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The Education Innovator #11
Volume III
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The Education Innovator
 March 21, 2005 • Number 11
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Editor's Note: The Education Innovator will take a spring break over the next week. Look for the next issue on April 4th.

What's inside...
Feature
BASIS Charter School, Tucson, Arizona
What's New
President and Mrs. Bush discuss Helping America's Youth Initiative; President Bush declares March 2005 as Women's History Month; Secretary Spellings addresses the Governor's Commission on Quality Education in Annapolis, MD, and the Council of Great City Schools, and testifies on the FY 2006 budget; OII sponsors Innovations in Education Exchange: Choosing a School for Your Child; Supplemental Educational Services Quality Center releases Evaluating SES Providers: Suggested Strategies for States; the History Channel has resources about women's history; and Upstate New York offers historic sites significant to women's history.
Innovations in the News
Howard University is developing a charter Middle School of Mathematics and Science, plus information on charter schools, home education, magnet schools, and women's history.

BASIS School Provides an Academic Base in the Liberal Arts
Somewhere near the Sonoran Desert, fifth grade students are studying philosophy. Seventh grade students are fine-tuning their skills in algebra, and students from multiple grade levels are staging their own opera. In Tucson, Arizona, 300 middle and high school students are challenged daily by the liberal arts curriculum provided by BASIS School, Inc.

BASIS is the charter school brainchild of a husband and wife team, Olga and Michael Block, both economists. The pair founded the school in order to provide students with a modern liberal arts education, which would ultimately prepare students for college. The curriculum includes a broad range of subjects, and students are encouraged to make connections across academic disciplines. The BASIS School was designed to combine the best in European and American education traditions: the academic rigor of the European system with the creativity, problem solving, and sense of community of the American system.

The school was chartered in 1998 and serves fifth through twelfth grade students in a small environment. One of the unique aspects of BASIS is that students who would traditionally attend a separate middle school are joined with students at the high school level in one building. Students in both the middle and high school sections of BASIS are immersed in various subjects, which include mathematics, science, literature, history, art, and foreign language. The BASIS curriculum is aligned with Arizona State Standards and exceeds those standards in many areas. Students are required to take specific classes at particular grade levels. For example, sixth graders study Latin to prepare for learning scientific terms and romance languages. All seventh graders are required to take algebra, which prepares them to move on to calculus in later high school courses.

The school emphasizes Advanced Placement (AP) courses, and 12 out of the 30 high school classes qualify as AP. The course load is designed so that students earn enough credits to graduate after the eleventh grade. If students choose to stay at the school during their senior year, which most do, they may take more advanced level studies and participate in a unique off-campus research project during their second semester. All BASIS teachers are required to participate in Advanced Placement training provided by the College Board.

At the end of each year, all students engage in two weeks of project-based learning. The projects enable students to connect the skills and concepts they learn throughout the school year. Mastery of these skills and concepts is demonstrated outside the confines of a pencil-and-paper test. For example, students traveled to Mexico as part of a marine biology project, where their application of history, language, and culture was combined with the study of science in nature.

Students learn early in their BASIS experience that they need to take responsibility for their education. The school's strict promotion policy allows for no exceptions. Each year, students must participate in comprehensive exams in the core subjects of English, mathematics, science, and social studies. Students must pass these tests with a score above 60 percent in order to be promoted to the next grade level. If students fail to meet the minimum score requirement, they must retake, and successfully pass, the exam before the next academic year or return to the same grade level.

Preliminary exams in January help shape the comprehensive tests at the end of the year. These exams also help teachers and administrators make decisions about how to serve the students with tutoring and other supports. At the end of the school year, all faculty and staff attend a two-day retreat where they review the students' performance on the comprehensive exams. The next year's courses are modified based on the analysis of the exam scores.

When the school staff notice that a student is struggling academically, they provide extra help until the student can meet the school's performance standards. BASIS teachers are required to stay after school two days a week, with one day devoted to coaching students and the other to conducting parent conferences. Many teachers opt to spend more than two days after school, to help students succeed in their classes. Teachers can continue helping the students in four-week summer school classes as well.

Both the students and the school administration view each teacher as a master of his or her subject area. Ten of the 19 faculty members have master's degrees and two have doctorates. To improve their instruction, teachers regularly observe each other's classrooms. The school director also drops in to observe teachers. After formal observations, the director evaluates teachers based on the level of students' engagement in the classroom, students' performance on tests, and the teachers' participation in curriculum-related activities such as science fairs, writing contests, or math competitions. Parents are also encouraged to provide feedback regarding their children's teachers.

At BASIS, parents are part of many aspects of the school culture. Before a student enrolls, at least one parent or guardian must come to the school for an interview with the school director. Parents are informed of the school's high expectations for students, challenging coursework, and its communication policy. Parents must regularly correspond with teachers via their children's Communication Journals. These journals are a way for parents to keep an open dialogue with teachers, and a way for students to record their homework, project assignments, and important announcements.

The Tucson school has been so successful that its founders opened a second school in Arizona: BASIS Scottsdale. BASIS Tucson's success shows in the students' standardized test scores. In 2003, BASIS was the only school in the state whose students' median scores were above the 90th percentile on the Stanford 9 math exam at all grade levels. Last year, 100 percent of BASIS eighth and tenth graders met or exceeded the state's reading standards on Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS), a test that measures how well Arizona students are mastering skills specific to each grade level.

The school in Tucson has been accredited by the American Academy for Liberal Education (AALE), an accrediting agency that recognizes charter schools of high distinction. This month, BASIS Tucson also was granted college preparatory accreditation by the selective North Central Association (NCA). The BASIS School is one of the charter schools featured in OII's book, Innovations in Education: Successful Charter Schools.

Resources: Note: The program at BASIS School is innovative, but does not necessarily have evidence of general effectiveness from a rigorous evaluation. The success of the program may not be replicable, depending on unique conditions in differing locations.

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What's New
From the White House

President and Mrs. George W. Bush recently traveled to the Community College of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to discuss the Helping America's Youth Initiative. The initiative highlights the importance of a caring adult in every child's life, whether that adult is a parent, grandparent, teacher, coach, or religious figure. (March 7)

President Bush has declared March 2005 as Women's History Month, saying, "... American women have helped build our great Nation through their leadership as writers, teachers, artists, politicians, doctors, and scientists..." (March 2)

From the U.S. Department of Education

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings spoke before the Governor's Commission on Quality Education in Annapolis, Maryland. The Secretary noted that the work of closing the achievement gap through No Child Left Behind is a major responsibility of state and local governments, and that the country must now focus on student achievement in high schools. She also emphasized the importance of having qualified teachers in the classroom, scientifically-based reading programs to help teenagers improve their reading, rigorous coursework such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate, and charter schools as laboratories of innovation. (March 14)

At the Council of the Great City Schools Annual Legislative/Policy Conference, Secretary Spellings cited the Council's most recent Beating the Odds report, which showed that 61 urban school districts made gains in 72 percent of all grades tested in reading and 84 percent of all grades tested in math. She also invited the Council to submit data on innovative ways of achieving the goals of No Child Left Behind. Additionally, she highlighted the importance of parental involvement and the need for strong supplemental educational services. (March 13)

Secretary Spellings testified on the FY 2006 budget for the U.S. Department of Education before the House Committee on Appropriations/ Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. She noted that the budget would expand the promise and reach of the No Child Left Behind Act, including a 73 percent increase to expand the availability of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs in high poverty schools. (March 10)

From OII

OII will sponsor the eighth Innovations in Education Exchange at the U.S. Department of Education on the topic of "Choosing a School for Your Child" on April 12 from 10:00 a.m. until noon. To RSVP, please email OII.RSVP@ed.gov with your name, title, organization address, and e-mail address by April 5, 2005. For additional information, please read the agenda for this event. (March 21)

Supplemental Educational Services

The OII-funded Supplemental Educational Services Quality (SESQ) Center has released a new issue brief, Evaluating SES Providers: Suggested Strategies for States download files PDF (263K), to help state educational agencies develop evaluation systems for supplemental educational services providers. The brief provides an overview of possible evaluation outcomes, data sources, and research designs, and offers practical and technical considerations associated with an evaluation. (March 21)

Women's History

The History Channel has resources about women's history on its website along with a full schedule of programming about women and events that have shaped America's destiny. (March 14)

Upstate New York was a hub of women's rights in the 19th century. The Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls invites teachers to bring their classes to the park's educational program on the First Women's Rights Convention which was held July 14, 1848 "to discuss the social, civil and religious condition and rights of woman." The park also offers tours of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's house. Another point of interest is the Matilda Joslyn Gage house, an historic site operated by the Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation, in Fayetteville, which also offers programs for school groups. (March 14)

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Innovations in the News

Charter Schools
Howard University is developing a charter Middle School of Mathematics and Science on its college campus in Washington, DC. The school will be designed to provide a top flight, college preparatory education for urban public school children. By fall 2007, the school hopes to have 360 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students. [More-WLNS and World Now] (March 19)

Middle and high school students in Delaware's charter schools are performing slightly better than their counterparts in traditional public schools, according to the first comprehensive evaluation of the state's charter school system. The positive findings appear to be due to factors such as the rigorous application process and oversight, clear and measurable expectations, technical assistance from the state department of education, and strong funding and bipartisan support. [More-TheNewsJournal] (March 18)

Students from charter and magnet schools in Connecticut spoke at a public hearing of the State Legislature's Education Committee. They testified in favor of the charter school and inter-district magnet school bills. The charter school bill would increase per-pupil funding, as well as provide a per-pupil facilities grant and lift enrollment limits on schools. The magnet bill would allow parents to enroll children in schools outside the communities where they live. [More-Connecticut Post] (March 17)

A state subcommittee of the New York State Board of Regents recommended five new charter schools for New York City. Two of them will be run by the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), which already operates two successful schools in The Bronx and Harlem. [More-New York Post] (March 15)

Home Education
African American students are one of the fastest growing segments of the home-educated student population. They make up about 5 percent of the nation's home-schooled children, according to the National Black Home Educators Resource Association. Recently published books address the trend, including Morning by Morning: How We Home-Schooled our African-American Sons to the Ivy League. [More-Cincinnati Enquirer] (March 15)

Magnet Schools
Columbus High School in Muscogee County (GA) has been named by the Magnet Schools of America as a Magnet School of Excellence. The award is based on "the school's commitment to high academic standards, curriculum innovation, successful desegregation/diversity efforts, and the consistent delivery of quality services." [More-Ledger-Enquirer] (March 18)

Women's History
At the beginning of this millennium, two million more American women attended college than men. By 2009-2010, the National Center for Education Statistics forecasts that women will comprise 61 percent of college students. These statistics reflect the progress women have made in education, much of it in the last 30 years. [More-The State.com] (March 15)

Maria Shriver was the first California First Lady to address the California State Legislature and to acknowledge the accomplishments of women in society as she recognized the 2005 Woman of the Year honorees and highlighted the new California Museum for History, Women, and the Arts. [More-One Bakersfield] (March 14)

Fontbonne Academy, a private Catholic girls' school in Milton, Massachusetts, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, and Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O'Toole, the first woman to hold that position, delivered the keynote address. One alumna remembered the nuns who taught at the school as "mentors, well-educated women of insight." [More-The Boston Globe] (March 13)

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Last Modified: 08/13/2009