Sunday, February 14, 2016

What It's Like to Attend the Nation's Finest High School

I have kept no secret at this Blog that I consider the BASIS charter school chain to be a disaster. If you wonder why, read here, and here, here, and here. In spite of its obvious shortcomings, US News & World Report was blind to the facts when it ranked a couple of its schools (BASIS Scottsdale and BASIS Tucson) among the Top Ten high schools in the United States! BASIS contend that they are not "selective" and that they are open to all comers. This is another cunning and deceptive part of their sales pitch. Listen to one of their "parent information sessions" and imagine what kind of parent would send their child into that school.

One parent in Mesa, Arizona, did send her child into a BASIS charter. She has chosen to remain anonymous — I suspect that her child has to survive the last few months of the school year. Read this family's experience, and you will know why a BASIS charter starts out with a few hundred children in the elementary grades but ends up with a few dozen by graduation time — a few dozen, I may add, who are no more accomplished than many times that number of high school seniors in neighboring traditional public schools.

BASIS Mesa opened for the 2013-2014 school year. My son started there as a 5th grader. He is a straight A student at BASIS and has been since he started. Why are we thinking of moving him to the Chandler School District when he is obviously doing so well? We believe that there is more to school than teaching for AP exams. Our son has many outside interest that he no longer has time for. It’s a rush every night to get home, eat quickly and start working. All those after school clubs…well it’s great if you can afford them. Also, so many times, he has so much work, that staying until 4:45 when the club ends means he’ll be up late finishing homework and studying.

His classes consist of taking notes and then spitting them out on exams. There is no time in any of his core classes for any meaningful discussions about the subject matter. It’s a race to copy the notes and then study the notes to then take the weekly exams given in all core subjects. Two February’s have passed and not one teacher has made mention of Black History Month. Recently we had our very own Arizona astronaut launch into space; again no mention of this. His Language Arts class consists of weekly packets that are not gone over in class yet the kids are expected to complete them on their own at home and then take the unit exam at the end of the week.

What we have found at BASIS is that only the strongest survive. The kids who leave behind all their extra curricular activities and focus solely on their academics. Very smart kids are leaving the school so that they may have a better balance of school and life outside of school. We also have found that the BASIS kids have no idea of current affairs, what’s going on in the world now. They also do little to no community service.

Why are we thinking of taking our son out even though he is a top performer? Because life is short and there is more to life than studying 24/7. We want him to be well rounded. To understand about the world he is growing up in and to care enough about it to grow into a person who wants to make it a better place. It was great for him to go there for 5th and 6th grade because his other charter school could’t keep up with his level of advancement from year to year. He needed the advanced math and sciences. Now that he is going into the 7th grade the Chandler School District can accommodate his educational needs. He’ll be able to be in advanced, honors and AP classes. Even better, he will have a choice of what subjects he will take his AP’s in instead of being forced to take AP exams that are mandated by BASIS. If he stays on the path is on he will still graduate with as many AP classes as the students at BASIS but it will be in subjects he is interested in and at a pace that will allow him to also grow into a responsible person who understands that life is more about what you scored on a exam.

BASIS schools are a good idea in theory but I think they are leaving out the human touch. They have many dedicated teachers and administrators who truly care about the students, but whose hands are tied by the sheer volume of information they need to cover in a particular year. It’s the inch deep, mile wide approach to education that may look great on a transcript but may leave your child with great deficits in other aspects of their lives. Also, since many of the teachers have no actual teaching experience or background they lack what it takes to engage and motivate students and are not the best choice for teaching such advanced material.

How long will the State of Arizona continue to pour millions of dollars annually into this "business" known as BASIS charter schools? How many times will US News & World Report blindly publicize this pathetic imitation of a school?

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

The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, University of Colorado Boulder, nor San José State University.