Why Texas’ largest charter school network is coming to Houston – Houston Public Media



Allison Serafin, who runs IDEA Public Schools in Greater Houston, chats with a parent at a recent town hall.

Almost 20 years after opening a new elementary and middle school in the Rio Grande Valley, the rapidly growing charter school network called IDEA Public Schools has expanded across Texas, opening schools in Austin, North Texas, San Antonio and El Paso.

Today, IDEA is planting its flag in Greater Houston, with an ambitious plan to open four schools in 2020 and a total of 20 schools by 2026 – and possibly more after that. This is part of IDEA’s larger goal to enroll 100,000 children in Texas and other states by 2022.

Houston’s expansion involves not only a number of campuses, but also a vast expanse of territory across the region that stretches from Cy-Fair to Santa Fe and includes top-rated traditional public schools and other charters. This has sparked both enthusiasm and skepticism from parents – and concern from some mainstream school districts, like Houston, about the competition for student enrollment.

IDEA’s executive director for their Houston area, Allison Serafin, said the expansion was part of their mission.

“Our plan is really based on the fact that we have about 250,000 kids in the Greater Houston area attending D or F schools, according to the Texas Education Agency,” Serafin said in an interview.

“So when we think about the fact that one in 10 students in the metro area is prepared for college and career, our growth plan is designed to ensure that we can provide more children with a transformative public education. “

For years, that promise made IDEA Public Schools the darling of private philanthropy and federal grant administrators, winning $ 117 million earlier this year, the largest federal grant ever to expand schools in charter. While it has become arguably the most popular charter school network in Texas, it has also been targeted by critics of the charter, who call it a “Public education idea to destroy the size of Texas. “


Serafin made his presentation to parents in North Harris County at IDEA’s inaugural recruiting event. About 50 people made their way to an event hall in the spring, where there was Chick-Fil-A to snack on and an area for kids to play and color in while their parents listened.

Among them was Yadira Anguiano, who was excited about IDEA coming to Houston as soon as she saw ads on Facebook and on billboards.

“These are just great schools,” Anguiano said. She heard only heard positive things from his cousins ​​in the Rio Grande Valley – where IDEA started and where some of his cousins ​​teach and others send their children. His four children are zoned for the Spring Independent School District, but Anguiano plans to enroll in IDEA as soon as possible. Registration opens on September 1 and Anguiano did not want to risk a waiting list.

“I want good academic opportunities, I mean, I’m not saying the schools here are bad, but if they can get a better advantage over college courses then I totally agree,” said Anguiano.

Serafin introduced parents to the directors of IDEA’s first two campuses and invited them to sign up for small group sessions in the coming weeks. The first two campuses will each house two schools for the lower and upper grades and will accommodate approximately 1,500 students; one is located at Spring ISD, the other is in Houston ISD, near Hardy Toll Road.

Serafin told News 88.7 that so far they have attracted the interest of more than 700 families.

We are going to start by really getting to know our families. It’s going to happen over the next month and a half. And as we launch our registration effort, we will continue to get to know our families and hear what matters most to them, ”she said.


IDEA Public Schools has built a reputation for excellent results and for sending 100% of its graduates to college. Critics say this does not include students leaving the network.

During the town hall, Serafin described what she says sets the IDEA public school apart from other schools: high expectations, diverse teachers and strong results.

100% of our seniors are enrolled in university, 100%, ”Serafin told the audience.

Serafin, who is taught in Houston public and charter schools and served on the Nevada State Board of Education, also described how all high school students at IDEA are required to take 11 advanced-level, or college-level, courses to prepare for it.

This sounded good to many parents, who came in search of strong academics for their children. Yet others were skeptical, such as Maxine Wiggins.

“Do we run the emotional risk of changing our child from one school that we are not happy with, then move on to another and find that our child still does not get the education he deserves because teachers do not? are in fact not qualified? Wiggins asked Serafin.

Wiggins said she is desperately looking for a better school for her daughter, Hope Faith. She is entering fourth grade and is a voracious reader. His neighborhood school in Aldine does not achieve a key state rating for academic growth. At his current charter school, Wiggins said the teachers were not challenging his daughter and appearing unqualified.

We hope you will have certified teachers. Is this something we can expect from all of you? What teachers will be certified by the state of Texas? Said Wiggins.

Serafin did not respond directly, but defended teachers – including herself – who are not certified right away or who receive alternative degrees, but, she said, are getting results.


Still, some experts say parents need to ask tough questions like this and speak with other families who have tried IDEA.

“The challenge with many charter schools is that they often make pledges that add up to 100%. But if you really look at the data, it doesn’t add up to 100%, ”said Julian Vasquez Heilig, dean of the University of Kentucky College of Education and a former professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Take IDEA’s claim that 100% of students go to college. Vasquez Heilig said this does not include students leaving IDEA before graduation.

Vasquez Heilig said another question not only for parents, but also for residents and taxpayers is where the expansion of charter schools is heading and at what cost to public schools.

“Do we want a privately run education system where it’s for-profit or not-for-profit? ” He asked. “Or do we think that education is a public good and that it should be democratically controlled and that we should have a say in what goes on in schools? “

The expansion of IDEA Public Schools in Houston is part of a larger goal to reach 100,000 students in Texas and other states by 2022. It currently educates more than 40,000 children in Texas.

In Greater Houston, IDEA Public Schools has expanded its boundaries to include more than two dozen districts, including A-rated districts, like Pearland, and branded charter schools like KIPP and YES Prep.

To grow here, the network uses $ 9 million in federal grants and an additional $ 20 million in private philanthropy, half of which is from the Houston-based John and Laura Arnold Foundation.

“It’s really about creating a privately run education system and that’s why you would ask permission to sit in schools in highly rated districts,” Vasquez Heilig said.

As to why IDEA has staked out such a vast territory in Greater Houston, Serafin recalled their mission.

Our priority is to identify communities where families do not have access to schools rated A and B, ”she said. “So you can see on a map of the greater Houston area that we are looking at the opportunity to add value to families in America’s fourth largest city.”

Serafin said they don’t plan to immediately open a school in a popular neighborhood like Pearland or Cy-Fair, but added that real estate costs and the contribution of community members are two factors in deciding where to open. a new campus.

“If there was a critical mass of families reaching out to us and telling us that we would like IDEA to be in our community to provide our students and children with a transformative public education, then of course I will take the lead. meeting and wanting to know more because we are serving families, ”she said.

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