BASIS.ed, an educational group that offers a STEM-focused liberal arts education, has opened twelve charter schools, and now, BASIS is opening two independent schools in Brooklyn, New York, and San Jose, California. BASIS schools, which are promising to revolutionize the way science and math are taught in America, are the brainchild of Michael and Olga Block. Michael, a Stanford-educated economics professor at the University of Arizona, and Olga, an economist who worked at Charles University in Prague, met at a World Bank conference and later married. Dissatisfied with the public education options in Arizona, where they lived, they opened a charter school in Tuscon in 1998.
The Blocks hired teachers who had great enthusiasm for their subjects, and they used internal assessments and international models to improve their school. They sought to provide a world-class education to a wide range of students who were not screened before entering their school, and they wanted to make this type of education available in communities that did not always have access to this type of school. Within a few years, the school in Tucson garnered national attention when it was ranked third on Newsweek’s list of America’s Best High Schools in 2006 and earned the top spot on the list two years later. They opened a charter school in Scottsdale, Arizona, also with open enrollment, and went on to open a total ten charter schools in Arizona. When they opened a charter school in San Antonio, Texas, every seat was filled, and there was a waiting list. A charter school in Washington, D.C. followed.
BASIS’s approach is raise American education to international levels by concentrating on the classroom experience. They do not encourage any interruptions in the work of their teachers, who have often earned doctoral degrees in their areas of expertise. While their schools offer extracurricular activities, they do not allow students to leave school early for sports or other activities, as they believe classroom learning is so important.
While American students as a whole rank well below many other industrialized countries in math, the BASIS Scottsdale and Tucson schools have students with such high SAT scores that Washington Post columnist Jay Matthews placed these schools on his “public elites” list, along with schools such as Thomas Jefferson High School in Virginia and Stuyvesant High School in New York. BASIS has open enrollment, unlike many of the top public schools, which use screening to select top-performing students. Part of the BASIS approach is to offer customized math instruction. For example, BASIS Scottsdale offers 9 different math courses in 8th grade, as it recognizes that kids may all reach mastery of math skills but may take different amounts of time to do so. In addition, students must take 6-8 AP or Advanced Placement classes before they gradate, and as seniors, they are involved in a research project that can involve delving into different fields or even traveling overseas.
In 2014, BASIS.ed will open two independent schools—one in Brooklyn, New York, in the area of Red Hook, and the other in San Jose, California in the Silicon Valley. The BASIS Brooklyn school will start with grades from kindergarten through 10, and the tuition will be about $23,500 for all grade levels—well below that at most New York City private schools.
All students applying for first grade at the Brooklyn school will be asked to submit one teacher recommendation, and students in second grade or above will be asked to provide two teacher recommendations and a transcript, if available. Admissions decisions will be made on a rolling basis. Students applying for first grade and above will be take a BASIS Independent Schools diagnostic test to determine their math skills for correct placement in a math class at the school. BASIS does not require students to submit standardized test results. BASIS will provide a STEM-focused liberal arts education in New York City at a tuition level that will make the school more accessible to a broader range of students than the range of students at many other New York City private schools.