Amanda Potterton of Arizona State University presented this paper at the recent annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. Now that these charter chains are going national, it is a good time to review them.

Potterton writes:

Last November, I wrote a commentary published in Teachers College Record about two “highly performing” charter school management organizations (CMOs) in Arizona, BASIS and Great Hearts Academies; I summarize the findings below. These top-ranked schools rarely serve all students. When the demographics of these schools are compared to demographics of all public school students in the state, it is clear that disadvantaged students are vastly underserved by these schools. This is a critical issue that should be considered alongside enthusiastic calls for increasing the numbers of charter schools.

I compared the demographics of these schools using the most recent data available(2010-11) in Common Core of Data (CCD) (U.S. Department of Education, 2013). The BASIS schools I examined did not serve any students who received free or reduced lunches (a common indicator of family poverty), or who were English Language Learners. In comparison, 45% of Arizona’s public school students received free or reduced lunchand 7% were English Language Learners. Few students who had Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) attended BASIS schools, compared to 12% of Arizona’s total student population. Similarly, the Great Hearts Academy schools provided little to no service to students with special needs and to those who were English Language Learners. Five English Language Learners attended Great Hearts schools, four of whom attended Teleos Preparatory Academy. With the exception of Teleos Preparatory Academy, which serves a diverse population of students, all of these top-ranked schools served between 53% and 86% white students. In comparison, 43% of Arizona’s public school students are white. On the other hand, American Indian students, Hispanic students and Black students were underrepresented at these schools compared to state averages (except for Teleos Preparatory Academy, whose majority percentage of students were Black/ non-Hispanic). Among the schools noted above, Teleos serves the greatest number of poor and minority students. According to state accountability data, student achievement at Teleos is lower than student performance at the other Great Hearts Academy schools (Arizona Department of Education, 2013). Producing high test scores with low income minority children is apparently as hard for charter schools to do as it is for regular public schools.

I also highlighted some recent reports about BASIS schools that document questionable methods for enrollment procedures, high attrition rates, and methods including “counseling out” of students who might negatively affect average school performance rankings (Safier, 2013; see also Welner, 2013). The figures above suggest that “highly-ranked” BASIS schools serve a privileged demographic; Safier’s story suggests that they likely select even further amongst that privileged group. Visually striking declines in student enrollment at Arizona’s BASIS and Great Hearts schools in 2010-2011 are evident in the figure below:

Enrollment Declines: Arizona’s BASIS and Great Hearts Schools

Other researchers have highlighted declining enrollment numbers in the years nearing graduation at BASIS schools (see, for example, Casanova, 2012). BASIS school representatives responded (BASIS_Communications, 2012) by challenging interpretations of the low numbers shown in the data, albeit without adequately addressing Casanova’s main concern about the “enrollment drop across grades.” Casanova’s analysis highlights the low numbers of enrolled students in the upper grades. The graph displayed above raises a question of basic comparability: is it even fair to include these schools in a comparison with Arizona’s public schools, since they are not drawing a representative population of Arizona’s public school students?

Finally, Ann Ryman (2012) documented business practices within BASIS and Great Hearts Academy schools that reveal potential conflicts of interest between board members and owners (see, also, these comments from Gene V Glass, 2012, here and here). These charter school organizations make large profits at the expense of the government and community members, through fees, book purchases, and building contracts. Other investigators have highlighted questionable practices that provide considerable access to policy makers who influence Arizona’s lawmakers. For example, Mercedes Schneider (2013) created a map of Great Hearts political connections, highlighting significant access between CMO executives and policy makers who influence laws, including members at the Goldwater Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The connections between executives of CMOs and policy leaders who influence lawmakers further complicate the problems of educational inequality and appear to provide charter schools with unfair competitive advantages. Children and taxpayers are the losers when public education dollars are at stake.


Potterton, A. U. (2013). A citizen’s response to the President’s charter school education proclamation: With a profile of two “Highly Performing” charter school organizations in Arizona. Teachers College Record. Retrieved from


Arizona Department of Education (2013). Teleos Preparatory Academy > Great Hearts Academies- Teleos Prep. Retrieved from

BASIS_Communications. (2012, April 13). Re: The newest problem with graduation rates. [online forum comment]. Retrieved from

Casanova, U. (2012, April 13). The newest problem with graduation rates. Retrieved from

Glass, G. V. (2012, November 18). May I have the envelope please. And the Pulitzer for education reporting goes…. Retrieved from

Glass, G. V. (2012, December 2). “Judge us by our results”. Retrieved from

Ryman, A. (2012, October 12). Insiders benefiting in charter deals. Retrieved from

Safier, D. (2013, April 17). BASIS charter’s education model: Success by attrition. Retrieved from

Schneider, M. (2013, March 25). Arizona education: A pocket-lining, “conflict of interest” mecca. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. (2013). Search for schools, colleges, and libraries. Retrieved from

Welner, K. G. (2013, April). The dirty dozen: How charter schools influence student enrollment. Teachers College Record. Retrieved from