ST. LOUIS • Mayor Francis Slay called for the closure of Imagine charter schools in St. Louis on Thursday, for the first time singling out the poorest-performing charters in the city.
In the past, Slay has said he does not support "poor quality" charter schools. But Thursday was the first time he publicly criticized Imagine schools by name.
"They are failing the kids," Slay said in a telephone interview. "That is something that cannot continue."
Charter schools are public schools that operate independently of traditional school systems. In Missouri, they're allowed only in St. Louis and Kansas City as alternatives to struggling school districts.
The Virginia-based Imagine Schools Inc., the largest charter school operator in the country, has six school in St. Louis. They ranked at the bottom among charter schools and most St. Louis Public Schools on the 2011 Missouri Assessment Program.
Just 3.9 percent of pupils at Imagine Academy of Careers Elementary at 3740 Marine Avenue passed the state math exam. Across town, at Imagine Academy of Academic Success at 1409 East Linton Avenue, 8.5 percent passed. But 30.9 percent of students in St. Louis Public Schools passed the same test.
Imagine schools also struggled in 2011 with communication arts. At the bottom is downtown's Imagine Academy of Cultural Arts, called a gifted program for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, where just 5.4 percent tested proficient or advanced in reading. At Imagine Academy of Careers Middle, 1901 North Kingshighway, 14.5 percent passed. The passing rate among students in St. Louis Public was 33.1 percent.
Not all charters are struggling to the degree of the Imagine schools. Six of 18 charter schools posted better reading scores this year than St. Louis Public Schools. Seven charters posted better scores than the district in math.
In 2007, Slay's office began directly soliciting and supporting the opening of charter schools in an effort to get better schools in the city, and to prevent poor-performing charters from opening. The Imagine schools did not go through Slay's application process.
"Charter schools can be a quality alternative," Slay said. "The Imagine schools have demonstrated consistently that they have underperformed."
Imagine School officials said Thursday they plan to respond to Slay's comments at a later date.
The pressure on underperforming charters is increasing.
During the last school year, the Missouri education department sent a memo to sponsors of underperforming charter schools — including to Imagine's sponsor — urging them to do more to raise achievement levels.
Missouri Baptist University, which oversees the Imagine schools, began meeting with heads of schools this summer about plans to improve.