By Philip Haldiman, Independent Newsmedia
Charter school BASIS Peoria placed fifth in the nation on the 2017 U.S. News Best Public High Schools rankings, with more than 30 other charter schools in the top 100.
But public school advocates downplayed the list, saying public charter schools like BASIS practice segregation.
BASIS charter high schools dominated the rankings with BASIS Scottsdale placing first, BASIS Tucson North second, BASIS Oro Valley third and BASIS Chandler seventh.
There are 18 BASIS public charter schools in Arizona that are managed by the private Scottsdale-based BASIS Educational Group LLC. BASIS, which oversees curriculum and hiring for all schools.
This was the first year BASIS Peoria garnered this award.
CEO Peter Bezanson said BASIS is incredibly proud of the Peoria location.
He said BASIS schools are consistently ranked among the nation’s best because they are able to hire passionate teachers who are experts in their subject areas, and because the curriculum — which is the same across the network, from Peoria to Scottsdale to Tucson and everywhere in between — challenges students, and encourages focused, deep knowledge acquisition. BASIS kids are smart because their teachers are smart and they love learning because their teachers love learning, he said.
“Our secret sauce is our teachers, our curriculum, and our consistent effort to improve. It’s the way we treat every classroom as sacrosanct, and the student-teacher relationship as the most vital, and supported,” he said. “It’s the way we understand that the best way to empower students is by empowering teachers: giving them our acclaimed curriculum, while offering them the chance to teach that curriculum with the precise amount of creativity they each desire.”
U.S. News evaluated more than 28,000 public high schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, awarding medals to the highest scoring schools. Five hundred public high schools received gold medals, 2,109 took home silver and 3,432 received bronze in the national rankings.
A gold medal was awarded to BASIS Peoria, where enrollment is 746, with 92 percent white and Asian students.
Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, a professor in ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, said BASIS serves significantly more white and Asian/American students, as compared with the state’s mean public school demographics, as well as significantly fewer Latino and virtually no African American and Native American students. They also serve virtually no English language learners, and virtually no special needs students, as also compared with the state’s mean public school demographics.
She said BASIS charter schools take the top scoring students from the public schools located around them, preventing students’ equal participation in education.
The fact that BASIS is thriving and being nationally recognized is a travesty, a significant sign of segregation and a violation of federal law, she said.
“What does this do to the public schools from which the top students are creamed? It leaves students in these schools, officially deemed less than best together, decreasing the overall diversity in intelligence and capacity, decreasing mean test scores, along with all the school- and teacher-level consequences – school report cards – that come along with that,” she said. “This also perpetuates the segregation or re-segregation of what are to be America’s desegregated schools, as per Brown vs. Board of Education.”
Related, Ms. Amrein-Beardsley said the problem is perpetuated when Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey claims similar accolades as evidence of the state’s great schools, and uses it as evidence that charter schools work.
“Saying they should be expanded and further funded by Arizona’s taxpayers will only perpetuate such nonsense. Any charter school who engages in these tactics, BASIS or not, would yield similar results and similar accolades,” she said.
But charter school advocates are cheering the prominence of charter schools in the U.S. News rankings.
Jeanne Allen, founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform, cited the rankings as the latest evidence that flexibility and freedom are key to success in education.
“Given that charters represent only 16 percent of U.S. News’ 6,000 medal-winning schools, it’s a very telling accomplishment that fully a third of the top 100 schools are charters,” Ms. Allen said in a news release. “You don’t achieve quality by coincidence, you achieve it through the freedom and flexibility to innovate and create new learning opportunities, and that’s reflected in these rankings.”
Robert Morse, chief data strategist at U.S. News & World Report, said schools must pass a number of steps, which focus on whether a school is best serving all its students by looking at state assessments, including with disadvantaged students and graduation rates. Schools were evaluated based on whether they are preparing students for college-level coursework. All schools that receive national recognition from U.S. News with a gold, silver, or bronze medal have passed the first three steps of the methodology. Their numerical rank – and medal – is determined by students’ participation in and performance on a variety of Advance Placement or AP exams.
BASIS Peoria opened in August 2011, serving grades 5-12.
Head of school Mark Allen said BASIS Peoria in August will expand to serve kindergarten through 12th grade with an enrollment of 1,400 students and a waiting list of several hundred.
“Core principles of BASIS include professionalism, intellectual tolerance, and pushing-the-boundaries,” Mr. Allen said. “The Peoria location’s unique culture focuses on collaboration between teachers and staff.”
Charter and magnet schools made up nine of the top 10 public high schools the U.S. News rankings.
But Peoria Unified School District Governing Board member Kathy Knecht said the BASIS chain and other charter schools operate quite differently than school districts.
BASIS is enjoying this ranking based solely on college preparation, she said.
“For one thing, they have several barriers to enrollment that lead to an exclusive student body and a very high attrition rate. A recent report in the Washington Post stated that BASIS’ graduation rate is below 50 percent.
However, district schools are open and welcoming to all students and grow them from wherever they are. For those who choose a rigorous, advanced college prep program, like the International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement classes, those options are available. So are other options like arts, athletics and career and technical programs,” Ms. Knecht said. “The variety of interesting and engaging programs in our comprehensive high schools keeps kids in school and contributes to our 93 percent graduation rate. There is no doubt in my mind that the kids who are highly successful at BASIS would be highly successful in PUSD. Just ask our most recent Flinn Scholar.”
To produce the 2017 Best High Schools rankings, U.S. News & World Report teamed with North Carolina-based RTI International, a global nonprofit social science research firm.
National rankings: 5
Arizona high schools: 4
Charter high schools: 4
STEM High Schools: 167
College Readiness Index: 100.0
AP® Tested: 100 percent
AP® Passed: 81 percent
Mathematics Proficiency: 84 percent
English Proficiency: 68 percent
Source: U.S. News & World Report.