Carol Burris has been conducting an investigation of charter schools in many states, beginning with her series on California. In this post, she analyzes the remarkable test scores of certain high-performing charter schools in Arizona.

Public schools are supposed to learn from the “innovative” practices of charter schools. So, what can be learned from Arizona’s best charter schools?

1. Choose your students carefully.
2. Give preference to students who are white and Asian.
3. Avoid students with disabilities and students whose English is limited.
4. Minimize the number of children who live in poverty.
5. Make the demands so challenging that the weakest students leave.

The top charter schools in Arizona are the BASIS chain, founded by Michael and Olga Block. The first was founded in Tucson in 1998, followed by one in Scottsdale in 2003.

BASIS Tucson and BASIS Scottsdale became top-ranked schools on Newsweek’s “America’s Most Challenging High Schools” list, and later flew to top spots on the Best High Schools list of U.S. News & World Report.

Advocates touted the Tucson and Scottsdale schools as miracles, holding them up as examples of what high expectations, combined with the freedom afforded charter schools, can do. BASIS exploded. There are now 18 BASIS charter schools in Arizona, three in Texas and one in Washington D.C., all managed by the for-profit corporation, BASIS Educational Group, LLC. The same LLC also manages five for-profit BASIS private schools in the United States and one private international school.

Pretty impressive.

But Burris examined the demographics.

In Arizona, 3% of the state’s students are Asian, but 32% in BASIS charters.

In the state, 5% are American Indian, but 0% in BASIS.

In the state, 45% of students are Latino, compared to 10% in BASIS.

In the state, 39% of students are white, but 51% in BASIS.

In the state, 3% are black, and 5% in BASIS.

In 2015-16, only 1.23 percent of the students at BASIS had a learning disability, as compared to 11.3 percent of students in the state. BASIS schools had no English Language Learners. And in a state in which over 47 percent of all students received free or reduced- priced lunch, BASIS had none. Although BASIS may have some students from qualifying households, it chooses not to participate in the free or reduced-priced lunch program.

There are economic barriers to entry:

Because BASIS provides no transportation, where it places schools — along with the lack of a free-lunch program — discourages disadvantaged students from applying. There are also hefty “suggested” parental contributions. BASIS requests that families contribute at least $1,500 a year per child to the school to fund its teacher bonus program. Enrollees must also pay a $300 security deposit, purchase some books, and pay for activities that would be free if the student attended a public school.

The curriculum is so rigorous that less than 50% of those who enter will remain to graduate.

Only the strong survive, and that boosts the rankings of BASIS in the various magazine rating systems.

And then there is the money!

As the empire grows, the management fees grow. The Blocks opened a private LLC to shield their finances from public views.

Salary and travel transparency disappeared in 2009 when the Blocks opened a private, for-profit limited liability company, BASIS Educational Group, LLC. Now the couple’s salary and expenses are hidden from the public. According to the 990 for 2009, BASIS School Inc. spent $3,902,122 in total on school salaries, and $1,728,000 on “management.” BASIS Educational Group, LLC, the for-profit that contracted with BASIS Schools Inc., received $4,711,699 for leased employee costs and $1,766,000 for management, indicating that there were also substantial fees that went to the Block’s LLC.

The latest 990 shows just shy of $60 million going from the non-profit to the for-profit corporation to provide services to BASIS schools.

These are publicly funded private schools whose “owners” generate huge income for themselves.

But as Secretary DeVos reminds us so often, this is child-centric education, and it is not about adult interests. Right.