Thursday, August 28, 2014

Put a Hold on that Pultizer Prize Until We Answer a Couple of Questions

A Phoenix newspaper, the East Valley Tribune, recently ran an article with the exciting title "BASIS Chandler ranks among world's best in international test." The BASIS charter school company is well known to readers of this blog. The East Valley Tribune article simply oozes with PR flack enthusiasm: "A Chandler charter school has been recognized as being among the best in the world. BASIS Chandler was one of the four BASIS charter schools selected for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Test for Schools. The school didn’t merely take the test but excelled in it, scoring above Shanghai...."

What little of relevance that we can infer from the puff piece is that a group of BASIS Chandler charter school 15-year-olds took the PISA test and their average scores were high — higher even than some entire nations. What is not reported and what is borderline impossible to determine is how many students took the PISA at BASIS Chandler. Well, more than an hour's digging through files at the Arizona Department of Education finally produces some numbers:

    BASIS Chandler charter school enrolled
  • 500 students in Grades K - 8, and
  • 195 students in Grades 9 - 12.
What we also know from past experience with BASIS schools is that many begin but few finish. A couple years ago at BASIS Tucson — the natal BASIS charter and showcase for the company — of the 60 students starting grade 9, only 20 were around to graduate 4 years later. Now if that same attrition rate holds for BASIS Chandler, the World Beater, then we would expect that something of the order of 25 students at BASIS Chandler took the PISA — and smoked the entire population of Shanghai.

So, an honest headline for the editors of East Valley Tribune would read something like this: "Two Dozen Students Get Good Scores on a Test." And next week's headline, should anyone wish to do a follow-up article, could carry the headline: "50 Students at Chandler High School Outscore Two Dozen Students at BASIS Chandler Charter School."


Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

2 comments:

  1. Journalists who aren't clued in (often beginners and generalists lacking savvy about education) are easy marks for "reformers' " bogus claims. In general, the press proceeds on the assumption that they won't be lied to because the lies will be exposed once they're aired or published and will shame the liars -- which largely doesn't happen -- plus the unsuspecting don't expect educators to lie, of all people. It's sometimes surprising how hopelessly naive people in a profession that prides itself on asking tough questions can be, though.

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    1. Thanks, Caroline. I think you nailed it.

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