BASIS' track record thus far combined with its strong showing on the new OECD exam "is a sign that there is something in their formula that needs to be replicated as quickly as possible because it seems to be producing great results," Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, told me Monday.
Charter schools have been slowly gaining in popularity since the first independently operated public school opened 20 years ago. Research on the success of the model is a varied as the types of charter schools themselves. Some recent studies at the regional and national level have found certain charter schools are making gains with at-risk student populations. However, there is also evidence suggesting that many charter school students don't do better than their peers at traditional public schools, and many fare worse.
BASIS has plans for expansion and will open its first Texas campus in San Antonio in August. However earlier this month the D.C. Public Charter School Board turned down a request by BASIS to add seats, citing the fact that about 10 percent of the students had withdrawn since fall.
Paul Morrissey, head of BASIS' D.C. campus, said that the student attrition wasn't unusual for the program's first year. "When a BASIS school comes into a new market, there are students who understand and know what the workload is and what it takes to be successful at BASIS, and there are students who are not prepared to do that kind of work," Morrissey said, according to a Washington Post story.
Even if a public school is open enrollment, there is some self-selection taking place among the student body. Magnet schools typically require students to meet entrance requirements and focus on intensive instruction in areas such as math, technology, or international studies that attract already high-achieving students. And a charter school can be "open enrollment" by definition but still end up weeding out students who are less likely to succeed under its model. For some kids the academic demands are overwhelming, or there aren't enough extracurricular activities to meet their interests. Some families balk at the longer academic day, additional homework and requirements for parental involvement. That selectivity is why the U.S. News rankings also include separate lists for magnets and charter schools.
So what's the lesson from the U.S. News rankings? One message is that there are certainly pockets of excellence among the nation's high schools and models well worth replicating. But the news outlet's list doesn't tell us what happens to students once they leave these elite schools: Are they more likely to enroll in post-secondary education? How many of them require remedial classes when they get to college? And what percentage of them graduate on time? Shouldn't those long-term outcomes also factor into whether a school is judged to be successful?
This post also appears at The Educated Reporter, an Atlantic partner site.