The Washington Post

Teach for America’s new partnership with largest for-profit charter network

Teach for America loves to expand its reach, and so it has again, this time partnering with the controversial Imagine schools, the nation’s largest for-profit charter school network.

That’s an interesting pairing.

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.

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.

Beyond the rent, the paper also reported that Imagine’s charter schools must pay 12 percent of their budget for management costs. Still, it said, some Imagine schools were missing pencils, paper, books and other basic supplies.

As for student outcomes, the standardized test scores in that city’s Imagine schools are below the state and city average, the paper said.

And that’s just what’s going on in one city. There’s trouble in others, too.

Now Imagine is partnering with Teach for America, the organization that takes new college graduates, gives them five weeks of training in a summer institute and — thinking that five weeks is somehow enough preparation — sends these recruits into some of America’s neediest schools to teach troubled kids in a quest to help close the achievement gap.

The press release, naturally, indicates none of the above. I’m publishing it as the best example I’ve seen lately of a public announcement that is just makes you shake your head and wonder whether the people involved really believe their own publicity.

The enthusiastic and highly qualified graduates of Teach For America (TFA) will soon have a new opportunity to continue changing the educational landscape through a leadership partnership with Imagine Schools, one of the nation’s largest charter school operators. Leaders for Imagine Schools and Teach For America today announced the partnership that will connect TFA alumni with teacher and school leader opportunities in Imagine charter schools across the nation.

As a national family of 75 public charter schools, Imagine Schools employs over 3,800 educators, school leaders, and support staff. Educating nearly 42,000 students, Imagine Schools consistently seeks to employ high-quality, experienced professionals who are passionate about growing young hearts and minds. Teach for America alumni, many of whom have successfully taught students in educationally underserved communities, share Imagine’s goal of transforming public education by providing each student with a rich, challenging education. TFA additionally provides intensive training and career development to help its corps members focus on closing the achievement gap.

Eileen Bakke, Imagine Schools’ co-founder and Vice President for Education, stated, “Imagine Schools and TFA share a passion for building a culture of high expectations and academic results in our schools. Both organizations are driven by the mission to close the achievement gap by ensuring that all students make significant academic gains. Nearly 70% of new students are entering Imagine’s schools are below grade level. In order to catch them up and prepare them for life-long success, these students need and deserve the best teachers and school leaders we can give them. The partnership with TFA will help us fulfill that mission.”

Suezette Yasmin Robotham, TFA’s Director of the School Leadership Initiative, remarked, “Teach For America is truly excited about partnering with Imagine Schools, in their quest to provide students with a high quality education. Together, our organizations will work to ensure that children across this country have access to exceptional school leaders, committed to their life-long success.”


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Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.


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