by David Safier
Craig Barrett, ex-CEO of Intel, is the most powerful person in Arizona education policy nobody's ever heard of, or anyway, not nearly enough people have heard of. You can read some background on Gov. Brewer's go-to, back-room adviser on education here.
Barrett is a huge supporter of education privatization, and he's deeply involved in the charter school movement. He's president and chairman of the board of BASIS charters, whose name is ever on the lips of the well funded, nationwide charter school cheerleading squad. ("Charter schools are great! Look at BASIS. And then of course there's BASIS. Did I mention BASIS?").
Barrett was interviewed recently and was asked about Common Core, which he supports, promotes and helped create. He's chairman of the board of Achieve, the nonprofit organization largely responsible for developing Common Core. A very well connected guy. In the interview, he brought up BASIS to explain why high stakes tests, an important component of Common Core, don't lead to "teaching to the test."
“I'm a CEO of a charter school organization here in Arizona. We've got two of the top five high schools in the United States. Our teachers teach subject matter. They don't teach to the tests. The kids can pass any test."
Yes, BASIS kids can pass any test, because the charters use a three-pronged selection process to guarantee their schools are filled with the best, brightest and most motivated students in the area. I've taught kids like that. The question is whether they'll simply pass the state test or score so high it's scary.
Here's what Mr. Barrett doesn't mention. He's also on the national board of K12 Inc., a for-profit, publicly traded company that runs a string of online charters including Arizona Virtual Academy. Those kids can't "pass any test." Far from it. The schools have racked up more negative press across the country than any schools I've read about, and they've earned every scathing word. You can read multiple stories about low achieving students, failing schools, the outsourcing of student essays to India to be graded, huge "churn rates" — about a third of the students leave every year — gigantic student-to-teacher ratios and stockholder suits as a result of the corporation lying about student achievement.
To my knowledge, Barrett has never talked publicly about his association with K12 Inc., let alone discussed its very real troubles. When Arizona Virtual Academy was on academic probation with the state, not a word from Barrett. But he'll bring up BASIS every chance he gets.
I'm not normally given to begging, but I beg reporters in the mainstream media to do some research on K12 Inc. — I'll be glad to help — ask Mr. Barrett why he thinks it has so many problems, then find out what he's doing to help correct them (and why it's taking so long). If the BASIS success formula is so superb and not just what you'd expect given the high achieving students who attend, why can't he show Arizona Virtual Academy and other K12 Inc. schools how it's done? I'd ask Barrett myself, but what are the chances he'd talk to me?