Monday, November 02, 2009

The BASIS for success?

I recently read a fascinating piece in the Economist about a group of charter schools, called the BASIS schools, in Arizona. Founded by Michael and Olga Block in the late 1990s, these schools feature an extremely accelerated curriculum and a commitment to hiring great teachers (and negotiating their salaries individually, and paying performance bonuses a la Wall Street). Most interestingly, the schools explicitly model their curricula on the best practices exhibited in other countries that routinely trounce the US in international comparisons. For instance, we know South Korea does math well. What can we copy from that system? Of course, the US does things well, too, and in this piece, Olga Block talks about the openness of American classrooms and the questioning nature of American students as being things she wanted to keep.

One of the exciting things about the education reform movement of the last few years has been watching all the different experiments around the country. Not every person would be thrilled to attend a BASIS school (Olga Block talks about how she didn't originally see extracurricular activities as being particularly important for a school). But the idea of high expectations is universally a good idea. We have a lot of untapped talent in this country, and a lot of children who have never truly been challenged. If the BASIS schools can take anyone who wins the lottery to attend, and have such children taking college-level classes through much of high school, it seems to indicate that most schools could aim a lot higher than they are currently doing.

6 comments:

Kevin said...

There is a lot of application bias even in lottery-entry schools. The slower students don't want a rigorous program, and so don't apply.

The phenomenon can be observed even at top lottery-entry charter schools like Pacific Collegiate.

Kevin said...

That should have said "at other top lottery-entry" rather than "even at top lottery-entry"

din819go said...

True on the lottery bias but think of the possibilities -- kids can do so much more at every level...

Leo said...

I think a key takeaway for me is that if they can achieve these results in the charter schools, why can't we get the same techniques introduced in "mainstream" schools. Obviously, you're not going to get wholesale changes. But perhaps we can start by pushing for some of the techniques to be used in non-charter schools.

Anonymous said...

the fact that our children cannot achieve these things in a regular public school should be shocking to people. instead, time after time, people comment upon application bias...as if that is somehow relevant to the process or results.

the students that attend BASIS excel and are being provided a top notch education not available at most schools.

Let me ask this maybe someone will know...if regular schools are not offering a quality education to our best students, then who are they offering a good education to? because from what I read, the bottom half isn't doing well in America.

So should we really focus on lottery bias when 75% of american students are in need a better education than they are currently receiving? or maybe focus on helping ALL children reach their potential, even the faster, hard working ones.

Anonymous said...

My son is on a waitlist to get in at Basis. Any ideas on how to speed up the process and get him to the top of the list???