by David Safier
After I wrote the post, BASIS and University High Are Top U.S. High Schools, Which Means . . .?, Julia Toews, Head of BASIS Tucson North, contacted me, and we met and talked. We decided that, rather than my trying to explain her position, I would give her the opportunity to write a guest post on The Range. You can read it below.
As a proud Tucson resident who supports full access to the best education possible for all of Tucson’s children, I am glad to have the opportunity to clear up a few misconceptions about BASIS. In doing so, I hope to refocus the dialogue about education in Tucson, emphasizing pedagogical practices over selectivity.
First, I would point out that it is a myth that we serve only middle and upper income students. A full 30% of our students come from zip codes in which the median household annual income is less than $30,000. Moreover, one-third of the graduating class of 2013 qualified for SAT fee waivers (eligibility determined by federal poverty guidelines).
A second myth is that we are selective about who we admit. The truth is that we are an open-enrollment, tuition-free public charter school that is forbidden by Arizona law to be selective in our admissions. When there are more applicants than spaces available, we hold a random, blind lottery, as the law requires.
In the past, there has been confusion on this point, partly because of the readiness test we administer to incoming 5th graders. The reality is that this test has absolutely no bearing on a student’s enrollment status. In fact, our use of this test should be seen as demonstrating our commitment to serving students no matter what ability level they bring to the school. We use the data from this test precisely to provide individualized help to incoming students and their parents to help them succeed.
In order to make this challenging curriculum accessible to all students, we have a full time employee devoted to meeting with students individually to help teach them study skills, time management, and organizational skills. In addition, teachers provide at least an extra 60 minutes per week of individualized help for students, and administrators meet with any students that the Academic Support Coordinator does not have time to see. We have anywhere from 100-300 students individually meeting with staff on a weekly basis for this purpose.
This is not a school where students get “lost” in the shuffle; nor is it a school that any child finds easy, no matter in which zip code he or she lives. The mission of BASIS is to provide a world-class education to all children, and I witness my faculty and staff working from dawn till dusk every day to make this a reality.
We do not promote students from grade to grade unless they meet our promotion criteria: they must pass every class with an average of 60% or higher, and they must also pass comprehensive exams to prove mastery of the subjects taught. But it would be unethical for BASIS to maintain such a policy if we didn’t provide the support necessary for children to reach these goals. I can say with absolute confidence that we provide that support.
I disagree with articles like that of Mr. Safier’s because they do not take the time and energy to actually look at what we are doing to be successful (and Mr. Safier himself admits that he did not try to contact me before publishing his critique), but summarily attribute our success to a selectivity that simply isn’t there. Excessive focus on the issue of choice detracts from more important questions of pedagogy and best practices.
While I recognize that we cannot currently serve every child in Tucson, I do hope that what we are doing at BASIS can be shared with other schools and districts. I welcome visitors from surrounding districts to come and share best practices, so that the legacy of having an internationally acclaimed school in Tucson is not one of antagonism and elitism, but of generosity, innovation, and community.
Above all, we want to continue to be an active partner in our amazing city.
Please do not hesitate to contact me for more information and dialogue about education in Tucson.