Its been a rough week for Imagine school CEO Dennis Bakke. After receiving a request from Missouri’s education commissioner for him to close his St. Louis schools, comes word that one of its schools will close in Kansas City. Imagine took over the school in 2007 and operated under the name, Renaissance. Mara Rose Williams writes in the Kansas City Star:
The K-12 charter school, which opened in 2007 with two campuses, has been plagued with management problems and low student achievement from its start, said Deb Carr, who coordinates charter schools for the University of Missouri, the sponsor for Renaissance.
“The issue was performance,” said Dana Cutler, an attorney for the school. “Test scores were low and not improving. In some cases they had gone down.”
Cutler said that last year, the fourth year of a five-year charter agreement, board members saw that Renaissance hadn’t been able to improve student achievement and members didn’t see that it would get better within the year left on the charter.
It was then that members decided that after this year, the board would not seek to renew the charter.
“One of the things that is difficult for charter schools to swallow is if it is underperforming, recognize that and move out of the way,” Cutler said. “If the school continues to underperform, it hurts the entire charter school movement.”
Besides, she said, the board didn’t believe its sponsoring institution would continue to support it given its history of low performance.
“We are guided by our application for charter in which we said what we were going to do and how we were going to do it,” Cutler said. “But that didn’t happen. Because the ‘how’ did not occur, the ‘what’ did not occur.”
In the interest of being fair, Imagine’s failures in large urban areas should be a teachable moment: its not easy having success where poverty is a dominant factor in communities. But what Williams means by “management problems” is not known. Did the school have sketchy financials like the ones in St. Louis and Florida? Or were they run by education novices or staffed by uncertified teachers. Did they have a flawed curriculum or one narrowly focused on test scores. Were their teachers supported with textbooks, ancillary material and supply money?
Imagine’s Bakke was on Florida governor Rick Scott’s education transition team. How involved was Bakke in greasing the path for charter schools in Florida? Local school boards no longer have final say with charter schools in their district. The state agency who oversees charters is run by Florida charter’s former top lobbyist and spends more time defending them than anything else. A handful of legislators have financial interests in charter schools and one even makes excuses for them. Scott signed SB736 at what turned out to be a failing charter school .
Conditions on the ground in Florida couldn’t be more favorable for charter school expansion. Local school boards can’t even say no anymore. Neither the will nor the mechanism exists in Florida to put charter schools through proper scrutiny.