The Expanding Voice of Choice

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For BASIS.ed, school choice is anything but political, and talking politics when we talk about our schools, or any schools, is a non-starter. Our schools are just schools, and aren’t the emblem of a political movement. Our mission is our mission, and it’s the same for every family and every student in every one of our classrooms. Thus, for BASIS.ed, school — and school choice — is about education, and children, and nothing more. And that’s important to keep in mind during the coming week, when the educational discourse may get a bit political outside of our cozy realm and across the country.

National School Choice Week kicks off today, January 26, 2015, and runs through Saturday. The week of education buzz and chatter, events and celebrations, and insight and information has grown tremendously in just four short years: the first School Choice Week in 2011 had about 150 events across the nation; this year there will be 11,000 events nationwide, starting with students from a New Jersey charter school ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange Monday morning.

It’s a great time for garnering more information about issues having to do with school choice, what it can mean for families and their children and – here’s the news flash – why the issue is not political, even though so much of what you read about it, and where you read it, comes through a political lens.

Indeed, there is an ever-expanding voice for choice, across demographic and partisan lines.

Of course, we at BASIS.ed work far from the political sphere, but as School Choice Week begins, that sphere, and the diversification of school choice proponents, is an interesting nugget to digest.

We know that charter schools and school choice are often associated with Republicans and the right, ranging all the way back to the 1950’s and a Milton Friedman essay which introduced the concept of school vouchers. But when charter schools began in earnest in the 1990s, President Bill Clinton was an early supporter, and in 2011 he received the first-ever lifetime achievement award from the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools. The ping pong rally of educational planks in local and national political contests continues to this day, as educational pandering is among the easiest and most readily available tools of the politically expedient pol. Indeed, the ideals behind choice have been supported by members of both parties right up through… well, now: when the U.S. Senate passed a recent resolution of support for School Choice Week, co-sponsors included bedfellows as mixed as Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Dianne Feinstein. Do they each believe that parents want the best for their kids, and deserve to decide how their children are educated? I would bet that they do.

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So, in thinking about what “choice” means, there’s room for parents everywhere, and liberals, conservatives, and libertarians alike. Indeed, in our experience at BASIS.ed, we find supporters, parents, employees and advocates from left, right and center; I’m quite sure we employ and educate Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Libertarians and Independents. Our Heads of School and the folks roaming our BASIS.ed hallways are as far from politics as snowstorms are from surfboards; they are pro-education.

Thus while school choice is viewed via politics, there are advocates for its purposes in both aisles. While BASIS.ed manages charter and independent schools that fall in the “choice” column rather than merely managing excellent schools, it does so away from the unfortunate politicization of education, and – ahem – we see ourselves as people who merely manage excellent schools, and aren’t making a political statement for or against anything (other than on giving students the best possible schooling according to our internationally benchmarked STEM-focused liberal arts curriculum). We are away from the fray. We are an apolitical entity, with “great education” our sole purpose.

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Further, whether we know it or not, the vast majority of Americans are proponents of school choice.

Beyond the polling numbers (which I’ll get to momentarily), but as an idea, we all want the best school and the utmost educational opportunity for our children. Any family which has chosen a home by investigating the school district in which it resides is supporting the idea of school choice, and benefiting from the ideals behind it. Just because the politics of choice have been debased by dogma and simplified by naiveté, doesn’t mean that choice’s public policy purpose is that far off from what parents want, students deserve, and schools – of any kind – are ultimately working toward.

As for those poll numbers – yes, more and more Americans believe in school choice as well. The American Federation for Children released a new poll last week, in which 69% of Americans support the concept of school choice, and 76% support public charter schools. Again — these are across-the-spectrum numbers from a nonpartisan polling firm (Beck Research), and the American Federation for Children’s executive counsel is Kevin Chavous, a Democrat and former Washington, D.C. city council member.

We are in new territory here – with majority support, 6,500 charter schools and 2.5 million American kids attending those schools.

Being in this new, friendly and getting friendlier place doesn’t change what we do or how we do it – and our work is about each of our students, no matter how many, and no matter the politics of the day surrounding the educational sphere. Indeed, we have felt vast support since the first BASIS school opened in 1998. But as School Choice Week kicks off, we thought it worth mentioning – and it’s nice to acknowledge support from across the political and ideological spectrum. We know school choice has been anything but simple for many people, and presented in ways that mark differences, rather than similarities. But for our many diverse supporters and colleagues – who don’t agree on everything, but don’t have to – it’s meaningful to note this week that the chorus in favor of choosing a great education like ours is growing louder and stronger still.

Should you have any comments or questions, please feel free to contact us at BASISedBlog@basised.com.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

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We at BASIS.ed hope our students and teachers are enjoying a well-deserved day off from classes, and are at least thinking a bit about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and why he is so very deserving of honor and recollection.

When we think about Dr. King, we go straight to what we at BASIS.ed do. Indeed, there are a number of excellent quotes worth discussing, by vital historical and contemporary figures, about education, schools, teachers, and learning.

But this one by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., might express most concisely and, to be sure, perfectly, why we at BASIS.ed take our work to heart, and find passion, joy and purpose in what we do. Here’s Dr. King’s quote:

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and
to think critically. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal
of true education.”

It’s true. Sure, we can get into the tall grass about what to teach and when, about global economics and STEM subjects, about the calling to teach and the joy and accomplishment of learning. We can get into the weeds on Common Core and testing and data, on the details that educators face and parents weigh, unendingly.

But strip all of that down, momentarily. Take any teacher teaching any student any subject in any classroom, in any school, of any type, anywhere. What is the primary goal? Why do that? Why be there? Why all of the effort and energy, the consternation at the possibility of failure, the pleasure, or relief, in securing some mode of success?

The purpose is exactly what Dr. King said it is. At heart, it is empowering children with intelligence plus character. Nothing else will make them whole; anything less, or even different, is not a substitute.

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That’s why anyone who does what we at BASIS.ed do, does it. That’s why your favorite teacher, at base, did it. It’s why tens of thousands of wonderful, hard-working teachers and teacher’s assistants, deans and principals, aides and teachers-to-be across the nation and around the world today – at any number of schools, teaching myriad subjects in finely-tuned and different-by-degrees pedagogical style – do it. It’s why so much passion comes to the fore, and quickly, when we talk about education, practically, or politically, or personally.

Intelligence plus character is every teacher’s goal, because it is
every parent’s. It is every school’s goal, because it is the world’s.
It is every school district’s goal, every state’s, every nation’s. It is the common thought across the very idea of education — everywhere.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – once again – said it best. And it honors us, and hopefully him, to think of our purpose as educators in this storied and shining light.

Enjoy the day, and please take a few moments during this American holiday to think about a most exalted man, why we honor him, and why it is deserved.

Should you have any comments or questions, please feel free to contact us at BASISedBlog@basised.com.

The Book, The Ball, and The Skydiver

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Kelsey Cooper neatly wrote the formula on the white board, marker squeaking, classroom otherwise quiet.

“F = ma”

Her 7th grade physics students at BASIS Phoenix watched her, knowingly. Ms. Cooper moved easily across the front of the room, occasionally gliding down a row, and circling back up front, aware of the eyes on her. She spoke quietly, casually. She could have been chatting with a friend while holding a latte.

The lecture was on Sir Isaac Newton’s Second Law of Motion:
force = mass x acceleration.

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Students listened, and scribbled. Ms. Cooper watched, and spoke, and watched some more.

She suggested taking a look at the law through three examples. “This book” – she said, holding one up, before letting it fall – “on a table.”

She grabbed a rubber ball, rolled it lightly in her hands. “The bouncing ball,” and grinned as if to say, this is a vital prop in physics!

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She pointed at a figure on a screen. “And the skydiver.”

On Ms. Cooper went, completing the lesson, amid a mix of understanding nods and scribbled notes; good questions and conversation.

I sat in the back of the class, contemplating Newton, and physics, and what’s changed since I last sat in a physics classroom (during the late Reagan Administration). Ms. Cooper never wavered — speaking breezily, her eyes fixed and assessing what the class had done in this lesson, and where it would go in the next — and why f=ma matters. It was an unassuming yet impressive site.

I sat tapping my pen on my pad – no, I couldn’t surmise any more on the Second Law, or the first or third, or for that matter even the name of Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematicaa.

Instead I was drawn back to her examples, and how nicely they parallel several points about BASIS.ed schools. I jotted down:

The book on the table –
is American education through the 19th, 20th and 21st century. From the ubiquitous little red schoolhouse, to the myriad kinds of institution we call “school” today, that book represents an expectation, a way of doing things that has not changed all that much in most communities.

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And whether when you think of “a school” you’re thinking of a grand, esteemed place or something that’s more troubled school than the children within deserve, you can draw a direct line from where American education began, and where it is today. You can see the lineage. We do have great schools and education has improved, and has become more inclusive, and how and what we teach our kids has indeed progressed in many places. But progress isn’t across the board – and as you move from “then” to “now” you can also see where we, societally, have failed. You can see where that textbook on the table has landed, for now, and where too many communities are stuck.

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The bouncing ball –
is how education is publicly discussed today, the schools and teachers and curricula of our public discourse. It’s education in the media – the stories of success, tempered with the pieces detailing American kids falling behind. It’s education as a political issue, from Common Core to teachers unions to local standards and school boards, from prayer in school to science and evolution bucked for religious reasons, taken out of a place they very much belong. The ball bounces, the issues bounce, the victors and losers bounce and change – as if education has a scoresheet, besides the children we’re supposed to educate. We grow dizzy watching the bounces.

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The skydiver –
is BASIS.ed, taking a leap, something different, but something brave, and worthy. BASIS.ed – via its 17 schools – is doing something perceived as off-the-beaten-path, even dangerous. But we are able to dive, and safely land, confident in a simple plan, simple goals, and relying only on ourselves to carry it out. A skydiver’s plan must be simple. BASIS.ed’s plan, indeed, is.

Forgive me for veering off of F = ma. It was Newton, anyway, who said that “we build too many walls, and not enough bridges” — and I’m pleased that Ms. Cooper’s Newtonian lesson served as a convenient bridge for some thoughts on BASIS.ed schools!

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Should you have any comments or questions, please feel free to contact us at BASISedBlog@basised.com.