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.