Advanced BASIS

In Tucson, BASIS charter school students start taking college-level courses in ninth grade. The small school, which admits all applicants, has the highest AP participation rate of any public school in the country, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington Post.

To graduate, a BASIS student must pass AP English Language & Composition, AP English Literature, AP Calculus or AP Statistics, AP European History, AP American History and two of the three available AP science courses in physics, chemistry and biology. There are also AP courses in computer science and foreign language. The three-hour AP tests at the end of each course are not required at most high schools, but at BASIS students must take the test at the end of at least five of the required AP courses. The middle school students are also accelerated, all of them finishing first year algebra by seventh grade, to prepare them for early AP.

Grades in AP classes are based on AP exam scores. Ninth graders take AP English Language & Composition; 10th graders take AP Calculus and AP European History. The founders, Olga and Michael Block, believe “that even a student who struggles in an AP course and gets a low grade on the final exam is much better off than a student who sails through a typically undemanding average high school course.” Olga Block, a Czech native, was shocked by the lack of rigor in American schools.

They chose AP as their graduation requirement, said Michael Block, who serves as chairman of the school’s board of trustees, “because it gave us this wonderful content, communicated that this is a very high level program and provided an extra check on teaching.” AP examinations are written and scored by outside experts, and can help administrators see which teachers are doing the best jobs, although few schools use them that way.

Block admires Michael Barone’s Hard America, Soft America: Competition vs. Coddling and the Battle for the Nation’s Future.

“We are part of the new hard America,” Block said. “I think our resistance to softness is one of our comparative advantages.”

At least half of students do not have college-educated parents.

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  1. Walter Wallis says:

    I think I am in love!

  2. Hunter McDaniel says:

    The key to accountability is to have an external measurement that can’t be manipulated by the educators; it almost doesn’t matter what it is. At my kids’ high school the measurement was International Baccalaureate rather than AP, but the result was similar. We’ve had Hard America (IB) and Soft America (the school’s regular program) in an uneasy coexistence for going on 10 years now.

  3. I think it important to remember what this type of Charter school offers: a rigorous curriculum for able students — and not just “gifted” ones.

    My three elementary age students are in what is considered an “excellent” school district. But I see more and more mandates (NCLB) and programs for developmentally disabled, non-English speaking students, etc. I often question where are the funds/resources targetted to my A students. Also, from what I have seen, the teachers’ standards are NO WHERE NEAR my own standards. Homework errors that go unnoticed. Sloppy penmanship (and I mean, nearly illegible). A seeming inability or lack of authority to set real discipline/behavioral standards in the classroom.

    I think it is becoming too much for public schools to provide competent students with the attention and higher-standards-expectations that would truly serve them. Thus, charter schools are de facto “tracking” students via parental self-selection. I think this is a good thing.

  4. Anything to get around the insane dumbing down by unionized government schools.
    Gifted students in most government schools may as well sniff glue.

  5. Fuzzy Rider says:

    At our school we had an outstanding AP program until out illustious stuporintendent decided it wasn’t inclusive enough- the result: a totally dumbed-down, bureaucratized program which produces few students capable of passing an AP exam. I quit the program (and gave up the stipend associated with it) in disgust. A whole school dedicated to (and maintaining) excellence sounds like such a remarkable feat!

  6. I think Fuzzy has it wrong. It’s not just for gifted students here. The fact is that everybody in the school is included whether they feel ready or not, otherwise, they leave the school. This isn’t dumbing it down, this is expecting more from people. Or at least, I think that’s how I read it.

  7. Fuzzy Rider says:


    When the super wants 70% participation and expects NO change in grades overall (if the grades go down that means, to him, you are a ‘bad teacher’) then it is dumbed down. We have students that are perfectly capable of passing the AP exams if properly instructed, yet are failing spectacularly. This is an awful price to pay to make the school system look good in the newspaper.

    What we have done, in effect, is to declare our regular classes to be ‘AP’- what used to be regular classes are now, for all practical purposes, remedial. AP should be open to ANYONE willing to give it a shot, but it is counterproductive to destroy the program so that those who can’t or (increasingly) won’t do the work can hang around their friends!

    The hostility that has developed in public schools to intellectual and academic achievement REALLY disturbs me.

  8. I submit before your overwhelming insight into the specifics of the situation you describe. I was wrong as I read your comments into the situation as described in the article, and for that I apologize. And in your case, if the AP really was dumbed down, that’s a disgusting shame.

    I took my first AP class as a sophomore and my teacher told us that the majority of us would not be able to slide by in the calss and that it would require a concerted effort. Lo and behold, he was right, but most of us put in that effort and did fairly well. Not by lowering the standards for sophomores, but by expecting the same of anyone who would sign up for a challenging class, regardless of class level.

  9. Gifted students in most government schools may as well sniff glue.

    Reminds me of high school in California in the early 1970s. Except that much better alternatives than glue were readily available (along with a few worse options).

    Anything to make class challenging.

  10. My goodness, didn’t little darlings self esteem suffer because they weren’t all getting A’s?

    Our school district just went to giving U, A, E, S grades to kids from K through middle school, no kidding. The A, B, C, D, F system was too imposing on the kids and their egos. So they now get a U for unsatisfactory, A for achieves, E for excels and S for sometimes achieves.

    Just one more reason my kids don’t go to a public school.

  11. JimInNOVA says:

    It’s too bad that Pravda…I mean the Washingotn Post…had to go all the way to Tuscon to find a school like this. We need a few of them inside the Beltway.

  12. JimInNOVA says:

    As is evidenced by my egregious typos. Bleh.