There was a clear trend in this year’s list of America’s Best Public High Schools, compiled by US News & World Report.
It’s not that four of the top five schools are located in Arizona – although that happens to be true. It’s that these four schools, and another in seventh place, are all run by a network of charter schools founded by two economists almost 20 years ago.
At a time when the President and his Secretary of Education denounce the state of America’s public schools, instead encouraging private education, BASIS charter schools appear to offer successful middle ground. The network’s focus on high quality teachers and high expectations for students suggests that public funds can produce not only good private schools (as is the case with good ones) but also good public schools. first order.
âThere really is no part of K-12 education in the United States that dominates and beats the world,â Mark Reford, director of business and brand development for BASIS, told Business Insider. “In fact, probably except us.”
The top three BASIS schools in the latest US News & World Report ranking, created using a combination of test scores and participation in advanced placement tests, achieved 100% graduation rates, 98 % and 97%, respectively. Almost a quarter of the student body continue to attend colleges in the top quarter of nationally ranked universities. More than half attend those in the top 100.
Charter schools are essentially private public schools, for profit or not. (BASIS Charter Schools are not-for-profit and are operated by the for-profit company BASIS Educational Group LLC.) Schools.
Reford says BASIS sets itself apart first by holding teachers in high regard, by treating them as white-collar workers who have autonomy in the classroom. Teachers are encouraged to do whatever it takes to get children interested in Latin or physics.
If a teacher’s experimental approach is successful, BASIS will often adopt it in other schools in the network, says Reford.
The method dates back to 1998, when BASIS was first founded by Arizona-based economists Michael and Olga Block on the premise of building schools based on cutting-edge educational research. The approach resembles that found in Finland, where national test scores have been among the highest in the world for years.
But with the freedom of teachers comes a high bar for expertise. All subject teachers, even the first grade teacher doing simple addition and subtraction, must have a university degree in their chosen subject.
Expectations are also high for students. In addition to their normal standardized tests, they take internal exams every year from grade six through high school. They must also take at least six AP courses and pass at least one test.
To help students stay on track, BASIS takes a decidedly low-tech approach. From kindergarten, each pupil receives at the beginning of the year a daily diary, called a âcommunication journalâ, intended to record homework and to serve as a repository for teachers’ notes.
In many schools, teachers post children’s grades on an online portal that parents can view at will. Reford says schools are avoiding these online notebooks because they put too much power in the hands of adults at the expense of student responsibility.
âWe think it is absolutely crucial for children’s learning to take ownership of their own education, because they have to write their homework, their homework in this communication journal,â says Reford.
However, school demographics can skew the results. Like many charters, BASIS has fewer minority students, those who receive free or discounted lunch, and people with disabilities compared to traditional public schools, the Washington Post reports. Previous research has found socio-economy often plays a decisive role in student success.
In Arizona at least 2015-2016 school year data show white and asian students are considerably over-represented relative to the population of the state. Arizona is 3% Asian, but BASIS had 32% Asian students in that school year. Meanwhile, the state was 45% Latino, but BASIS was 10% Latino.
Linda Lyon, president-elect of the Arizona School Boards Association, says ratios can be intentional. âBASIS and other for-profit charters are very effective in penetrating wealthy markets where they can recruit already high performing students from district schools,â Lyon told the Post.
Reford takes issue with the idea that BASIS schools separate children. He argues that schools tend to have different racial distributions based primarily on where these children live, even though data from the previous school year suggests otherwise. He also points out that minority BASIS students always outperform their peers in local public schools.
Ultimately, Reford says the controversy undermines a more pressing issue, which is that American students are underperforming compared to other countries on the world stage. Standardized test results are far behind other industrialized countries, and they have been for some time.
While much of the education world focuses on raising the lowest performing children, BASIS believes high performing children also require special attention, explains Reford.
âYou can’t have a great education without this high level of cognitive challenge,â says Reford. “And I think if you start with that, it’s as good a place as any.”