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

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Do Your Homework Before Doing Business

This recent piece from Chris Young of the Pittsburgh City Paper is a must-read piece for any follower of the Imagine Schools. [Background on the Pittsburg Imagine situation here]

Who could resist this kind of marketing blitz?:

When you watch the video, it's hard to see why anyone would oppose bringing Imagine Schools into their district. The students on film look so happy.

"We are ... Imagine!" they shout in unison from their classrooms.

Watching the video on April 7 were two dozen Hazelwood residents, gathered in the pews at the Keystone Church. From the video they learned about Imagine, a "not-for-profit" organization that values "integrity, justice and fun" while turning "bad apples" into good students.

Pittsburg Schools Superintendent - a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy Class of '03 - already called the Imagine application "demonstrably bad" back in April, but he goes further with this statement:
"A lot of my friends in education around the country are very supportive of the charter movement," says Pittsburgh Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt. "But I have not had a single person once say to me, 'Wow! Imagine Schools.' It's always been, 'Watch out for Imagine Schools.'"
Yes - watch out for Imagine Schools, particularly if you're someone looking to start a charter school. Community groups that decide to start a charter and then look for an operator (not that I support this route) are entering a business agreement with C/EMOs and should proceed accordingly. That means conducting due diligence and asking around (or online) about different groups. If you google "Imagine Schools," it doesn't take long before you find stories about serious issues with the company. Heck, there are even YouTube videos of other schools celebrating their divorce from Imagine. In short, know who is sitting across the table from you. That's pretty common sensical, but it doesn't always happen. For instance (also from Young's recent article):
It may be ominous that one of Imagine's chief advocates, Sarah Jameela Martin, says she was unaware of the company's problems elsewhere until informed by CP. After reading critical articles about Imagine, though, she's still confident about the firm.
"From what I gather, Imagine's [Environmental Charter School] is not having any of the problems" other schools have experienced, Martin wrote CP in an e-mail. "I see the proposed [Hazelwood] school functioning equally well."
Not everyone agrees the school is functioning well:

"My concerns with the school revolve around the franchise-type arrangement with Imagine Schools," says Barbara Daly Danko, a business manager at the Environmental School from June 2008 to August 2009. She says she left largely because of concerns over those terms. "The contract between the local board and Imagine Schools is complicated, long-term and -- in my opinion -- very expensive."

For a related discussion (well, almost a discussion) about charter schools, facilities, and for-profit ed, check out Dean Marc Millot's comments on Mike Klonsky's Small Talk blog. Millot manages to inject some comments of the issues with dealmaking and criticize DFER co-founder Whitney Tilson, all amid some confusion about a blog post. The strong personalities of the Klonsky Bros. and the pugnacious Millot make for a bit of entertainment, too. Don't forget about Millot's scuffle with Russo a few months back re: Rotherham's censorship - oh, and Rotherham is now busy helping shake the money tree with Dutko's John Bailey over at Whiteboard Advisors.

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