by David Safier
NOTE: This is the eighth in a series of recent posts examining Imagine Schools. (Here are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7.) If you have ideas or information to add, please leave comments at the end of the post or email me at email@example.com. I keep all email correspondence confidential.
Most charter school organizations with a number of schools have a distinct educational identity. We know BASIS Schools are academically rigorous and have a consistent educational style. KIPP, whose charter schools have an excellent reputation -- mostly deserved -- for fostering academic success with students in low income, low achieving communities, has a reasonably consistent method it applies in its schools. K12 Inc. runs online schools using a set curriculum across the country.
Not so Imagine Schools. It more closely resembles a fast food conglomerate that studies a potential location to decide whether a burger, fried chicken or Mexican-style restaurant would be the best bet for bringing in customers.
Imagine Schools' website lists 8 "educational approaches" it uses in its various schools: "Art or Science Focus," "Single Sex Education," "International Baccalaureate," "MicroSociety," "Project CHILD," "Core Knowledge," "Direct Instruction" and "Standards Based Curriculum."
And now there's a ninth: "Dual Language Immersion."
CEO Dennis Bakke's experience isn't in education. He made his money in power plants. So this wide range of educational approaches doesn't derive from his vast knowledge of educational theory. Nor are the approaches based within Imagine Schools itself. They were developed somewhere else and Imagine Schools joined in. Most pages on the Imagine Schools website describing a given approach link to an outside organization. For instance, Imagine's "Core Knowledge" schools -- there are 7 listed -- derive their approach from the Core Knowledge foundation. Imagine's 7 "Project CHILD" schools are based on the Institute for School Innovation's Project CHILD approach. And so on.
Dennis Bakke, always looking to expand his Imagine Schools empire, wants to make inroads in California, where he is trying out his new "Dual Language Immersion" model. His one California school, which opened in 2010, is in Imperial Valley, at the southeastern tip of the state that joins Arizona's southwest border. Bakke is hoping to use that one school as a springboard for 5 more schools in neighboring Riverside County, also using the Dual Language Immersion model. I guess Bakke figures those will sell in the area.
Can one Charter Management Organization based in Virginia be an educational success by creating a grab bag of educational approaches in schools scattered across the country? If Imagine Schools is any indication, the answer is No.