Charter schools are not all that hard to understand. Instead of being managed by a district bureaucracy, charter schools apply to an “authorizer” for permission to operate with public money. The authorizer may be the local school district, a university, the state itself or some other body. Just as a school district is governed by a school board that hires a superintendent and sets policies, charter schools are governed by a board that hires the principal. Or, the board hires a management company to operate the school. The management company should be answerable to the school’s board.
But, as a long front-page story in The New York Times explains, Imagine Schools, the largest charter school management company in the country, stacks the boards of its schools with pushovers and shills and company stooges. The Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette covered much of the same ground in a terrific three-part series that appeared last November. (One installment is here.) The authors of that series — Dan Stockman and Kelly Soderlund — laid out the whole story and have been reporting on the company ever since, leading to some changes.
The company profits big from the public money. What I liked about both stories was that they didn’t paint all charters with the same brush. The stories didn’t say that because this company was a bad actor, all charter management companies were bad actors. They didn’t say that charters were bad. The reporting was straight. Charter advocates ought to be pleased with these stories. They should help expose an operator that is doing charters no favors.