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Takeovers of Struggling Charter Schools Offer Families Stability, and a Culture Clash

The line of parents waiting to attend back-to-school night stretched down the sidewalk, and many of them had no idea what to expect as they approached the historic school on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast Washington.

Last year, the building housed Imagine Southeast Public Charter School, a school whose charter was revoked. But instead of closing its doors, the school’s former leaders brought in another operator — New York-based Democracy Prep — to turn the school around. Though students were allowed to stay in the same building, everything else about their school appeared to have changed, including a longer school day and a heavy load of daily homework.

It’s a novel solution to an increasingly common challenge as charter authorizers push to close low-performing schools: What do you do with families that would be shut out?

In the District, more than a third of all schools ever chartered have closed.