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The Madison School District now has another justification for killing a charter school aimed at doing what the district hasn't: consistently educate minority students.

Last week, the state Department of Public Instruction said the first half of a planning grant for Madison Preparatory Academy would be released. Madison Prep would focus on low-income minority students and was originally just for boys but has since been revamped to include girls in separate classrooms.

But DPI had a catch: In order to get the rest of the grant, the school must provide scientific research that single-gender education is effective. If you're going to discriminate by gender, DPI is saying, at least have a good reason for it.

I can't help but wonder: Is this the best DPI can do?

I don't know much more than what I've read in this newspaper about how Madison Prep would organize itself, what kinds of educational approaches it would use or how capable its sponsor, the Urban League of Greater Madison, would be.

I would hope that if DPI had any real concerns about these things, we would have heard about them by now.

Instead, DPI's main gripe has always been about the potential for gender discrimination. It was DPI concerns about Madison Prep's original boys-only model that persuaded school organizers to include girls, something they had planned to do in later years anyway.

I don't know what the scientific consensus is on single-gender education, but obviously there have long been single-gender private schools that produce graduates who do as well as or better than those who go to co-ed schools.

There is plenty of consensus, though, that being of one specific gender — male — is a pretty good indicator of being disproportionately prone to the kind of trouble that tends to deter one's education.

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Dane County's juvenile court system reports that 73 percent of juveniles referred to the court last year were boys, for example. And in Madison schools, at least twice as many boys as girls have been suspended annually going back a decade or more, according to DPI.

None of this is news. Males of all races are more likely to be violent, criminal and generally antisocial than girls.

What's odd is that this most obvious of observations doesn't seem to matter to the people who hold Madison Prep's future it their hands.

Rather, they worry a boys-only model is unfair to girls.

It is. But then there's a pretty fair case to make that the Madison public schools' model has been pretty unfair to minority boys.

Given that, and given that the Madison Schools and DPI haven't been able to close the racial achievement gap, gender discrimination may well be a red herring.

More likely is that a largely white, entrenched and unionized public schools establishment is loath to give up control over any student – regardless of how often it fails him.

Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or crickert@madison.com, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.


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