Charter schools worsening educational equity?


BASIS, a charter school operator based in Arizona, boasts on its website that its schools are “among the best in the world.” And, it includes data about rigorous curriculum, high test scores and top notch teachers that seem to back the claim.

BASIS charges no tuition and requires no entrance exams for its open-enrollment schools and claims to admit any student for whom there is space – or who can win, if there are too many applicants, a registration lottery. Despite that annoying lottery business, BASIS almost seems like a parent’s dream come true, an opportunity to watch a child’s education – and future – take off.

Some futures doubtlessly have, but for every child benefitting from BASIS lotteries, countless others risk being left behind in traditional public schools from which tax dollars have been diverted to BASIS charters – and the profits of their private operators. If this scheme takes hold in Texas, the public school inequities that Texas educators and policymakers have been struggling for years to overcome will worsen.

So far, BASIS has only one school in Texas, a charter that opened a few weeks ago in San Antonio, where it was recruited by a coalition of charter proponents and given a boost by a $1 million grant from the George W. Brackenridge Foundation. But the Legislature’s enactment of a law earlier this year to expand the number of charters in Texas is creating a potential growth industry – fueled by tax dollars – for educational entrepreneurs.

BASIS, like several other charter outfits, was organized as a non-profit. But its founders have since formed a separate, for-profit company that operates the schools. Shelley Potter, the president of the San Antonio Alliance, TSTA’s local, calls these arrangements, “Corporate, cookie cutter charter chains.”

Moreover, BASIS’ “open enrollment” claim is, in reality, something else. According to David Safier, a former teacher-turned-Arizona blogger, BASIS, at least in Arizona, requires students who are accepted to take a placement test. The parents of students who score low are advised their children will be moved back a grade if they still want to enter the school.

Many other students end up leaving the charter. At BASIS’ first charter campus in Tucson, Safier reported earlier this year, the graduating class of 2012 had 97 students when they were in sixth grade. By graduation time, the class numbered only 33, a drop of 66 percent. Every year, based on Arizona Department of Education data, the number of students at the chain’s Tucson and Scottsdale campuses fell between 60 percent and 71 percent from sixth to 12th grade, Safier wrote.

He concluded that’s how BASIS achieves a large percentage of high test scores. “They winnow the weakest students year by year until only the most academically successful survive,” he said.

That’s great for the academically fittest. But what about the large majority of students who dropped out of BASIS? Most likely, most of them reenrolled in traditional public schools, which don’t have the luxury of cherry-picking, yet are constantly under attack by the charter “reformers” who love to fatten themselves on the cream. That, folks, is not what an equitable public education system is supposed to be all about.

BASIS opened a charter school in Washington, D.C., last fall. Initially, the school enrolled 443 students. But by April, 43 students – almost 10 percent – had left the school, according to the Washington Post. Seven of those who departed were students with disabilities. BASIS, the Post reported, still got to keep hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax money it had been awarded for the 43 students who dropped out, while the traditional public schools to which the students most likely returned received no additional money for the school year.

Then, last month, the Post reported that the federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights had opened an investigation into a complaint that the BASIS school in Washington discriminated against students with disabilities.

The newspaper quoted the mother of a special education student who was failing when he withdrew from the charter. “They just weren’t dealing with him or helping him at all. It was all about the kid fitting their model rather than how can we help this kid excel,” she said.




  • Wow…you are so misinformed. First of all, charter schools get two-thirds to three-fourths of what traditional public schools get per child. If they can somehow provide a great education at far less money and make a profit? More power to them. They ARE NOT taking money from the traditional public schools. The schools are paid for teaching the kids they have and they are still over crowded. BASIS constructs their campuses at one tenth to one half of what traditional public schools cost. They are frugal and smart. The reality is there is an awful lot of “fat” in our public school systems but very few people want to look very closely there.

    My kids are at BASIS. I would not say that BASIS is for every child and the fact that parents with disabled kids have had to find a better option for them than BASIS is NOT necessarily a problem. There are options out there for them that are better and precious BASIS seats should be left for the kids best able to take advantage of them.

    The reason BASIS is needed and is drawing top students is because the local public schools are FAILING them. They are not challenging them. They are not providing them a ladder to excellence. How fair is it to have an above average child that can’t reach their full potential at a public school such that the parents have to pay the taxes for that school AND tuition for a private education? How fair is it for the middle or lower class parent who cannot afford private school to have their child languish in a traditional public school.

    That’s what creates the achievement gap! The rich get richer because the poor/middle class cannot afford private school when our public schools are awful. The promise of America is not that our public education system would make every child a genius but that our public education system would enable each child to reach their potential and would nurture excellence where it was found regardless of race, culture, religion, gender, socio-economic status, etc. BASIS attracts excellence – of aptitude, work ethic, commitment – and that is o.k. by me.

  • Any parent of a special needs child who looks at the BASIS workload and pace and thinks that is appropriate for their kid could very well be delusional. These parents need to be held accountable for making better decisions for their kids rather than blaming it on BASIS for being unable to help a child that just cannot keep up. The public schools have been adjusting for such kids for years and the result is that above average kids have to look outside of the public schools for challenge and support in reaching their potential. That is o.k. so long as every above average child has a BASIS-like option for getting what they need, too, without having to pay private school tuition.

    I did my homework. I knew what my kids were in for at BASIS and I prepared them for it. I am not saying that no special needs child can succeed at BASIS just that it is more the parents’ fault for not accurately assessing the capability of their child before enrolling them there.

  • Yup…another comment from me. Regarding asking kids to go back a year if their placement exam warrants it. My girls are in 5th grade. They are taking 7th/8th grade math. Next year, they will be in Algebra 1 which most public school kids don’t take until 8th grade or beyond. 7th grade is Algebra 2 and so on. They are also taking Latin this year and next. They are already learning scientific method and cartography. Imagine a kid who enters BASIS in the 8th grade without having had Algebra 1, Latin or the same foundations in science. They would be LOST. BASIS recommends kids go back a year for their own sake so that they can get the content they missed and not be lost! That is the nature of an accelerated program!!! I pulled my kids out of their public school after 4th – primarily because it was awful and the teachers were mathematically illiterate – but also because I knew they needed to start BASIS in 5th before they got too far behind. If our public schools weren’t paced so slowly, the gap between them and BASIS in the later grades wouldn’t be such a big problem.

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