What BASIS?: Nepotism and aggrandizement in charters?


Wikipedia describes the BASIS charter schools:

BASIS Schools, Inc. is an Arizona charter school operator. It operates eight schools in Arizona and one in the District of Columbia….BASIS recently announced plans to add three more schools for the 2013-2014 year: one in Ahwatukee, one in San Antonio, Texas, and a new K-4 program near their original location in Tucson.

The Washington Post recently reported:

The D.C. Public Charter School Board on Monday rejected a request from BASIS DC to expand, citing concerns about the high number of students who have withdrawn from the charter school since fall.

BASIS, an Arizona-based chain of charter schools known for its rigorous academic demands, won approval to open doors in the District in 2012 despite questions about whether its model would work for struggling D.C. students.

BASIS wants to grow. Wealthy individuals put up $1,000,000 to attract the BASIS charter managment organization to San Antonio.

What is notable about BASIS is that they are for-profit/non-profit. The schools are “non-profit” but the umbrella management organization is “for-profit.” What?

Here is what the blog Charter School Scandals uncovered about BASIS:

The schools are the brainchild of Michael and Olga Block, who envisioned a college-prep curriculum that would rival the best countries. The first school opened in 1998 in Tucson. A second followed in 2003 in Scottsdale.

For years, the Blocks worked for and were paid by the non-profit schools. Michael was the chief operating officer and treasurer, Olga the chief executive officer.

The Blocks later formed a separate, for-profit company and in 2009 signed a service agreement with the non-profit that provides Basis’ six schools with most everything they need to operate: school directors, teachers, accounting, technology, human resources, public relations and Michael and Olga Block…

Basis Inc. denied a request from The Arizona Republic to review a copy of its agreement with the Blocks’ company.

The state also is limited in what it can find out about management companies. The state charter board can audit only the charter school, not the private company hired to run the school’s operations…

A few of the Blocks’ relatives also received money for work performed for the schools, including a relative who performed accounting services for the schools in the Czech Republic, as recently as fiscal 2009.

The tax returns no longer include these details because the Blocks work for the privately held company, not the non-profit. Michael Block said the company is a private business and declined to discuss salaries or whether family members are performing work for the schools…

Also, take note: Charter board members doing business with their own schools. Considering this… now a meta question: Is nepotism and aggrandizement the natural evolution of the charter/choice movement?

Moving on. Thinking about student data and evidence, on what basis might BASIS be viewed as problematic? I have reblogged below the post BASIS Charter’s education model: Success by Attrition by David Safier.

At the original campus of BASIS charter school in Tucson, the class of 2012 had 97 students when they were 6th graders. By the time those students were seniors, their numbers had dwindled to 33, a drop of 66%. At BASIS Scottsdale, the second campus opened, its class of 2012 fell from 53 in the 6th grade to 19 in its senior year, a drop of 64%. Those numbers aren’t unusual. Every year at those schools, the number of students dropped between 60% and 71% from 6th to 12th grade, based on the Average Daily Attendance data the schools submitted to the Arizona Department of Education.

BASIS charter schools’ high school students do stunningly well in AP classes and on other data-based measures of student achievement. But not many people understand how the schools arrive at those high numbers. They winnow the weakest students year by year until only the most academically successful survive.

When students begin their schooling at any of Arizona’s BASIS campuses in the 6th grade (recently the schools began accepting 5th graders), they are already among the highest achieving, most motivated students in the region. Because of the BASIS reputation, most applicants are strong students — or have parents with high expectations — who apply knowing the school will be difficult academically. By charter school law, everyone who applies has to be accepted unless there are too many students, at which time they will be chosen by lottery, but BASIS does what it can to make sure the students have a reasonable chance of meeting with the school’s high academic expectations before they start school in the fall. When they are accepted, students take a placement test. If they score low, the students and their parents are counseled that the students most likely won’t be successful. If they really want to enter the school, they will be moved back a grade.

But even self-selection and a placement test aren’t enough to assure that students succeed at BASIS. The middle school years — grades 6, 7 and 8 — are the proving grounds. Students are pushed hard academically in those grades, but they know the academic demands will be much tougher when they hit 9th grade. As a result, a large percentage of students withdraw between 6th and 8th grade years, generally 50% or more. The biggest dropoff is from the 8th to the 9th grade, when students who have been barely hanging on decide — or are counseled — to withdraw before they enter high school.

BASIS began its first school outside Arizona this school year, in Washington, DC. The school began in October with 443 students; 43 withdrew in the middle of the year. BASIS kept the money it received for the students — hundreds of thousands of dollars — and the schools that had to admit them mid-year got nothing. Because of high rate of student withdrawal, the DC charter board refused BASIS’ request to raise the number of students it is allowed to enroll next year. Once parents in DC catch on to BASIS’ tough academic standards, fewer of the “wrong” kind of students may enroll in the future, which could mean fewer mid-year withdrawals. But residents should expect each class to get smaller and smaller as students drop out at the end of each year and aren’t replaced.

BASIS has big expansion plans. It wants to open a campus in Texas next year with more to follow, and it’s been selling its academic success nationwide. Communities would be wise to expect most of the students who enroll in middle school won’t make the final cut. They’ll be gone long before high school graduation rolls around.

Below are charts of attendance numbers at BASIS Tucson and BASIS Scottsdale which follow the classes through their senior years. Other BASIS campuses are too new for their attendance numbers to indicate significant trends.



In January of 2013, at the Obama Inaugural Ball in DC, I saw an old friend that works for Mayor Julian Castro. I told him that throwing in your lot with some charters is risky business as their misdeeds could come back to bite you in the a__ in a future political campaign. Amongst many other issues, the appearance of cronyism and creaming in the charter movement is clearly problematic. Our society must forcefully address these issues and hold the offending charters and the policymakers that blindly or willfully allow this behavior accountable.

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  • I appreciate they have rigorous programs. There has to be balance between amount and quality of work. It is not about getting the highest SAT score. Students should definitely be challenged but at the same time they need to have free time and be creative. Students are not computer chips that need to doubled every couple of years. Thanks.


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  • Reblogged this on Exceptional Delaware and commented:
    You will need to read this to understand my next article. Citizens of Delaware, you must read this!!!


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  • K. Marie L. Fentres

    Who cares if the Blocks are “for profit”? Why would any family work so hard for free? Many non-profit executives are paid quite handsomely.
    My children go to SMH, and it has it’s issues, which considering we are spending $40,000 a year for the 2 of them- BASIS is looking really good!


    • My problem with this situation is that Basis says they accept children with disability like my child. And they are receiving federal funds for these children however my child does not receive accomodations as assured. To add insult to injury they blame my child. They keep encouraging me to move my child but we don’t want to move mid year. They threaten retention even two grade levels eventhough following the disability plan would have been the solution as it was with previous schools. Oh by the way parents are not seen as partners in their child’s education. Basis parents are more like cheerleaders or a funding source but NOT a partner in academic planning of their own child especially if your child has a disability.


    • Marie, I am sympathetic to your child’s situation, but I don’t see what it has to do with the school’s legal structure. I have read and heard about plenty of traditional public schools that do the same thing — accept the federal money but provide little or no real accommodation to the kid — and are never held accountable. The key is that there needs to be enforcement mechanisms to keep ALL schools accountable if they take that federal money.


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  • Where are they now? I imagine the kids that dropped out are probably doing just fine. Did they transfer to Great Hearts Academy? I have a feeling they are benefiting from their Basis experience somewhere.

    I was actually surprised to see that DC’s dropout was only 10%. That’s incredibly low based on what I’ve seen my daughter experience her first year in 5th grade at Basis San Antonio. Basis is a hard school and definitely not for every child. A good friend of my daughter’s dropped out a couple of weeks ago. My daughters comments on the friends return to public school – “She’ll probably spend 5 minutes a night on homework and get straight A’s”. Probably.

    At the end of her 8th grade year my daughter will have taken 2 years of Latin, 2 years of Mandarin, Pre-Calculus, Chemistry, Biology, US History and AP World History. If she left after 8th grade to enter a public school how bad would she have it? I’ve considered pulling my daughter out after her 8th grade year to join a public school athletic program where I expect she would excel. She could focus her time and talents in high school on her passion – Basketball.

    Basis is far from ideal. They could not have built the school in cheaper than they did. The yard resembles a prison yard more than a school with astro-turf instead of real grass. The school is new and has it’s issues to work through. I get that, you get what you pay for.

    Who’s getting paid, and how much, is a red-herring. Is the school providing a superior education? Is there validity to criticism of the founders? They have found a formula that works. Why would they expose that? The last time a successful formula was given away freely was with Jonas Salk in the 50’s. What successful business doesn’t apply some measure of privacy to their success?

    This type of education can be bought in San Antonio at a price see Keystone, St Mary’s Hall, etc… Basis is an opportunity to get an excellent education at a much reduced price. The after school fees and activities have a price but very low price compared to any other care. We have to arrange for transportation and lunches which can be challenging. The alternative- I could go the easy way and put her on the bus to public school where she could learn how to take the STAAR and TAKS tests- again.

    If my daughter only completed this year at Basis I’d feel like she’s still better prepared for the future than any public school alternative.


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  • Trinity Muehlberger

    I am just so happy that my son has a place ( under 10k a year) that he can move ahead and not be held back because 10% of the class is not understanding the basics. What is so wrong with having 1 school that caters to those kids that are driven academically. Not all of my kids may make it in this environment but I’m ok with that. The school is not for everyone. But it opens a world for middle class and poor kids who work hard and are academically inclined that they wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. Oh and by the way it encourages competition for our school tax dollars putting pressure on the public schools around the area to improve.


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