In August, Washington, D.C.’s first Hebrew language public charter school will open, making the nation’s capital an education leader. Sela PCS, which was conditionally chartered in April 2012, will be in Ward 4 and will welcome pupils in pre-K, kindergarten, and first grade, eventually covering all grades up to fifth. Sela will be the first school in America in which pupils learn every subject in English and Hebrew. This innovative model will put the Hebrew language at the cutting edge of American education.
Sela deserves broad support because it will offer Washington’s children a high quality public education, vitally needed skills for the future and make an important contribution to the city’s diversity. The seriousness of Sela’s founders is clear from how they have already secured ample local and federal funding, and have hired Wanda Young, an award-winning educator, to be its founding principal.
As with other D.C. foreign language charter schools, Sela is likely to be popular with parents.
Quality of public education is an abiding concern in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. as a whole. Thirty years ago, the National Commission on Excellence in Education published “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform,” a task that is still not complete. The problems in the District’s education system are well-publicized.
A foreign language immersion model, of the kind Sela will use, is a proven means of achieving strong test results and helping children of all backgrounds to learn. Other Hebrew charter schools are comfortably outperforming their peers. For example, the Hatikvah International Academy charter school in East Brunswick, New Jersey, has 100 percent of its third-graders “proficient or advanced” in maths during standardized, statewide tests. This compares to averages of 89 percent for East Brunswick and 79 percent for New Jersey as a whole.
Moreover, research shows that any second language acquisition is good for brain development. Hebrew is ideal for this purpose. It is easy to learn and is completely phonetic, which helps with learning English. Hebrew is also a gateway to other Semitic languages such as Arabic. Culturally, Hebrew is important as it provides access to some of the world’s most influential literature, whether the Bible, philosophy or Israeli writers.
Sela also promises to provide the skills that our children will need in the labor markets of the future. One of the most trenchant criticisms of public education in the U.S. is the failure to teach job-market relevant skills. By contrast, Sela will make extensive use of technology, leveraging the latest pedagogical software and digital applications. Similarly, Sela will instill a life-long love of learning, widely accepted to be one of the most important skills for career success.
Knowledge of Hebrew is one of those future skills. Israel is a rising, dynamic economy that is center of high-tech innovation. According to Bloomberg Rankings, Israel has the highest research and development intensity in the world. The international business school INSEAD and the U.N.’s World Intellectual Property Organization rank Israel as the 17th most innovative economy in the world (the U.S. is the 10th).
Sela will be an important element in protecting Washington, D.C.’s diversity. While it is too early to know the complete composition of the school, judging from open houses held around the district, the interest from diverse communities is palpable, and reflects the city’s diversity for which the school’s founders were striving.
Moreover, by making innovative and high-quality education possible in the District, Sela adds to the growing improvement in the city’s education. Along with top performing public and charter schools, Sela will give middle-class parents of all backgrounds another reason to stay in the nation’s capital.
This is an international city, whose population comes from many different backgrounds. Sela, as shown by its board and staff, reflects that variety. The school is also part of the bridge building that is critical to living in a pluralist society. Sela will use the same model of language immersion as Yu Ying, D.C.’s high achieving Chinese charter school, an institution with which Sela has created close connections.
We also support Sela because it is a welcome addition to the bilingual education program in D.C.
Andrew Apostolou and Purnima Boominathan are parents of future students at Sela.