“Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
– Malcolm X
A few days ago, on a blog maintained by the Network for Public Education – one of the most virulent anti-school choice institutions in the country – a blogger attacked BASIS.ed and BASIS Charter Schools with a series of half-truths, false implications, innuendo, and outright lies. Ordinarily, BASIS.ed and BASIS Charter Schools would not dignify such a blog with a response, but in this case the post was picked up by The Washington Post, and we felt compelled to correct the narrative.
At BASIS.ed and in the BASIS Charter Schools, we pride ourselves on being somewhat counter-cultural. We love to question conventional wisdom – most often in order to do something better than it was previously done. But we also pride ourselves on standing for intellectual discourse and the pursuit of truth. We understand that there are differences of opinion when it comes to education policy, pedagogy, school choice, and curricular innovation. We embrace our own view, and know that there are others.
In that light, we would have enthusiastically debated the blog post’s author on key questions that must be addressed regarding school choice and related issues. Indeed, we look forward to someday sharing a debate stage with the leaders of NPE, who seem to be consistently mistaken on specific facts, and also seem to be against even those charter or independent schools which provide an objectively fantastic education for students who want what they offer. Sadly, however, the blogger chose to defame BASIS, make invalid arguments based on false premises, and failed to fact check with us.
BASIS Curriculum Schools, both charter and independent, will number more than 30 next year, and will serve more than 20,000 students across the globe. The vast majority of those students are in charter schools, receiving a world-class education for free, with no admission criteria or entry requirements. BASIS Curriculum Schools are considered by many to be among the highest performing schools in the United States. We are intensely proud of our students who have reached these amazing heights, and of our faculty who foster our students’ success.
It is in defense of these wonderful people – our proud and energetic students and their families, and our intelligent and passionate teachers, – that we respond to the NPE blogger; we owe it to them to correct the record.
We’d like to focus on the “5 Biggest Falsehoods” from the blog post:
False Claim #1: BASIS Charter Schools ‘cherry-pick’ students.
There is “cherry picking” involved at BASIS Charter Schools, but it is not the type that the blogger alleges. BASIS Charter Schools do not pick their students (and cannot, by law). Rather, it is students and parents who pick us. Students and parents, in states with liberating charter laws, are able to choose between hundreds of different programs and curricula, “cherry picking” the best fit for their child.
In the states in which BASIS.ed operates charter schools, there are charter schools that offer classical education, charter schools that focus on the fine arts, charter schools that treat sports as co-curricular with academics, charter schools that have specific programs for children with autism, charter schools for adjudicated youth, charter schools built for homeless families, and on and on and on. To say that BASIS Charter Schools cannot or should not offer a specific type of programming (in our case, an academically accelerated, AP-infused, liberal arts academic program) that will be attractive to some families, but not attractive to all, is to attack and undermine the whole purpose of the school choice movement.
Additionally, the blogger implies that we ought to be ashamed of our student demographics, and makes factually incorrect statements regarding our English Language Learner (ELL), Special Education, and economically disadvantaged student populations. BASIS.ed is incredibly proud of the diversity of the student body at each BASIS Charter School. It is a fact that, along with the strength and acceleration of our academic program, our diversity is one of the key reasons that parents choose to send their children to our schools. It is something that we have repeatedly seen, heard, and been told over many years of managing excellent schools.
When you walk into a BASIS Charter School (and we invite the author to do so), you are immediately struck by the diversity of the student body and the way in which it is a mirror of the melting pot that is modern America.
Here are the numbers. Overall, we are about:
- 40% Caucasian (non-Hispanic);
- 25% Hispanic, African American, and mixed race; and
- 35% Asian/Indian.
Some other noteworthy facts, contrary to what the blogger claims:
- We have free and reduced lunch qualifying student populations at all of our schools (ranging up to 20%).
- We have English Language Learners (ELL) at our schools.
- We have students with a wide range of special needs at our schools.
- BASIS Charter Schools have no admissions testing. We test incoming students who are already admitted, to place them in the proper level for mathematics.
- There is no mandatory donation. Indeed, fewer than 50% of our parents donate to the school each year, and the average donation is in the range of $700.
- The $300 fee that the blogger mentions? It is a fully refundable book deposit that is waived for any family with economic hardship, and returned to all who return the textbooks in good condition.
Simply put, BASIS Charter Schools are for any student who wishes to attend and gets lucky enough to have their number picked in the enrollment lottery. We typically have 5,000 to 7,000 students on our waitlists for our charter schools in total, after the lotteries run, every year.
False Claim #2: BASIS Charter Schools have high attrition rates.
Our schools are for anyone who wants the academic program that we offer, but we are not for everyone. Like any school, we do have student attrition. Families move, students decide that they prefer a different kind of school, and students matriculate at natural break-points within our K-12 schools (5th to 6th or 8th to 9th grade).
Overall, from the 2015-16 to the 2016-17 school year, we had retention rates that average:
- 91% from K to 8th grade,
- 93% from 9th to 12th grade, and
- 65% from 8th to 9th grade.
While we are always working to improve our 8th to 9th grade retention, it is perfectly natural for 8th grade families to explore various high school options for their children at the conclusion of middle school, especially in the choice-rich environments within which BASIS Charter Schools exist.
False Claim #3: BASIS Charter Schools have expanded only to serve upper class families.
BASIS Charter Schools began as one school in central Tucson in 1998, serving a largely low- and middle-income student population. As we expanded to serve students throughout Arizona, and then into Texas and Washington, D.C., we have continued our mission to serve all students who want what we offer, regardless of race, ethnicity or economic condition. We have charter schools in Scottsdale, in Washington, D.C., in Prescott, in Flagstaff, in Goodyear, in Central Phoenix, in Mesa, and in many other communities that have wildly variant median household incomes.
Additionally, BASIS.ed is opening new BASIS Charter Schools that specifically target the lowest income areas in Arizona – and, soon, in Louisiana. In a few months, BASIS Phoenix South will open, serving a largely Latino and African-American student population from the neighborhoods around 19th Avenue and Southern. In 2018 or 2019, we will open BASIS Tucson South, and in 2019, we plan to open BASIS Baton Rouge North.
It is disappointing that the blogger failed to mention any of these facts, and thus completely missed what is actually true about our expansion philosophy.
False Claim #4: BASIS Charter Schools have high administrative expenses.
The study cited by the blogger is entirely misleading. In Arizona, the breakdown of expenses outside of the classroom falls into three categories:
- Support Services, and
- All Other Support Services and Operations.
Here’s where analysts who haven’t done their homework have been misled: BASIS Charter Schools classify a large number of expenses in the “Administration” category. However, many other schools classify the same Administrative expenses to the other two categories, “Support Services” and “All Other Support Services and Operations.”
For example, the study cited by the blogger trumpets schools that have what appear at first glance to be extremely low Administrative expenses. But those same schools do not count building operations and maintenance in the Administrative category; they capture those costs in one of the other two categories.
Without full detail of what each district and charter school codes to each of the three categories, it is impossible to make an objective, legitimate comparison. Nonetheless, by summing these categories together we can more equitably compare BASIS charter schools to other districts.
Though the blogger did not mention it, the author of the study did exactly that in subsequent years! He wrote:
The question arises whether current funding formulas make it is possible for charter schools to have adequate, attractive facilities, be effectively managed and still be able to spend the bulk of their resources where it should be spent – on classroom instruction.
The answer is: yes it can be done – 190 charter schools of all sizes and types spend more in the classroom than on administration and facilities combined. – Arizona Charter School Classroom Spending, Jim Hall, 2016.
Every single BASIS Charter School in Arizona falls into the category of the 190 “efficiently run charter schools.” It would have been helpful for the blogger to have noted this follow-up study, and we hope that she simply was not aware of the follow-up study.
But we will reiterate it here so there is no confusion: The study that the blogger cited was contradicted by the same researcher’s more-thorough follow-up study. The follow-up study counted BASIS Charter Schools among the schools that spend the least on administrative and building expense and the most on direct classroom expenses.
False Claim #5: BASIS Charter Schools are struggling financially.
This blogger ends the post with a quotation from another individual – a former school administrator – who looked at one of our audits, did not understand it, and jumped to false, and incorrect, conclusions.
The claim that BASIS Charter Schools are struggling financially is false. Over the past few years, BASIS Charter Schools have successfully refinanced a portfolio of our schools. This requires the expensing of debt issuance costs and other fees relating to the refinancing in the year the refinancing is signed. However, these issuance costs and other fees are actually being paid out over a 25-year period. BASIS Charter Schools continue to be cash flow positive. We have cleared all debt covenants and financial compliance metrics for charter renewals and new charter applications.
At BASIS.ed and BASIS Charter Schools, we are incredibly proud of our students and the work that they do every day, the curiosity that comes of deep study, the notion that knowledge is valuable, powerful, potent. We’re proud of the communities we’re a part of, and the families who support their children – our students. We’re proud of the faculty, staff, and school leaders who make it possible to deliver unparalleled educational outcomes to thousands of students.
The blog post suggested that BASIS.ed and BASIS Charter Schools are “building an empire.” An empire? What they see as “imperial,” 20,000 students and their parents see as a journey to opportunity and choices in their future lives.
As we noted above, we love rational debate and the exchange of ideas. We look forward to continued participation in the national dialogue on education, charter schools, school choice, and high-achieving curricula. However, we think that the NPE blogger’s post cheapens debate by defaming the achievements of our students and staff, by spreading falsehoods, half-truths, and distortions merely to make a political point.
We value this generation’s children, and we are thankful when they succeed at our schools, or at any schools. We work very hard every day to make our schools succeed because we believe in the quote that begins this post. We know, with certainty, that those who prepare for tomorrow with education have an advantage. For those who want our help with that preparation – we are here for you.
CEO of BASIS.ed
Also signed by:
Dr. Craig R. Barrett, PhD
Chairman of the Board, BASIS Schools, Inc.
Superintendent, BTX Schools, Inc.
Executive Director, BASIS Schools, Inc.