In 2000, IDEA Public Schools opened its first campus on the U.S.-Mexico border. Today, IDEA operates 79 schools serving 45,000 students in six regions, proving that it’s possible to grow rapidly while maintaining quality. And IDEA plans to keep its foot on the gas. It’s on track to enroll 100,000 students by 2022, and one day, a million.
Elsewhere in the U.S., charter growth is slowing down as charter operators struggle to hire enough great talent, secure suitable facilities, acquire sufficient capital, and overcome other growth-inhibiting barriers. As families and communities across the country demand better schools, though, the country must find ways to overcome these barriers.
In Built to Grow: How IDEA Public Schools is Expanding to Serve a Million Students, Public Impact’s Daniela Doyle and Juli Kim show how IDEA develops solutions to its challenges so it can expand rapidly without diminishing quality. Its strategies include:
- Committing to growth: IDEA’s leadership team sees a moral obligation to grow, to stay true to its mission to prepare students from underserved communities for success in college.
- Creating systems for scale: A tight, proven school model is supported by equally tight management systems, giving each new region and school a blueprint to follow.
- Tackling talent scarcity quickly and creatively: IDEA uses many of the same salary and career path strategies as other excellent charter operators—using its own five-level Teacher Career Pathway, and partnering with others to recruit great teachers. But it also shows striking differences in providing intensive teacher support and creative teacher selection processes, prioritizing smart applicants who share its vision and growth mindset over basic pedagogical skills—which IDEA believes it can teach teachers directly.
- Confronting facilities limitations by building all facilities from scratch: IDEA has taken advantage of Texas state bonds to secure facilities financing, so it can build schools with ideal learning conditions for its needs and benefit from the stability and long-term savings of owning versus renting.
- Building up funding for growth: Through strong fiscal discipline and a focus on economies of scale, IDEA is able to reinvest a portion of recurring per-pupil funds in growth and improvement, and combine that with fundraising to cover the cost for new regions to become self-sustaining.
IDEA’s success does not have to be remarkable; in fact, as Public Impact documented in a prior report on expanding the best charter schools, the practices leading to its success are common in fast-growing organizations of all kinds, and easily adaptable to education. Schools that create a tight model with equally tight systems, reimagine roles for great educators and create structures to support them, budget for sustainable growth, and commit to (and invest in) continuous improvement can follow in IDEA’s footsteps.