Based on the numbers, a targeted effort to increase academic achievement for boys of color seems warranted: 43 percent of D.C.’s public-school students are black and Latino males, and the high-school graduation rate for boys is 49 percent, compared to 66 percent for girls. (Nationally, the graduation rate is 78 percent for boys and 85 percent for girls.)
To help it set up the proposed boy’s school, D.C. is turning to Chicago’s Urban Prep Academies—a well-known charter-school network for boys that touts its track record of sending 100 percent of its graduates to college. When it opened roughly a decade ago, the inaugural Urban Prep campus was the nation’s first all-boys charter high school; today, the network includes two additional Chicago locations. Aside from its focus on college prep and single-sex education, Urban Prep uses a curriculum that is, according to its website, "culturally relevant" to the experiences of its student body. "Everybody in the country wants Urban Prep to open an academy in their city," said Henderson, who, it’s worth noting, attended Georgetown with Tim King, the network’s founder.
How exactly the new all-boys institution will fit into D.C.’s public-school system is still largely open to question. Although the school will operate under the DCPS umbrella, Henderson promised Urban Prep that it will have flexibility in developing the new program. (Unlike the Urban Prep campuses, the new all-boys school in D.C. will be a regular public school; charter schools in D.C. are governed separately.)
Still, Robert Simmons, the district’s Chief of Innovation and Research, emphasized in an interview that the new campus—which will be located east of the Anacostia river, in D.C.’s lowest-income neighborhoods—won’t stray far from the way regular public schools in the district are run. According to Simmons, its expectations will be similar to those applied at the six other selective high schools in the district. And despite the "nuances" in Urban Prep’s model, he said, the new campus will be different from other D.C. public schools only in its college-prep curriculum. Simmons, however, declined to elaborate on what the final product will look like, noting that Urban Prep is spearheading the design and has yet to publicize details on the plan.
Meanwhile, it’s unclear at this point how the application process will work. Speakers at the nearly hour-long press conference highlighted efforts to exclusively target minority students, but by law public institutions can’t enroll kids based on their race or ethnicity—and Simmons was quick to point out that "any boy can apply."
How the all-boys model will pan out is also uncertain. Single-gender public schools are rare, and most exist within a charter-school framework, as Urban Prep does in Chicago. In the regular public-school realm, some jurisdictions have toyed with the idea of creating single-gender classrooms or piloting single-sex schools on an experimental basis.