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

Monday, August 30, 2010

Imagine Schools: PR Spin Hides Ohio Failure; FL, AZ Schools in Trouble

This is a recent PR piece from the Imagine Schools:

Three Imagine Community Schools Demonstrate Great Strides

Another Year of Focused Academics Produces Stronger Results
Aug 27, 2010 – Today, with the release of academic ratings for the 2009-2010 school year, the state of Ohio found significant academic improvement for three Imagine community schools. Imagine Harvard Avenue Community School, Imagine Clay Avenue Community School, and Imagine Academy of Columbus jumped two rankings attaining “Continuous Improvement,” meeting adequate yearly progress, and demonstrating value
added with “above” one year of learning gains.

Amy Buttke, Regional Director for Imagine Schools, said, “These academic achievements by Imagine community school students is a tremendous testament to the academic rigor of each school, especially considering that many of the students entered the school at least one grade level behind.”

Marlene Mills, Regional Director for Imagine Schools, commented, “These Imagine community schools demonstrated marked improvement over the last year and are on the right academic path. Parents also took notice of their children’s academic gains (on average 74% of the students gained more than 1 year’s growth in reading and math), which drove high re-enrollment (85% average) at all three schools. Parents know quality, not only for academic study but also for safety and positive character development integrated into every aspect of the Imagine community school.”

In addition to state testing, every Imagine school conducts fall and spring testing in order to measure how much each student learned in reading and math during the year. These same student learning gains allow assessment of how well a school helps students learn, as contrasted with year-end proficiency tests that measure only what students know at a point in time, which may be attributable to a former school where students have fallen behind grade level.

Imagine Harvard Avenue Community School opened in 2006 and serves nearly 600 Cleveland students in grades K-7. Imagine Clay Avenue opened in 2007 and serves over 350 Toledo students in grades K-6. Imagine Academy of Columbus opened in 2005 and serves 350 students in grades K-8.

# # #
Imagine Schools is an organization, comprised mostly of teachers, that operates 73 public charter schools in 12 states and the District of Columbia. Imagine Schools serves over 5,600 in 11 Ohio community schools.

Imagine School at St. Petersburg (FL) was put on probation for their second consecutive F rating. This is the same school that is in heavy debt to Imagine ($963k in the red last year), and they've been paying over $800k for their building, which is owned by SchoolHouse Finance (Imagine's real estate arm). The district's charter supervisor called the situation a "death spiral." Enrollment dropped from 376 to 320 last year, and the district says the school needs 590 students to be financially viable. That enrollment threshold is unlikely to be met given their rating. What does the future hold for this school? Either Imagine forgives some of the debt, other schools make up for the budget shortfall, or the school closes. This is not a pretty picture.

The Imagine School at St. Petersburg utilizes the Project CHILD curriculum, which claims (italics are not mine):
Three teachers form cluster teams -- one teacher for reading, one for writing, and one for mathematics. Clusters teams work across three grade levels - K-2 for a primary cluster and 3-5 for an intermediate cluster. Teachers work with the same students for three years.
The principal's page on the St. Petersburg website says the school is expecting at least 13 new teachers (see August 17th posting). High teacher turnover, of course, means teachers are unlikely to stay with the same students for three years. One has to wonder how the Project CHILD curriculum can be implemented with fidelity given the high turnover among staff.

In Arizona, the elementary school at the Imagine School at Coolidge was labeled "underperforming" for their work in 2010. The state known as the Wild West for charter schools is home to 14 Imagine-run schools. Good luck finding financial information on the Coolidge school: they're operated by a subsidiary or affiliate of Imagine Schools Non Profit, Inc. The Florida State Board of Education clearly stated: "ISNP is not acting as a non-profit organization." And this "non-profit" does not have 501c3 status. Arizona, of course, is the only state to allow for-profit companies to hold charters, but the real point here is that financial information on this school simply isn't easily available to the public.

For one last Imagine tidbit, here's a document filed in April of 2010 - and bearing CEO Dennis Bakke's digital signature - that confirms (once again) that Imagine is a for-profit corporation (click to enlarge):

Imagine will still claim they do "not operate for profit," but they'll file legal documentation that specifically claims they're a for profit corporation. This is some very sneaky language: Imagine's FAQ page says they do not operate for profit, but that's not the same as being a nonprofit (although most readers would assume that not operating for profit means they're a nonprofit organization).

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