- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2017


Which public high school would you choose?

At school No. 1, students and teachers have gained media attention for a nationally-recognized marching band and winning this year’s citywide football championship.

At No. 2, students expect up to four hours of homework per school day, and students and teachers have earned considerable media attention. (Hint: Parents have a choice by participating in a lottery.)

If you chose No. 2, pack up the family and move to Arizona or Texas — or get in line Saturday at the D.C. Armory to sign up for BASIS D.C. Public Charter School, which instructs kids in grades 5-12.

BASIS is a for-profit charter school network, the kind of organization that puts schools like Ballou High School (school No. 1) to shame.

BASIS doesn’t intentionally shame traditional public schools. The shaming is a byproduct of its mission to marry 21st century teaching and learning with passion and hard work.

Generally speaking, traditional schools aren’t permitted to encourage hard work, and in many instances are encouraged to lower expectations for their faculty and students.

Ballou is the perfect case study.

While the campus was rebuilt a couple of years ago at a cost of $124 million, the majority of its 2016-17 senior class was awarded diplomas they didn’t deserve. A grade-fixing investigation is underway.

In the meantime, the students, faculty and administrators at the BASIS tuition-free campuses in Arizona were earning accolades in the annual U.S. News & World Report rankings of public high schools.

Indeed, it was the first time a school network or district swept the top three spots, four of the top five and five of the top seven.

After coming in at No. 5 in 2013 and earning the No. 2 spot in 2014, 2015 and 2016, BASIS Scottsdale placed No. 1 in 2017. BASIS Tucson North made the top-five list for the past five years and took the No. 2 spot this year. The others were BASIS Oro Valley (No. 3), BASIS Peoria (No. 5) and BASIS Chandler (No. 7).

Said Chandler’s head of school, Stephanie Terrell: “Our students are intense — and oh, so deserving! They are passionate about learning — I know, that’s a ‘network thing,’ but it’s worth mentioning at BASIS Chandler. The expectations are high and our parents support that in every way. Students know that this rankings acknowledgment comes from a combination of their effort, plus limitless encouragement from teachers, administrators, and parents.”

You’ve got to respect the group effort, especially when the powers that be in City Hall seem to develop and fund (and redevelop and re-fund) programs and policies that don’t get students and young adults over the academic hump. It’s gotten to the point that D.C. officials have become the teachers, administrators and parents.

It’s worth noting there is a D.C. public school that tends to rank well nationally: School Without Walls Senior High, which is neither a traditional nor a charter. It’s a magnet school.

What’s ahead for conventional public schooling is anyone’s guess, as the anti-Trump, anti-school choice and pro-status quo factions gear up for the 2018 midterm elections.

But consider the bad rap charter schools got when The Associated Press released its analysis on diversity in charter schools. The headline, “U.S. charter schools put growing numbers in racial isolation,” left no room for discussion, as it essentially blamed charters for school resegregation. The Washington Times published the AP story on Dec. 4.

Most big-city public schools are segregated because of ZIP codes, family legacies and the extracurricular activities lauded by neighborhood schools instead of the comprehensive courses and testing that BASIS schools can take pride in.

Parents and students should no more abandon their neighborhood schools or charter schools because their classmates look like them anymore than they should risk a child’s schooling because it wins a sporting championship.

In the short and long run, it’s the teaching and learning that pay off big time.

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at [email protected]

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