The highest ranked charters in the nation, based on graduation rates, test scores, AP courses passed, etc., are the BASIS schools of Arizona.

Two articles tell you what you need to know to understand their “secret sauce.”

Carol Burris reports here on their demographics and attrition rate. Their top-performing schools are overwhelmingly white and Asian, with few Hispanic, African American, or Native American students, and few students with disabilities. They lose most of their students between 7th grade and 12th grade.

Craig Harris of the Arizona Republic details the BASIS business model here. The charters are owned by a private, for-profit company created by the founders Michael and Olga Block. They collect a sizable portion of the schools’ revenues (“According to an agreement between Basis Schools and Basis.ed, the Blocks’ private firm keeps 11.75 percent of all school revenues — state, federal and local tax dollars — for management fees”). They recently bought an $8.4 Million condo in New York City to be closer to private schools they own there. Their company, the article says, received $14 million in management fees last year. The charters pay their teachers less than the average Arizona teachers’ salary, but they are less experienced. Teachers get more money because parents are asked to donate $1,500 per student per year, which is a bargain compared to private schools. Teachers get a bonus of $200 whenever a student gets a 5 on an AP exam. The average BASIS student takes a dozen AP exams and passes nearly all of them.

A reader on the blog added this comment:

Basis, the #1 school in the nation by Newsweek Magazine, 2017, graduated 44 students. 18 whites, the rest mostly Asians. No ELL, No Special Ed. Less than 8% Black/Hispanics. No free or reduced lunch. So, basically we’re saying privileged, upper socio-economic, gifted students.
In my last year of teaching, I had 45 in one room with 30 desks, not enough old texts to teach. Didn’t stay that way all year, but enough to impact teaching & learning.

Basis only teaches the gifted. Look a little deeper.

There you have it. The secret sauce. Accept everyone who applies. Get rid of the students who are unlikely to pass AP exams. Hire young teachers and pay less than underpaid public school teachers. Pay a bonus whenever students get a 5 on an AP exam. Create a culture of testtaking. Drop those who can’t do it. Solicit money from parents to pay teachers more.

Is it a model for public education? No. Public schools must keep all students, not just those most likely to pass tests.