"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

How Imagine Schools, Inc. Preys on Schools in Poor Neighborhoods

Here is a clip from Part II of the the three part investigative series by the Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette called Education Inc.:
. . . .Troy Bell knows exactly how Imagine Schools Inc. operates.

Bell used to be the director of development and new school concepts for Imagine Schools in Indianapolis but was laid off after what he calls a "power struggle" between him and Guy Platter, Imagine executive and former principal of Fort Wayne's Imagine MASTer Academy.

Imagine executives in Virginia look for cities in which to begin charter schools, pinpointing areas with poor test scores that are not meeting federal accountability standards, cities with low property values and states with solid charter school laws, Bell said. They then solicit community members in those cities to "start" the charter schools and become members of the board, he said.

It's not people self-organizing, it's a corporation encouraging the structure, Bell said.

"That initial stuff is what places the whole charter concept into a realm of potential misuse," Bell said.

In theory, Imagine Schools facilitates the charter application process, but in reality, an Imagine official completes the entire application and local people sign it, Bell said. The board then enters into a contract with Imagine Schools to manage the operations of the school.

At any time, the board can cancel that relationship, but then it's left with nothing: Imagine employs the teachers, administrators, usually owns the buildings and often owns the curriculum.

"Even though (Imagine) formally doesn't control the charter or the charter board, the school would really not exist if Imagine doesn't stay, and that's the leverage Imagine has over a board," Bell said. "That's basically the same model Imagine uses everywhere."

If Imagine – Fort Wayne Charter School were to break ties with Imagine Schools, for example, it would have to find a new campus after its lease expires, would have no Web site and would have to change its name. Teacher contracts would transfer to it, but those teachers would have no health insurance or other benefits until the school board bought them.

Bell confirmed the message in Bakke's memo is company policy.

"The attitude that Mr. Bakke has is the boards are there to support the efforts of the company, they're not there to run the school," Bell said. "They're there to provide us with the flavor and the culture of the community that we as outsiders of the community might not be privy to. They are not there to make decisions. They are there to help build relationships. That's the general attitude I was privy to when I was with the company."

It's a message that's getting through: In the 2 1/2 years the Imagine – Fort Wayne Charter School board has been meeting, not a single "no" vote has been recorded at its meetings, documents show.

None has been recorded for the two other Imagine school boards here, either. . . . .

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