Thursday, November 12, 2009

Finally, a school that gets the idea that America's K-12 schools should strive to be the world's best:

By the time these fifth-graders at the BASIS school in Scottsdale, Arizona, reach 8th grade they will have the option of taking Advanced Placement (AP) exams, standardised nationally to test high-school students at college level. By the 9th grade, they must do so. As a result, says Michael Block, the school’s co-founder, our students are “two years ahead of Arizona and California schools and one year ahead of the east coast.”

But that, he emphasises, is not the yardstick he and his wife Olga use. Instead, their two BASIS schools, one in Tucson and this one in suburban Phoenix, explicitly compete with the best schools in the world—South Korea’s in maths, say, or Finland’s in classics.

They had the idea after Olga Block came to Arizona from her native Czech Republic, looked for a school for her daughter and was horrified by the mediocrity and low expectations at American public schools. So they decided to “establish a world-standard school in the desert,” says Mr Block.

Is there any surprise that it took an immigrant to realize how soft American K-12 schools are?

Story from the Economist.


  1. This is almost certainly not the place to ask this, unless the Finnish girl from Misuda and the Xylitol commercial is reading this, but does Finland have a similar culture to East Asia when it comes to education? I can't imagine Finns being as fanatical as Koreans.

  2. Going along with your OT comment, Finland is the first country to establish high speed internet as a LEGAL RIGHT!

    Fantastic universal health care, big emphasis on the availability of technology... Maybe Finland isn't so different from South Korea afterall.

  3. It's nice to see that at least someone in the Phoenix area gives a hoot about education.

    Across the board, the Arizona legislature killed tenure, voted to allow school districts to reduce the salaries of teachers with any sort of continuing status, and finally, they've made it so that the district won't have to issue contracts by May 15, anymore.

    This is becoming a hostile place for teachers to try and make a difference.

  4. *high-fives Arizona* I wonder what the Mexican-to-American-borns ratio will be.

  5. Sounds great! though AP classes in 8th grade is a little extreme... I found they were generally more difficult than my college courses....

    It's just scary that I'm teaching my 4 and 5th graders to write good 5 paragraph essays in English, when I distinctly remember that my first well written 5 paragraph essay was written in 8th grade. It's not even their mother tongue. I wonder if they have to work so hard in their elementary schools....

  6. For an excellent analysis of these type of initiatives and why they often don't work, or at least why their claims of success are often spurious, I suggest you take a look at Richard Rothstein's Class and Schools ( As well intended as these schools and programs are, overcoming the staggering class differences outside of the classroom is an impossible expectation for us to make of schools alone.

  7. If you read more about this school, it appears their AP requirement is that students must TAKE at least 6 AP tests BEFORE THEY GRADUATE. That's TAKE, not pass. Graduation is not contingent upon passing them. And they don't have to take them in the 9th grade, just as long as they take 6 before they finish. So while this appears to be a very good school, it's NOT the case that their 9th graders are all super whiz kids who are acing the AP exams. Those that do, it's probably in math. At 9th grade, kids just don't have the intellectual maturity to excel at college-level humanities like AP English or history.


    1. "Lol." -a 9th grader who aced the Music Theory AP exam (*cough* Humanity *cough*)

  8. Hi there. I like the blog. When I watch TV, it seems like there are so many stories of entertainers or pro athletes who dropped out of high school or college and still got rich. It give the impression that you would be better off if you worked on your jump shot or learn to crack wise rather then apply yourself in school. The Czech lady probably didn't grow up with such notions.
    I got two questions for those of you who grew up outside the US.

    1) Do you think American popular culture undercuts the importance of education?

    2) A lot of older Americans I know feel that having kids from so many different backgrounds act as a distraction from actual learning. They see it as a huge negative. What do you guys think?

  9. NIOCE. And no I'm not at all surprised that it took an immigrant. I came to the US when I was in the 2nd grade from Indonesia and I already memorized my multiplication tables when my classmates were learning how to add 3 digit numbers. America fails at education. The AP tests are pretty extreme though...

  10. TREWQ:
    1. ALL popular culture undercuts the value of education. American pop culture isn't any more or less brainless than other countries' pop culture. And people don't drop out of school because of pop culture's false promises, either. That is a vast oversimplification, at best.
    2. The "older Americans" who think that "having kids from different backgrounds" is a "distraction from actual learning" sound like racist idiots to me.

  11. feld dog, I totally agree with your comments. Also what exactly are children learning in school or even in college. How to get a good job? They are rarely taught how to become business owners.

    Also some of life's lessons you will not find in a classroom.

  12. When I was in Korea last year, I was amazed at the amount of food everywhere! You go to a restaurant and there are at least 5 side dishes (if not more) that are constantly refilled during the meal, and the meal is always eaten as if one is going to a fire.
    When you leave the restaurant there are street vendors everywhere, and if you choose to go bar hopping you must buy food everyplace you go, which is impossible to consume.
    I'm amazed that Koreans don't have a bigger issue with obesity.

    Must be good genes.


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