Sunday, December 2, 2012

“Judge us by our results”

When Anne Ryman, reporter for the Arizona Republic, pointed out to Michael Block that his Basis charter schools had purchased $9.8 million of their $13.7 million allocation of state money from his own private profit-making company, the latter was unruffled. (Conflicts of interest are no big deal in Arizona government.) He also refused to answer questions about salaries or about whether family members were also employed by Basis Inc. Instead, he rather arrogantly and dismissively replied to the reporter’s questions, “Judge us by our results.”

Let’s do that. Let’s judge Michael and Olga Block’s brainchild, Basis School of Tucson, by its results.

At first glance, Basis Tucson charter school looks like a world beater. More than 90% of Basis Tucson students pass the AIMS test (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards). High percentages of the students earn college credits by passing the College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) exams. And the Basis schools philosophy leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind that it intends to compete with the best: “BASIS seeks to educate American students at an internationally competitive level. With raised academic expectations, implemented through an accelerated curriculum that pushes students to reach their highest academic potential, BASIS prepares middle and high school students to compete with their peers in countries with highly performing educational systems, such as Finland, Canada, Japan, and Korea.” And no less an august ranker of nearly everything, US News, confers the title "Sixth Best High School in America" on Basis Tucson.

Mr. Block would seem to have an argument for why he and his wife have every right to enrich themselves privately with Arizona taxpayers’ public money.

But wait just a second. Arizona’s traditional (non-charter) public schools are filled with thousands of students who knock the top out of the AIMS test and who score high on the AP exams. So what is so special about Basis Tucson charter school?

The word on the street since day #1 of the Basis Tucson charter school is that any parent seeking to enroll his or her child in the school was warned off if there was any hint that the child would not score high on the barrage of tests a Basis student would eventually face. Limited English speaking child? “Your child might find our school very demanding.” Special needs child? “We may not be able to accommodate the child’s special circumstances.”

And once the students who did pass muster were admitted, the curriculum they faced was laced with paper-and-pencil tests. Fail enough of these and you might want to consider one of those traditional public schools.

Let’s check the enrollments at Basis Tucson for 2011-2012.

Total number of students 700  
Asian 148 21%
African Amer.:28 4%
Hispanic 138* 20%
White 370 53%
*61% of the students in the Tucson school district are Hispanic.

Total number of ELL, Migrant, Free Lunch, and SPED students: 0

Enrollments by Grade

Grade 5:121
Grade 6: 125
Grade 7: 125
Grade 8: 102
Grade 9: 58
Grade 10: 57
Grade 11: 34
Grade 12: 21
Total ADM: 675

So the picture becomes clear. After careful selection of students entering Grade 5, those not turned away have their brains tested out of them, and fewer than two dozen make it to graduation. Among other questions is this: What is US News thinking of, for crying out loud?

Let me hand pick a hundred students, shift and winnow them for seven years with all manner of testing, and then you can judge me by my results. My claim to being one of the nation’s leading schools would be bogus indeed.

Gene V Glass
University of Colorado Boulder
Arizona State University

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