Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Best high schools in America? Or worst journalism in America?

Nota bene: This is not an April Fool's joke. I only wish it were.

U.S. News & World Report loves to rank everything. It sells.

Their most recent ranking of high schools shows two Arizona charter schools in the top ten in the nation: BASIS Tucson (#2) and BASIS Scottsdale (#5). As always, the back story is more interesting than the numbers.

The BASIS charter schools – about a dozen of them, mostly in Arizona but a couple outside, like in San Antonio – are the brainchild of Michael and Olga Block. Michael is a former free-market economist from the University of Arizona. BASIS schools have made their reputation by ruthless screening of all applicants to insure that no special needs or English language learners make the cut and repeated testing until the wheat is separated from the chaff. BASIS Tucson advertises itself thus: "BASIS Tucson uses an accelerated curriculum that includes Advanced Placement courses in subjects ranging from calculus to music theory."

The great irony with BASIS Scottsdale is that the Blocks first chose to create it as a private schools with tuition in the $20,000 a year range, but when only 7 students had signed up they quickly converted to a charter school to collect the guaranteed $6,000 a year from the state – quite a failure out there in the free market. As a charter school, BASIS Scottsdale has attracted a student body that is 40% Asian.

And now U.S. News & World Report crowns BASIS Tucson & BASIS Scottsdale in the top 5 high schools in the nation. One need not dig deeply to discover that the recent graduating class of Basis Tucson & BASIS Scottsdale COMBINED is 44 students! I'm not kidding, 23 and 21 students, respectively. [p.s. I rarely resort to typography in search of emphasis, but extraordinary stupidity calls for extraordinary measures.]

What in the world is U.S. News thinking of? This mindless bean counting is reaching the limits of the absurd.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center

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

1 comment:

  1. To rank as "one of the best in the country," there should be no less than 60 to 100 students of cohorts considered.
    BASIS Scottsdale typically tests less than 35 for the SAT, and then touts 100% passing rate. That is the average class size of any AP or HONORS class within a public high school, which can demonstrate higher results with greater numbers. THERE IS NO MAGIC THERE! If you have a self-directed learner with incredible time management skills and family support, that number can be replicated at nearly every public high school across the country. How about we check out the number of college scholarships received, and the dollar amount? We know that competitive Universities want a WELL-ROUNDED student, as well as one who tests well. No disrespect to charter schools, but it would be a more accurate picture if raw SAT scores, community service, and overall academic performance were all considered. So...the quality of instructional opportunity is the same. Do students earn more in scholarships or acceptance into the most competitive colleges?