Four years ago my daughter cornered me and stated, “Hey dad, there’s a new school opening next year and I want to go there!” My 6th grader’s enthusiasm was obvious.
We spent the next couple of hours on Google, researching “BASIS schools” which yielded a hefty 20,000,000 instances. That alone got my attention. Indeed, the nation’s top public charter school was coming to our hometown.
Cutting to the chase, after attending a series of public meetings, we enrolled our daughter in BASIS school. I quickly discovered there are real differences in schools, driven primarily by their fundamental approach to and beliefs about education, educators and how students learn.
BASIS has a fundamental commitment to how schools should work. Schools are about academics…period. That’s the starting point and the stopping point.
The BASIS School Story
Wikipedia.org contains a useful historical encapsulation of BASIS Schools, it’s founding and it’s standing in academia.
The first BASIS charter school was founded in Tucson in 1998 by Michael Block, Ph.D. and Olga Block, Ph.D. with the goal of educating students at an internationally competitive level.
In 2003, BASIS Scottsdale was opened. In 2010 BASIS Oro Valley was founded. A year later, BASIS opened three schools at once in Chandler, Peoria, and Flagstaff.
BASIS continued its expansion by opening another school in Tucson and one in Phoenix proper in fall 2012, along with their first non-Arizona school located in Washington, D.C. In 2013, BASIS opened their tenth and eleventh Arizona campuses in Ahwatukee and Mesa, and the second non-Arizona campus was added in San Antonio, Texas. BASIS also began its primary (K-4) program at their BASIS Tucson site. In 2014, BASIS opened in Prescott, AZ. In 2015, BASIS opened its 16th Arizona school in Goodyear, AZ.
BASIS was featured in the documentary film 2 Million Minutes: A 21st Century Solution, which examined differences between the curriculum of charter schools in comparison with that of conventional public schools. In response to the documentary, Newt Gingrich and Al Sharpton visited BASIS’ campus to deliver speeches on the importance of education in America.
The BASIS Schools network is predominantly a tuition-free school experience. You won’t find a fleet of yellow buses delivering children to school…parents handle this.
There is no cafeteria or school lunch program unless volunteer parents provide it. Although there are some sports, the typical high school athletic experience is minimized. There are myriad clubs, including my daughter’s favorite, law club, which allowed her to compete against her peers in mock trials at the County and State level.
What I Have Seen and Learned
There are few things more significant and impactful upon a child as the experiences encountered through the many years of education.
Although I do not undervalue the importance of simple school regimen, I believe the ability of educators to create a culture of learning and peer acceptance of the high bar of excellence are tangible contributors to academic self-esteem.
Academic self-esteem is an irreplaceable and irreducible ingredient in learning and is itself a pillar of success in life. A child believing that a particular subject matter can be mastered is, in my estimation, more important than the content of learning.
At a time when public education is regarded by many as a costly and extravagant job bank for teachers, a place where kids play too much, text one another and where parents want and need daycare, BASIS provided our family with an exceptional alternative.
Teachers who embody and convey the principle of academic self-esteem to each student are paramount. Endeavoring to provide exceptional incomes to educators is something advocated by BASIS Schools. Each year parents have the opportunity to contribute to the Annual Teacher Fund (“ATF”) and this fund rewards the best educators with financial bonuses.
Something must be working at BASIS Schools. In a U.S. News & World Report Best High School Rankings analysis for 2017, BASIS was positioned as follows:
- #1 – BASIS Scottsdale: Nationally. #3 STEM High School
- #2 – BASIS Tucson North: Nationally. #5 STEM High School
- #3 – BASIS Oro Valley: Nationally. #47 STEM High School
- #5 – BASIS Peoria: Nationally.
- #7 – BASIS Chandler: Nationally. #31 STEM High School
In Arizona, to be sure, there are many successful school models. There are also, too many sub-standard schools. Parents should be provided with unrestricted school choice.
Politicizing the Education Effort
There is simply too much finger-pointing and politicization of education in Arizona. Money is not the educational “be-all” and “end-all,” nor is one model perfect family and every child.
Our Arizona school system should empower educators, parents, and students with a full range of options for the creation of environments where academic self-esteem is not just an intellectual theory but where it is inculcated, applauded and recognized. This includes traditional public schools, religious schools, home schools, charter schools and a full spectrum of special needs schools.
For a child, a series of early academic successes, created in a peer empowered environment where learning is not goofy or nerdy but cool, will yield not only academic self-esteem but a lifetime of self-esteem. I have found this to be true at BASIS Schools. It’s my conciction that it could be true in more of our schools.