Commenters on D.C. parent blogs also criticized the Basis policy on requiring failing students to repeat a grade.
“I suspect a lot of the kids who are held back will just leave and go back to regular public school . . . and out of the hair of the Basis crowd that doesn’t want anything but the best kids,” one anonymous critic wrote.
Siddall and the Blocks have won over many skeptics. They had more than 60 information sessions for parents in every corner of the city. From February to June, they offered three hours of catch-up sessions a week for incoming students who needed help.
The first Basis D.C. students hail from all eight wards, and 54 percent come from public schools. The student body is diverse, but black students are somewhat underrepresented. They make up 48 percent of the student body, compared with 69 percent in the D.C. school system. So far, the school has enrolled 468 students for grades five to eight and plans to add a grade each year for the four years.
Basis D.C. classes will begin at a lower level than those in Arizona, but students are expected to catch up quickly. The top D.C. eighth-graders will take Algebra II, and all students in grades six to eight will take nine hours of physics, chemistry and biology per week.
Michael Block defended this rigorous approach with a common refrain among school choice proponents: While Basis is not a school solely for the gifted, it’s also not a school for everyone.
“Parents come to us because they want an advanced program,” he said. “We’re not going to go out and capture students with a butterfly net.”
The math- and science-heavy curriculum was enough to woo parents from other public charter and private schools, even from other states.
Lovie James, who lived in High Point, N.C., last year, was considering private school for her son, B’Thorough, 11, and his sister Elle, 13, but the $15,000 yearly tuition was prohibitive. When she heard Basis was opening in the District, the family moved to a house near Capitol Hill so the two kids could attend.
“Yes, it was a major move, but who doesn’t want the best for their child?” James said.
Even as it aspires to academic greatness, Basis still contends with the same challenges faced in many schools. In one study skills session Monday, a frustrated boy struck B’Thorough in the head, grabbing his glasses and throwing them on the floor. The boy then ran from the room. He was swiftly pursued by a coordinator hired to help special-needs students.
To maintain order, teachers instruct students on every detail of their school day, from the way they organize their folders to the way they pass in papers. Students are called to answer when they least expect it.
“At first, the kids are shocked, and that’s when the tears start,” math teacher Tom Davison said. “But we just keep killing ’em with kindness and hammering the fundamentals.”