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Tucson charter school ranked third-best in U.S.

by Nick Newman - Jun. 20, 2011 06:24 PM
Cronkite News Service

WASHINGTON -- A Tucson charter school was named the third-best high school in the nation this week in Newsweek magazine's annual "Best High Schools in America" ranking.

Basis Charter School climbed three spots from its 2010 ranking. It's the fifth-straight year the school - which teaches grades five through 12 - has been in the top 10.

Northland Preparatory Academy in Flagstaff finished 52nd, while four other Arizona schools made the top 500 in the magazine's rankings.

"We're very happy being in the top five. It's a nice place to be," said Michael Block, co-CEO of Basis Schools Inc. "It's always thrilling to see a school in a relatively remote part of the country measured against major schools in the U.S."

Arizona Department of Education spokesman Andrew LeFevre said the rankings show the educational diversity in the state.

"It's encouraging to see that we're getting noticed for having great schools," LeFevre said. "It shows we have great schools all over Arizona."

Newsweek has been ranking high schools for over a decade. It sent out more than 10,000 surveys seeking specific data for the last school year, then assessed 1,100 schools before making its 500-school ranking.

A different methodology was used for the first time this year, placing more weight on a number of different educational aspects. Data was then standardized to measure the relative performance of each school.

The study excludes charter and magnet schools with "such a high concentration of top students that its average SAT or ACT score significantly exceeds the highest average for any normal-enrollment school in the country," the study said. It is "designed to honor schools that have done the best job in persuading average students to take college-level courses and tests," wrote Jay Mathews, a contributing Newsweek editor, on the Q&A section of the rankings.

According to the rankings, Basis Tucson is the smallest school in the top 20.

Its student body is 47 percent minority, and 81 percent of students in 2009 scored at least a 3 on the Advanced Placement exam. It also was the only Arizona high school to have all of its students meet or exceed state standards on all subjects of the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS), the state's mandated high school exit exams.

"We have high expectations, our students work hard, and we have great teachers," Block said. "The national rankings are important for us to show where we're at, and it gives the students some satisfaction that, Yeah, the effort pays off.'"

The school was featured in the documentary, "Two Million Minutes: The 21st-Century Solution." It talks about the educational divide between U.S. schools and others, like China and India, and holds up Basis as a model for other American schools to follow.

Arizona's two schools in the top 100 tied it for ninth place among states; its six schools in the top 500 was tied for 16th among states.

Block said Basis plans to bring schools to more locations in Arizona. Besides Tucson, it has schools in Oro Valley and Scottsdale and has plans to open in Peoria, Chandler and Flagstaff.

"We want to bring this type of education to more people," Block said. "This type of education is now in demand, and we're going to satisfy it."

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