“BASIS is open to everyone, but it is not for everyone.” Robert Bowley, Head of School at the Goodyear BASIS School that opened last fall, is proud of the talent and diversity of his students. The kindergarteners through eight graders who compose this inaugural class represent a spectrum of socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. However, they do have one thing in common: rigor.
BASIS is a for-profit company that teaches a highly structured and challenging curriculum in a number of settings throughout the United States. In some states they operate as private schools. In states where the charter school laws enable BASIS to operate without modifying its pedagogical approach, it operates Charter Schools. Arizona has a flexible charter school law; BASIS operates thirteen charter schools in the state. BASIS Goodyear, an exurb thirty miles west of Phoenix, is the newest.
BASIS receives 75% of the per-student funding a public school receives. The school has equal-opportunity access for incoming students. However, it does not have to provide bus transportation, operate a kitchen, hire teachers with college degrees in education, or keep students in its program who fail to meet standards.
The core of the BASIS model is LET/SET: Learning Expert Teacher / Subject Expert Teacher. Classes are large, 30 to 32 students, but team-taught. The Learning Expert Teacher, who often has traditional childhood education training, stays with his students all day. The Subject Expert Teacher has unique knowledge in math, science, language skills, or other disciplines. This combination infuses people with deep expertise at the elementary level. The idea also infuses BASIS’s administration. As Head of School, Robert Bowley, is a longtime educator while Michael Beaulieu, Operations Manager, brings business world experience to running the facility.
A typical day for fourth graders includes three 85 minute specialty sessions: math/science, humanities, and a rotating specialty which might be art, music, engineering, or Connections, a project-based curriculum. Mike, the engineering Specialty Expert, was a toolmaker by training. He described the engineering curriculum, focused on the design process: propose, research, develop scenarios, choose an option, design and construct, text, communicate results, evaluate and redesign. “All of our students are academically challenged. Engineering and connections allow our students to get their hands dirty.”
In addition, all students receive 40 minutes of Mandarin, 30 minutes of PE and 30 minutes of independent reading. “Why Mandarin?” Robert explains. “Exposure to Mandarin triggers different aspects of the brain. The characters are not just symbols, they are ideas.”
The result of this rigorous schedule is that all BASIS students are at least one year ahead of their public school peers. Grades 5 through 8 are AP prep years. Fifth graders have two science periods per day; sixth through eighth grade students follow 3/3/3: three sciences three times per week for three years: biology, chemistry, and physics. “The curriculum is vertical. All classes build upon each other.”
Over the next four years, BASIS Goodyear will add one grade level per year until they have a full high school, during which they will take two years of AP level courses.
BASIS is unapologetic about testing. Students take mid-term comp exams in January and year-long comprehensive tests in June. If a student fails even one comp exam, they cannot continue to the next grade. However, BASIS offers opportunities, including a summer learning packet, to help students retake, and pass, their comps.
BASIS operates on the idea that every part of our lives has to be modeled and can be learned. Its not just about subject matter, it’s about how children relate to one another and adults, how to manage time, how to be organized. Every student has a cubby in the hall, and there are shared cubbies for small groups of students. Mike Beaulieu, explains “We are all about helping our kids to become organized.”
The BASIS Schools throughout Arizona have an exemplary track record in placing students in competitive colleges. The state embraces this parallel path of public education. “The City of Goodyear gave us $5 million toward our new building. The mayor came to visit. She sees BASIS as a draw for industry; she wants the town to be more than a bedroom community.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“I lived in Japan for nineteen years. I have seen the influence of boundaries. We are going to live in a borderless world. Technology is going to break down artificial barriers. Google will be able to translate every language, no matter how obscure. It will be able to translate gesture and nuance. Technology is going to allow us to communicate far easier, far faster, far better than we do now.” – Robert
“We need to put in the time to prepare the next generation so they can have health and education. Those are the two big things. If you have health and education, the greater you can participate in our world, the less violence you will suffer. I believe morals are learned. The foundation for that is a good education.” – Michael