AND what was the Minotaur? The ten-year-olds scribble their answer onto tiny whiteboards and hold them up for the teacher to see. Once each has got a nod, they repeat together: “half-man, half-bull.”
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. They started the Tucson campus in 1998 and added the Scottsdale one recently.