The argument that Imagine Charter School in St. Petersburg should not be closed for poor student performance because other failing public schools are doing even worse is not persuasive. The performance at all of those schools, including Imagine, is not acceptable. The Pinellas School Board was right to shut down Imagine's elementary program, and the board members and superintendent Mike Grego should be just as aggressive in their efforts to improve the other schools.
Charter schools are about offering parents options. The schools run by private groups — some for-profit, some not — collect per-student funding just like public schools but are freed from many of the requirements placed on traditional public schools. Charter schools, for example, have looser requirements for complying with the state's class-size limits. Their students still take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and are assessed under the state's accountability system. And that has been the downfall of Imagine Charter's K-5 program. (The school's grade 6-8 program is not closing.)
Since opening in 2008, the K-5 program has collected just one grade above an F, a D in 2011. Performance on this year's FCAT suggests its 2013 grade will be just as abysmal. There also have been other concerns about Imagine, including the high rent it pays its parent company for its facility in St. Petersburg.
Most concerning for parents, of course, is that the majority of the 243 children affected by the Imagine closure are zoned for similarly failing public schools, including two under state supervision, as a Tampa Bay Times article detailed Thursday. But keeping one more poor-performing provider in the mix isn't a solution. Grego, still shy of his first anniversary as superintendent, has begun marshaling forces in hopes of turning those schools around, including switching out teachers and principals, launching an innovative summer school that has attracted several thousand students, and after-school programs for struggling students. But the district should be on notice. Poor performance that is not acceptable at a charter school is just as unacceptable at other public schools.