I'm sure Wendy Kopp will say, it's "all about the kids." But some think it's more about real estate. WaPo's Valerie Strauss thinks it's about expansion of the TFA empire.
Imagine Prep in Sunrise, Arizona"The major problem with our government-operated public schools is best understood by comparing the government monopolies that operate public elementary and secondary schools in this nation and our public university systems." -- Dennis Bakke, founder of Imagine Schools, Inc.
Whatever it's really about, Teach for America is partnering with the nation’s largest for-profit charter school network, Imagine Schools, Inc. Writes Strauss:
Imagine is based in Arlington, Virginia, with some 75 schools in more than a dozen states, including Maryland, and the District of Columbia. The for-profit charter operator has been investigated in some states for the way it exercises control over the schools it manages, essentially ignoring the boards of trustees that are supposed to really run the schools.Imagine Schools are run by Dennis and Eileen Bakke, members of The Fellowship, The Family, the powerful, but secretive religious cult that worked in Uganda to pass laws calling for the death penalty for gays. They are virulently anti-public school, anti-teacher and above all, anti-union. They are also part of the anti-union Christian management movement.
It has also come under scrutiny for its complicated real estate deals that generate millions of public dollars for Imagine. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, for example, detailed the deals involving six Imagine schools operating with public money in St. Louis. Essentially Imagine opened schools and then sold the buildings in which the schools operated to a company that then leased them back to Imagine at often extremely high rates, which are, of course, paid for out of public money.
The Bakke's, The Fellowship, "Imagine" charter schools and their real estate arm, "Schoolhouse Finance LLC", seem like the perfect match for Kopp. Their large network of essentially private schools run with public money, will provide plenty of jobs for TFA's five-week wonders. But TFA's well-intentioned grads are likely to run into a buzz saw when they start teaching in Imagine's tightly-run, top-down controlled network schools.
According to a NewYork Times report:
Imagine is not shy about the way it wields its power, which it calls essential to its governing philosophy. “Imagine Schools operates the entire school, and is not a consultant or management company,” its Web site says. “All principals, teachers, and staff are Imagine Schools people. The Imagine Schools culture is meant to permeate every aspect of the school’s life.”As for measurable student learning outcomes, Imagine schools rank near the bottom. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports:
Imagine Schools Inc., the nation's largest charter school operator, runs six charter schools in St. Louis. Together, their performance on state standardized exams is worse than any school district in Missouri.An interesting side note -- Imagine Schools drew rave notices from Strauss' WaPo colleague, Jay Mathews back in 2008. His puff piece on the Bakke's failed to mention any of Imagine's performance issues or real estate dealings.