About Imagine Schools

Some public schools have stricter policies for teacher certification, others don’t.

Imagine Schools is America’s largest charter, with 73 schools and 40,000 students in 12 states. These tuition-free, public charters operate under a decentralized system that allows principals and teachers to tailor lesson plans to suit varying degrees of learning potential. The quality of education at charter institutions such as Imagine Schools, compared with schools under stricter government supervision, was still debated in 2011.

Business Approach

Imagine Schools states openly that it operates at the top like a business–even though in many states, including Florida, it is required to operate its schools like non-profits.

Imagine brings financial security to an area’s educational system, the company’s development director, Karl Huber, told the St. Petersburg Times in a May 2010 article about a struggling Imagine School. “If it doesn’t make it financially,” he said about the school, “it will close.”

In the same article, a critic of the education-as-business model, Gary Miron, a professor of education at Western Michigan University, said, “We have these management companies that should be supporting schools as a vendor, and they’re running them like private franchises.”

Educational Decentralization

Standardized learning is frowned upon in Imagine Schools. Its mission statement claims that “there is no standardized student.” With just a few administrators at company headquarters overseeing the educational component, principals are given breadth to help teachers employ more individual learning plans.

Imagine’s president and chief executive officer, Dennis Bakke, was a federal official and businessman before he and his wife co-founded the Imagine Schools organization in 2004. In his biography, he focuses on the system’s “decentralized leadership, freedom with responsibility, utilizing each person’s gifts to their maximum, and giving decision-making power to people closest to the action.” Little information was available to rate employee satisfaction with that model.

Models Followed

To tailor the curriculum, teachers follow a variety of educational models: Imagine Schools Standards Based Curriculum; Direct instruction; Core Knowledge; Project CHILD; Micro-Society; The International Baccalaureate; Single-sex education; and Arts or Science Focus Schools. These various approaches allow teachers to open students’ eyes in a variety of ways to many subjects, according to the students’ particular learning strengths.

On its curriculum web page, Imagine Schools abhors “one size fits all” approaches, preferring instead a learning environment in which children can be educated by teachers employing several models.

Character-Building Component

Most teachers in any school system attempt to employ character-building components in their lesson plans, but some parents have praised charter schools for a more concerted effort. Imagine Schools’ “Character Development” Web page says this is not a “nice add-on in the curriculum–it is a crucial aspect of a quality school.” Issues of “right and wrong, justice and the importance of serving others” are core elements, according to Imagine. It holds a national “caring” essay contest and urges principals and teachers to wrap character-building into other lessons.

To see whether Imagine Schools is building character in a way that conforms to your family’s values, visit a school near you and speak with a principal.