English IV, which has no description at all.
Other parts of the application contain portions that are similar to articles on educational websites.
A call on Tuesday to Terry Shelton, one of University High's officials, went nowhere: A woman who answered said an injury prevented Shelton from coming to the phone.
IGU's relationship with University High is unclear. IGU President Walter E. Boek told City Desk Tuesday that he has no relation with the potential high school beyond IGU's possible future location in his building.
In its application for a charter, however, University High lists the same phone number that IGU has on its Web site. The high school's articles of incorporation list IGU's address at 1325 D St. SE as the location of its initial office, and Boek as its initial agent. Both Boek and Shelton are signatories on the articles of incorporation.
In a two-hour meeting with neighbors that Turque described as "bizarre," Shelton acknowledged knowing Boek but refused to explain further.
A call to that phone number Tuesday was answered by a man who acknowledged that University High's Shelton worked there. Asked whether the number belonged to IGU or University High, the man said, "This is not the charter school," and hung up.
On Wednesday, City Desk tried to get in touch with Boek and Shelton again. A woman answered the phone and said she didn't think talking to Boek was a good idea. Besides, calls to Boek have to go through Shelton first—and he was out for the day.
*A sentence has been deleted from the original post.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery