The Indiana Department of Education has generally done a pretty good job of responding to rumors and concerns about legislation it supports. But one recent communication from the department – about a provision to let up to half the teachers in charter schools be unlicensed – raises more questions than it answers.
Dale Chu, the DOE’s assistant superintendent for policy, attempted to explain it last week in a message to educators and others. Oddly, the licensing language is in Senate Bill 1, the teacher performance-pay bill, not in House Bill 1002, the charter-schools expansion bill.
“Some nationally-recognized, high-performing charter sponsors currently operating in other states are interested in sponsoring schools in Indiana,” Chu writes, “but they will not come to our state unless we offer them this flexibility (BASIS is one example, and they have achieved great results …).”
So we’re changing the rules for everyone because a charter sponsor might come to Indiana and it doesn’t like the rules?
It’s true that BASIS, which runs three charter schools in Arizona and plans to open three more, has achieved “great results.” But its story isn’t one of those inspirational tales about turning poor and minority children into high achievers, a la KIPP and Harlem Children’s Zone charters.
The original BASIS school, in Tucson, has been named one of “America’s Best High Schools” by both Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report – designations that rely on test scores and, especially, results from Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams.
Its formula is a super-rigorous curriculum and a demanding workload that drives away all but the most motivated students and parents.
“Most of its students are ambitious children of engineers, attorneys and doctors, kids willing to hammer through math, science, history and literature courses years beyond their academic peers,” Pat Kossan wrote in a 2006 Arizona Republic profile. The article said that about half the students who enroll in fifth grade, when the school starts, don’t continue into high school at BASIS.
According to Arizona Department of Education figures, the overwhelming majority of BASIS Tucson students are white or Asian-American – in a city where more than 60 percent of public-school students are Hispanic.
Attorney Clint Bolick, one of the nation’s best-known crusaders for libertarian legal causes, is on the BASIS board of directors. When Arizona tried to require charter schools to follow the state curriculum, the schools sued, with Bolick in charge. The suit was settled out of court.
BASIS schools don’t hire licensed teachers because they prefer to hire teachers with advanced degrees in the subjects they teach. That may make sense for their model. It may make sense for some other schools. But if it’s important, let the State Board of Education issue waivers.
Kowtowing to a charter-school sponsor that would serve an elite population isn’t a convincing rationale for upending current teacher-licensing requirements.