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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

How BASIS does it

History teacher Matthew Goldman leads his students in a pre-comp exam chant in February. Photo: Kate Stringer

BASIS charters “captured four of the top five spots on U.S. News‘ annual ranking of America’s best high schools,” writes Kate Stringer on The 74. She looks at how the network does it.

The BASIS network, founded nearly 20 years ago by a Czech immigrant named Olga Block, includes 27 public charter, private, and international schools in five states, Washington, D.C., and China, writes Stringer.

Taking the lead from nations that score at the top on international exams, BASIS adopted matriculation tests that kids must pass to advance to the next grade; following Korea’s focus on educator credentials, BASIS insists that its teachers be experts in their fields and boasts a teaching corps where 70 percent of instructors have at least a master’s degree in the subject they teach; adopting Finland’s approach of boosting attentiveness through play, BASIS gives its youngest students extra recess; and following Olga’s experience in Prague of students owning their learning, BASIS gives kids a communication journal to transport between home and classroom — making students responsible for updating their parents on lessons, priorities, and grades rather than providing an online academic portal.

Expectations are very, very high.

Tara, a fifth-grader at the BASIS school in Brooklyn, is learning algebra and Latin; she’ll start physics and chemistry in sixth grade. In middle and high school, students have to pass her classes and end-of-course exams to move on to the next grade. Those who fail have one chance to show mastery over the summer.

BASIS high school students take an average of 11 to 12 AP courses — and 84 percent pass the exams, writes Stringer. Senior year is devoted to a “capstone,” which could be  “an intensive research project and an internship or similar off-campus placement studying an area of interest, from inefficient food aid systems in the Middle East to the ethical implications of campaign finance reform.”

Most students are white and Asian-American; about 25 percent are black, Latino or mixed race. Few come from low-income families.

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