Thursday, January 8, 2015

Cream Rises to the Top in the Charters?

The cream doesn't rise to the top in the charter schools. It starts at the top.

Charter schools have long been known for their filtering out at the admissions stage of students who might require special services or who might lower their test score average. BASIS charter schools are notorious for requiring long essays from applicants and for flunking out students who do badly on tests. BASIS middle school classes of a few hundred are winnowed to a few dozen by graduation time. BASIS – which operates 10 charter schools in Arizona, one in D.C. and one in San Antonio – opened BASIS Phoenix Central in downtown Phoenix in 2014. A BASIS spokesperson points out that the public elementary schools in the area are "underperforming." BASIS has a plan for that, or rather BASIS has no plan to improve the schools of central Phoenix. It simply has a plan that will attract the better students from the surrounding public schools and leave them further impoverished.

Pennsylvania is challenging Arizona as the school choice capital of the world. The Keystone state already offers an array of alternatives to the traditional public schools: charters, virtual charters, and who knows what other inventions. Some charter schools in Philadelphia have recently been discovered charging a "application fee"; and some administer a questionnaire to determine if a prospective student meet need special education services or English-language learning instruction. Almost needless to say, such needs do not increase the odds of acceptance.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools announced in 2014 that the number of public charter schools operating in the United States has surpassed 6,400 for the first time with 2.5 million students. The public charter school movement in the 2013-14 school year saw a net gain of 436 schools enrolling 288,000 more students than in 2012-13. The charter movement has become the fastest growing segment of our public education system.

Colorado added 9,000 students and 14 new public charter schools. The Walton Family Foundation announced that it has now surpassed $10 million in startup investments in Denver with the support of four charter schools in Denver in 2013. In addition, with 2013 investments, the foundation has now supported the startup of 1,500 schools, one in four charter schools in the nation, through its Public Charter Startup Grant program. The foundation has now supported the startup of more than 40 Denver charter schools since 1998.

To some, growth is a good thing. Others see the growth of the charter school sector as the spreading of fraud and under-performance, and the continued resegregation of the nation's public school system.

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 the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.


  1. Excellent post. I share my thoughts:

  2. "BASIS charter schools are notorious for requiring long essays from applicants and for flunking out students who do badly on tests."
    I have 3 kids at BASIS. Not one had to write a long essay as part of an application or an essay of any type for that matter. Do kids flunk out of BASIS? Sure they do but it is not some big weed out program as you portray. You only have to score a 60% on the comprehensive exams at the end of the year to pass. 95%+ of the students do. Those that don't have an opportunity to retake the test during the summer. The big drop from 8 to 9th grade at all BASIS schools occurs for many reasons which has nothing to do with the school weeding them out academically. Suffice to say if you can pass 8th grade, you absolutely can handle high school there.

  3. I have grandchildren a BASIS school and frankly, I don't see how you have any basis for arguing what you argue! Ha!

    Do you fault the children of illegal immigrants for committing a "crime" by bringing them to America, where they have a better shot at a better life? Why should a family of two parents holding down five jobs have to be ashamed about wanting the best possible education for their own children?

    Letting their children languish and rot in the local Title I school is certainly an option -- but so is drug abuse, suicide, or a diet of nothing but Twinkies and Ho-Hos -- and none of those options are generally accepted to be particularly good for the children.

    Have you ever been to a Title I school, Dr. Glass? I have. I had lunch one day there with my granddaughter. The corn tasted like plastic, and you get a better taco at Taco Bell. No wonder she was coming home hungry every day. BASIS public schools may not be perfect, but I'll be darned if I'm to feel guilty for encouraging my son to pull his children out of the local garbage school and putting his kids into a high-quality, high-achieving school. Our first duty as parents is to our children, not to society at large.

  4. Public schools do not get to remove students for failing, you completely miss the point. I can claim great success if I only keep those that can pass. Furthermore, the tests that BASIS uses closely parallel the state and national standardized tests. It is pure circular reasoning to say they are better because more of their students pass tests and graduate, those are the only kids basis allows on their campus. They claim to have the "secret sauce" to better teaching. I say they are a fraud.

  5. Anonymous; You miss the point entirely. Public schools can not reject those that fail. Basis tests kids using tests that approximate the state and federal mandated tests. They then claim to own the "secret sauce" of better teaching based on higher $ucce$$ rates. When you only keep those that can pass you are not doing a better job, you are being deceptive. If all schools do this we will have Social Darwinism and test based educational Eugenics. This is not better teaching, it is fraud.