Gene Glass, a Regents' Professor Emeritus from Arizona State University, is a staff member at the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) and writes a terrific, informative blog, Education in Two Worlds. He's recently written two posts which contain first person accounts of two brushes with BASIS, one from a parent who tried to enroll her child in BASIS Scottsdale in the 7th grade and another from a woman who attended an informational meeting about a new K-4 BASIS opening in Phoenix. I've pulled out a few excerpts.
First the parent who tried to enroll her child in BASIS Scottsdale as a 7th grader. This is a very good student who had taken advanced classes in Scottsdale Unified schools, but she was discouraged from enrolling him because he would be too far behind.
[I was told] it would be very, very difficult for my child to enter BASIS. At the tender age of 12, my child would be "too far behind." The "double advanced" math class in which my child skipped 6th and 7th grade math and entered 8th grade pre-algebra was the absolute lowest, remedial class BASIS offered. Missing two years of Latin was another problem. Basically, the message was, if you didn't start in 5th grade or at the very least 6th grade, BASIS doesn't want you. If there are parents stating that BASIS seemed to not want their child with special needs or who struggles in a particular subject, well, I would believe it, because they didn't want my Principal's List, National Junior Honor Society, gifted child.
She noted that the amount of classroom space allotted for students at each grade level shrinks as students move up the grades. The diminishing number of students at higher grade levels is built into the school's plans. She compared the pared-down classes, which begin with a self-selected high ability group of children and become even more selective with the passing years, with a similar cadre of capable, motivated students at a Scottsdale public school.
I can promise you that if you took the group of kids in my child's double advanced math class and compared their scores with that of BASIS, we would be on US News and World Report’s top ten list. If our public schools were allowed to only submit the scores of its brightest, most motivated students, we wouldn't have a nation obsessed with the notion that charter schools are doing a better job of educating our young. If our high school was allowed to systematically weed out students year after year until only the most hard-working, brightest remained, I am quite sure you would find a group of students with a 100% passing rate on their AP exams and some spanked SAT scores. In fact, to that end, I would be happy to work with my contacts at the district to provide for you the aggregate test scores, AP rates, etc. of Chaparral's top 35 students. I think that we will find commensurate test scores along with a group of well rounded students who were also exposed to sports, clubs, and students from all walks of life and teachers who were dedicated career teachers that produced those results year after year.
Next, a woman who attended a BASIS sales pitch for its BASIS Phoenix charter which will open as a K-4 school.
The presentation started with a series of video clips projected onto a large screen. The clips showed school teachers as portrayed in popular media like movies, and each one made the teachers look ridiculous. Of course, the famous Ben Stein scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was featured: “Anybody, Anybody?” The message was clear: traditional, ed school trained teachers are fools.
[The attendees were told] Basis does not select its students; admission is by lottery. (Of course, if Basis doesn’t “select” then it can claim to be just like a traditional public school that takes all comers — a fatuous claim, of course, since a lottery from among a pool of “self-selected” applicants is hardly comparable to taking on all comers.) Yes, there is a lot of thinning going on across the grades. (Parents have reported that the curriculum resembles a gauntlet of paper-and-pencil tests.) And yes, lots of students choose to continue their education back in the dreaded traditional public schools. But — and [the presenter] was emphatic on this point — students “self-select” out of the school; Basis does not do any selecting.
No comment from me about these observations, except to say they echo what I have seen and heard about the BASIS experience. Readers can come to their own conclusions.