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Julie Erfle enrolled her oldest son in the BASIS Charter School in Arizona. She went to a parent night and was impressed. Basis is ranked by U.S. New & World Report as one of the best high schools in the U.S. “Teachers with degrees from Harvard and Yale and Stanford, with PhD’s and real-world experience. A curriculum that entails AP coursework as early as 7th grade, and the ability to finish high school with every AP class completed by 11th grade. Wow. What’s not to love?” Her son is happy at the school and doing well. She has no complaint about the school but she knows it is not a model for public education.
On her blog, Erfle revealed the “secret” of BASIS and other very high-performing charter schools.
In a nutshell, the BASIS expectations and requirements are so high that the students who can’t meet them leave.
Governor Ducey wants to “fund the wait lists” at schools such as BASIS. He’s fond of using the school as the poster child for reform. But those wait lists are a mirage.
It’s true that hundreds of students are turned away from BASIS and other top-rated charter schools in 5th and 6th grade. But it’s also true that the turnover rate at these charter schools is astronomical, with hundreds of students opting out of the schools after a short period of time, and schools graduating as few as 20-30 students.
Many of the critics will say it’s because BASIS filters out undesirable students, such as those with learning or attention differences, while keeping the “cream of the crop.” And they’re correct.
The curriculum at BASIS isn’t advanced. It’s highly advanced, as in 2 or 3 years ahead of most schools, similar to the curriculum for highly gifted students. Remember when I said AP classes start in 7th grade? That’s not normal. And it’s not something that just any student can handle.
Starting in 6th grade, students take midterms and finals, and the final is a significant portion of the student’s overall class grade. It’s high-stakes testing at its highest. If a student fails even one class (with a small exception for some math classes), that student must retake the entire grade.
The vast majority of students, when faced with retaking an entire grade or moving on to a different school, will move on. So will the vast majority of students who struggle with such an advanced load and who find themselves spending 4-5 hours on homework every night. And the same with many students who are involved in extracurricular activities such as club sports, which requires time for evening practices and weekend tournaments.
This is why BASIS schools start out with hundreds of students and long waiting lists in 5th and 6th grade but end up graduating only a handful of students. And when a school graduates 25 students who have made it through every advanced, AP course available, one would hope these students would have sky-high test scores.
Maybe it is a good idea to give public funding to a school like BASIS, that is so rigorous that few of those who enroll will ever graduate. After all, there are high schools for unusually smart students, like Bronx Science and Stuyvesant High School in New York City, where students who want to attend must first pass an examination. But no one pretends that every school should be just like Bronx Science and Stuyvesant. It is well known that they are highly selective. Their students get high scores because they are selective schools. As Julie writes, BASIS is not for everyone, and it is not a model for public education.
As she writes:
BASIS schools start out with hundreds of students and long waiting lists in 5th and 6th grade but end up graduating only a handful of students. And when a school graduates 25 students who have made it through every advanced, AP course available, one would hope these students would have sky-high test scores.
It’s easy to understand why BASIS makes the list as one of the top high schools in the nation. But to compare a class of 25 students to one with hundreds of students from every background and with every learning challenge imaginable at a school in an economically challenged neighborhood doesn’t really seem like a fair comparison, does it?
Of course not. And yet that is what our politicians routinely do.