This past Saturday’s New York Times misled its readers and mischaracterized Imagine Schools’ true impact in so many communities. We are disappointed by the bias and lack of balance. As the largest charter school operator, we expect critics, especially from those with agendas against friendly competition, but we also expect fairness.
Throughout the numerous rounds of interviews, the reporter expressed virtually no interest in the true tests of successful schools: parent satisfaction and student achievement. At our insistence, the reporter visited an Imagine school, but she did not cover any aspect of that experience. The article essentially was written before the questions began and it didn’t reflect balance. The reporter ignored every positive Imagine news story – no less than four in the last month.
The reporter didn’t interview the many satisfied parents and educators, who choose Imagine every day. The fact that some parents at four schools were unhappy does not a trend make when those at 70 campuses are satisfied, most schools are full, and over 90% of students re-enroll. If parents weren’t satisfied, the schools would be empty. Despite providing the reporter with contacts from all across the country ranging from principals to parents, only one was quoted (and he was misquoted). The article incorrectly attributes financial comments to a DC board member, who is pleased with Imagine.
Particularly troubling, the Times failed to capture the impact that Imagine educators are having in children’s lives – both in their education and character development. Are the students learning much more than in the schools from which they transferred? Yes, 89% of Imagine’s schools achieve student learning gains that are higher than the national average. Most students enter Imagine’s schools achieving below grade level and make larger academic strides compared to traditional school peers. We love that our students are from very diverse backgrounds. Two-thirds are from ethnic, racial, and minority populations. Additionally, 58% qualify for the free or reduced federal lunch program.
Imagine Schools and its subsidiaries do not operate for profit, and Imagine is awaiting final IRS approval of its nonprofit status. The Bakkes personally provided $155 million to deliver quality public school choice through Imagine Schools. Imagine spends 100% of the money on the students and schools we operate. Administrative costs are significantly less than what is spent by similarly sized school districts (Minneapolis and Buffalo). Charter schools often receive less money per student than traditional public schools. Most charter schools receive NO monies for facilities. Therefore, the reduced per student allocation must pay for everything: textbooks, teachers, administration, and buildings. Imagine’s schools deliver a high quality education for less money – a substantial benefit to taxpayers and communities.
We believe that a high quality school building is an important ingredient in fulfilling our mission to educate children. We will not start a school unless the costs of the building are reasonable and affordable. Just as government-operated schools use bonds to finance schools, Imagine Schools (through Schoolhouse Finance) uses its credit to provide the financial backing for long-term leases and building purchases. Each school’s lease rate is based on the actual costs to purchase, construct or renovate the school building and associated land. Thus, the school is able to benefit from having a safe, stable, and long term presence in the community without taking on a bigger or longer term obligation than it can handle.
Imagine Schools and the local charter boards share a common mission of student success and quality public school choice for families. Each of the local governing boards is structured legally and operates transparently. The working relationship between the board and Imagine is spelled out in detail prior to the award of the charter and is entered into voluntarily by both groups. We work diligently to have a cordial, productive partnership with all the boards that we work with. When mistakes are made, we move to correct them. We are accountable to parents, boards, authorizers, and taxpayers for fulfilling the important public trust of educating children.
Imagine Schools is bringing friendly competition to school districts, which leads to more innovation and better performance for all schools. Guided by shared values (integrity, justice, and fun), we are committed to helping parents and guardians educate their children. But the Times didn’t want you to know that part of the story.