Remote Education at BASIS Charter Schools

At BASIS Charter Schools, we believe that a classroom—a physical one, filled with motivated students and led by passionate subject expert teachers—is the remarkable place where learning happens best. That’s why we have always worked hard toward providing the very best education in the world, in person. This isn’t to suggest that we are anti-technology—we embrace the opportunity to utilize technology when it expands our ability to teach (e.g., our tablet-based SPORK math curriculum)—but we are old-fashioned in that we have not incorporated some technological advances of convenience because we see value in the alternative. For example, we do not post grades online—we teach our students to be accountable for keeping track—and our teachers do not send the day’s agenda or homework to parents—this, too, is something we think is a crucial part of students taking responsibility for their learning.

Distance Learning, the BASIS Charter Schools Way

Then, as we prepared for school closures, the world turned upside down, and we faced a number of big questions:

  • How could we embrace this wholly different way of delivering content without compromising our values?
  • What about tests and grades?
  • We typically take these things rather seriously, and it isn’t easy to earn an A at a BASIS Charter School—would distance learning change this?

After all, we have families without internet access or compatible devices (laptops, tablets, phones). We were learning to use systems like Microsoft Teams—new to all teachers and students—and we were experiencing the inevitable hiccups of changing gears midstream. Was it reasonable to hold our students accountable in the way we always had?

The answer, as it turned out, lay in not compromising our values: we have a culture of hard work, innovation, and academic rigor, and that culture carried us through the transition and sustains us now.

We worked long hours, we learned, and we trained to master new skills and adopt best practices. We started it quickly with minimal interruption to the school calendar because we suspected extending the year could become unwieldy if we remained closed. As they became available, we distributed devices and Wi-Fi hotspots until every student who needed one, had one.

Now, we provide access to curated digital packets and lessons that are accessible on a portable device. We assign homework, essays, and tests, and we provide meaningful feedback to our students. We hold office hours, available for both students and parents who have questions. And just like usual, we are working to get better every day.

Grading Remote Work and Catching Up

The key to our ability to stay true to the BASIS Charter School network is that we also adopted a no-harm grading policy for the remainder of the school year. We understand that our responsibility to our students and their families is to provide the rigorous education for which we are known, but we also recognize that it would be untenable to hold our students accountable in the exact same ways that we normally would. While we think students will learn much of the content they would have if they were in the classroom, we also believe that our families need the freedom to make choices that work best for them. We are grading work, we are giving final exams, and most of our high school students will still take AP exams. However, grades earned during school closure can only improve a student’s overall grade in the class. We want our kids engaged for learning’s sake.

Finally, we are committed to catching up. While we believe our teachers are delivering excellent online instruction, we know there will be some additional work to do next year. From our experience starting new schools, this is something we’re already pretty good at doing. Whenever we open a new BASIS Charter School—like BASIS San Antonio Northeast Primary and BASIS Austin Primary, two new campuses coming in August 2020—we take in new students who are unfamiliar with our approach, and assess their preparation and work to close academic and organizational gaps to help them succeed. It’s just that this year, we will do it across the existing network and make curricular adjustments for schools. To ensure success, we’ve carved out time during summer teacher training (also remote this year) and in-school prep to help teachers get ready. We develop the BASIS Charter School Curriculum with an army of subject mentors and experts who assist our teachers along the way, and they—paired with our internal curriculum management system—will help us keep track of just where teachers left off before we closed.

This isn’t the path any of us would have chosen, and we all anxiously look forward to a time when our wonderful students can sit in front of their amazing teachers and learn the way we think is best. Until then, we’re working to provide a true BASIS Charter School education remotely, and we are grateful to our students, parents, and staff for learning something new with us. While we would not have done this under normal circumstances, we are very proud of all the new skills we are mastering together.

About the Author

Andrew Sterbenz is BASIS.ed’s Senior Director of Curriculum Management. He works to ensure curricular consistency across the network of 29 BASIS Charter Schools. Before his current role, Andrew served as a subject mentor in English and taught 7th grade English and AP English Literature at BASIS Chandler for eight years. An Arizona native, Andrew lives in Tempe with his wife, Katie, and three kids, Henry, Evie, and Shep.

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