Success of BASIS charters brings national attention - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

Success of BASIS charters brings national attention

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Posted: Friday, August 5, 2011 4:05 pm | Updated: 5:30 pm, Thu Aug 11, 2011.

Latin, algebra, biology, chemistry and physics.

And that’s just in the sixth grade.

When Olga and Michael Block established the first BASIS charter school in Tucson in 1998, they did so with the intention to expect more from students than what was being asked of them.

They found something that worked. The school has been on Newsweek’s top 10 education list consistently since 2006, with a No. 1 ranking in 2008 and a No. 3 ranking this year.

BASIS opens campuses in Chandler, along with Flagstaff and Peoria, this year. Those three will join BASIS Tucson, BASIS Scottsdale (2003) and BASIS Oro Valley (2010). The first campus outside Arizona will open soon, as a charter was granted this spring to BASIS to offer its school in Washington D.C.

So touted are the schools that Gov. Jan Brewer traveled to all three Arizona grand opening celebrations Thursday, trekking her way from the East Valley to the West Valley to the northern reaches of the state, all before nightfall.

Arizona passed a law creating charter schools more than 15 years ago. These public schools operate mostly free of state requirements, but receive state funding. More than 10 percent of Arizona’s public school students are enrolled in a charter school.

Supporters say they raise the benchmark for education because they provide competition to district schools. Critics say they take money from those districts and aren’t regulated enough.

No matter the point of view, there’s little argument that just like districts, charter schools can flourish and provide a top notch education or they can fail students, with parents withdrawing their kids and seeking other options.

“The BASIS model has proven to be extraordinarily successful in Arizona,” said Matt Benson, spokesman for the governor’s office. “You can see it in the test scores they’ve received, the national and international recognition BASIS has garnered.”

In fact, every student at BASIS Scottsdale passed the state’s AIMS test this spring. And Businessweek in 2009 called the school the best in Arizona.

“It’s a rigorous curriculum and we think it’s something that can be modeled elsewhere in the state,” Benson said.

Former Intel CEO Craig Barrett is counting on the modeling plan as a step toward improving education in Arizona. The sharply critical Barrett — who stated earlier this year that Intel may not have located in Arizona in today’s education climate — believes in the BASIS plan so much he is president and chairman of the BASIS Schools Inc. board.

“I think BASIS has a very simple model that incorporates those features that are in most of the world’s best education systems,” Barrett said. “They are a system of schools that sets high expectations for the students. They get excellent teachers and they have some tension or feedback loops that help struggling teachers or students move forward.

“You look around the world — Singapore, Finland — anywhere there is a great education system you always have those three characteristics.”

Matt Carlson said he first heard the BASIS name after reading a story several years ago about the accolades surrounding the Tucson campus.

More than a year ago, his neighbor asked him if he had heard about the new BASIS school coming to Chandler.

“I kept thinking, ‘That rings a bell,’” he said this week. After a quick look on the Internet, he found it was the same school and quickly sought a way to enroll his son, Gavin, who will be in fifth grade.

What impressed him, he said, was the fact that teachers ask more from the students.

“The one thing that stood out was the statement, ‘They can learn more,’” he said. “Why is the status quo of mediocrity OK? They can do better.”

Gavin answered the same way, even before his dad did, when asked why he wants to come to BASIS Chandler: “I get to learn more.”

The school will open almost completely full — with 710 children in grades five through 10. There are a few spots left in grades nine and 10).

“It all went really, really fast,” Carlson said. “One week there was early registration and the next week there was a waiting list. There was a lot of buzz about it.”

Tom Davidson, who will lead the school, said there are 175 children on the waiting list for next year and registration for the following year will start up in the fall.

“The reputation (of BASIS) does carry a lot of weight,” he said. “But when we go to the (information) meetings, we tell them, ‘It’s a tough school. You have to be willing to work.’”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6549 or mreese@evtrib.com

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