Houston Charter Schools Plan to Grow

In education, charter schools receive public tax dollars. But they are run by outside groups, not by local school boards. In Harris County, more than 40,000 students attend charters and that number is expected to grow.

Houston is home to some of the biggest charter schools in the country.

Or as former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige puts it:

“Houston is to school reform as Silicon Valley is to technology.”

charter schools
Former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige spoke with charter school leaders at a luncheon with the Greater Houston Partnership. From left to right, Paige standing; sitting Soner Tarim with Harmony Public Schools; Sehba Ali Superintendent of KIPP Houston Public Schools; Janelle James superintendent of Southwest Schools; and Jason Bernal, president of YES Prep Public Schools.

“YES, KIPP, Southwest Schools ... ”

Charter schools have grown faster in Houston than they have statewide.

Paige saw their big start while he was superintendent in Houston.

Now almost one in every five kids in Houston attends a charter school.

Paige praised charters Thursday at an event held by the Greater Houston Partnership.

It was called the state of charter schools.

So, what is the state of charters in Houston?

“Promising, innovative, collaborative ...”

“Growing, succeeding, and parsing ...”

“We’re starting to parse out the good ones and the effective ones from the ineffective ones.”

That’s Jason Bernal the superintendent of Yes PREP and Mike Feinberg one of the founders of KIPP.

Both schools are planning major expansions. KIPP wants to double in size in the next 20 years. And Bernal has this prediction.

“We are proud that YES Prep is on track to produce 25 percent of the region’s college graduates by 2020.”

But education researcher Julian Vasquez Heilig in Austin says it’s important to remember something else about charters. They’re a mixed bag.

“If you watch the film ‘Waiting for Superman,’ you come away with the impression that charters are the cure-all or the panacea for our educational problems. But looking at the state data, there are lots of low performing charters, there are lots of high performing charters.”

In 2011, Texas ranked 18 percent of charter school operators as academically unacceptable. In comparison, only five percent of traditional school districts got that grade.

Feinberg with KIPP agrees there needs to be more accountability.

“If charter cousins are doing a bad job, we are not going to circle the wagons and protect them so they’re able to keep serving more children in a poor way, but we are in favor of weeding.”

He says lawmakers in Austin need to help weed out bad charter schools.

From the KUHF Education Desk, I’m Laura Isensee.

 

 
Bio photo of Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for KUHF, including K-12 and higher education.

Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and regularly contributed to WLRN, the local NPR affiliate and Miami Herald news partner...