Tuesday, April 4, 2017

BASIS Makes a Rare Response to Criticism

Posted By on Tue, Apr 4, 2017 at 5:00 PM

It almost never happens that BASIS responds to its critics. The charter chain isn't shy about promoting itself, but it rarely answers people who question its assertions. Back in 2014, I received a response when I posted about BASIS' high national high school ranking. Julia Toews, then the Head of BASIS Tucson North, thought my analysis was unfair, so I gave her space to respond in a guest post right here on The Range. And once when a national publication published an op ed using misleading BASIS enrollment figures to make its point, BASIS made sure to point out, correctly, that the figures were misleading. That's about it so far as I've seen, and I follow stories about BASIS pretty carefully.

So this came as a surprise. A few days ago the Washington Post published an op ed which took a look at BASIS' student population and found that it enrolls significantly more White and Asian students than the general Arizona population, its schools tend to be placed in high income areas and it has high attrition rates, all of which means that its students tend to be higher academic achievers than the average Arizona student population. I posted about the op ed, but more important, it was summarized in the Yellow Sheet, a publication of the Arizona Capitol Times which is mainly read by a Who's-Who of Arizona because of its high subscription cost. The next day, the Yellow Sheet ran a response from BASIS. I'm guessing the reason for this special occasion was, BASIS wasn't about to let anyone say bad things about it to Arizona's most powerful citizens without a rebuttal.

I'm going to discuss BASIS' response in another post. This post is already running long and my discussion of what BASIS wrote will be even longer. What I want to do here is describe what my criticism of BASIS is, and what it isn't.

When I take BASIS to task, it's not about the quality of education BASIS provides, which is strong and rigorous. It's only tangentially about the schools' academically selective enrollment. My criticism is primarily a response to the use of BASIS by the "education reform"/privatization movement as a weapon against what privatization proponents refer to as "failing government schools." For years, this crowd has been using BASIS as the poster child for all that's wonderful about charter schools and all that's terrible about all those other institutions run by school districts. BASIS charters are open enrollment, they say, which is true. Because anyone can apply, they claim that means the schools aren't selective, leaving the impression that the schools are filled with a cross section of Arizona students who the schools mold into academic world beaters. Ergo, BASIS, and by association charter schools in general, are doing a better job than those "failing government schools."

If BASIS students were genuinely a cross section of Arizona, their achievement would be genuinely remarkable. But they aren't, and BASIS knows it. True, the law requires charters to have an open enrollment policy, but students at BASIS aren't representative of Arizona's population. As the Washington Post op ed indicates, a number of factors shape BASIS student bodies into academically talented and conscientious collections of young people. These students thrive in BASIS' rigorous academic environment, but similar students do well at any school offering them challenging course work. BASIS has schools full of academically successful students for the same reasons that highly selective private schools and public schools with entrance exams have academically successful students. When you start with a talented group of kids and give them challenging work, they're going to do well.

If BASIS admitted its schools are filled with academically select groups of students, I wouldn't have much to write about. But the BASIS folks refuse to make that admission. They continue to foster the myth that they take everyday students and do a significantly better job of educating them than those "failing government schools." As long as they continue to pretend they're performing academic miracles, people like me are going to continue to show that, in fact, they don't walk on water.

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