There has been just a bit of criticism raised by educators about me naming my new documentary on Arizona’s BASIS Charter Schools “THE 21st Century Solution.” Let me clarify why I view the school as such a powerful model for America.
It is NOT because the BASIS school is “THE” solution, but because it embodies two fundamental attributes necessary for “THE” dramatic improvement in U.S. education:1- it meets the President’s agenda for K-12 education improvement – an agenda, which I believe, makes sense for 21st century America, and
2- because it passes critical business tests necessary for large-scale replication.
President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan have articulated an Education Agenda that, to the general public, makes common sense.
Here is Secretary Duncan's 6-point public school agenda:
1- Make U.S. Education World-Class – set world-class academic standards and a curriculum that fosters critical thinking, problem solving, and the innovative use of knowledge to prepare students for college or career.
2 - Assessment and Accountability - require systems that provide timely and useful information about the progress of individual students and the capability of individual teachers.
3- Pay For Performance – use rewards and incentives to keep talented teachers in the schools that need them the most and demonstrate we value their skills.
4- Recruit Best and Brightest to Teaching – support efforts to fast-track private sector professionals with advanced degrees into teaching and push for expansion of Teach For America.
5- Remove Poor Performing Teachers - challenge State and school districts to quickly remove ineffective teachers from the classroom.
6- No Restrictions on Charter Schools – school boards should not limit the number of charter schools; should allow charter schools to create their own rules regarding hiring, curriculum, tenure and unionization; and per student funding should be equal to that of other public schools within the same district. High-quality charter schools give children and parents the option to find the school that best fits their needs.I titled my film “The 21st Century Solution” because, in addition to Secretary Duncan’s Education Agenda, the BASIS school’s economics make it the most compelling business model I have found for a world-class 5th-12th grade school.
If we are to prepare America’s 54 million K-12 students to compete globally with the nearly 600 million other K-12 students in the world, we must have 21st century schools that:
1- meet the needs of students,
2- can be affordably scaled, and
3- are economically sustainable with the $668 Billion we annually spend on K-12 education -- an amount that exceeds any other country.
Our economy simply cannot support massive increases in education spending –we must get creative, entrepreneurial and frugal. BASIS, more than High Tech High, New Tech High or KIPP, meets the test of business scalability and sustainability.
That is what I’m referring to as The 21st Century Solution. Here are the specifics:
2- A Curriculum Above The Global Standard – in math, science, English, history, foreign language, etc. We must educate our children to at least the level of those with whom they will compete for the high-wage jobs of the future.
3- An Inspiring Culture – can ordinary American kids, middle and low income, achieve at extraordinary academic levels? BASIS proves they can. That is reassuring and inspiring!
4- A School Year of 180 days – lengthening the school day, week, year will take lots of debate and will add to cost. Kids need to compete now. That is not to say that many children would not benefit from a longer day, week and year - it just will add to cost.
5- Sustainable Economics for a “Free Public Education” - for an annual cost of $6,500 per student, BASIS is delivering a world-standard, free public education – that cost is below the national per student average of $8,700 and well below my daughters’ private school tuition of $15,000/yr in Memphis.
6- Passionate, Expert, Inspiring Teachers - all of BASIS teachers are professionals with Master’s or PhD’s in their fields of expertise. Over 80% are NOT certified teachers.
7- College and Graduate School As Students' Goal – 100% of BASIS students go on to top colleges and most plan for graduate school.
8- Entirely replicable – no new curriculum needs to be developed; no major foundation grants are needed to fund start-up; no corporate contributions are required to sustain the school. This model can be scaled quickly across the country and is affordable to ANY community.
My film may have disappointed the pedagogues, but for helping typical Americans and their typical local and State leaders envision a way to bring American children up to world-standard, at a price we can afford, I contend BASIS is “The 21st Century Solution.”
So, I used BASIS as a conceptual metaphor, much as the film uses time lapse photography, slow-motion video, a tiny bird at the end and the song Une Annee Sans Lumiere by Arcade Fire: metaphorically.