Education in Oakland

A Schtick Too Far

Posted by novometro on May 9, 2007

The East Bay Express has an article this week about the antics of Ben Chavis, the principal of American Indian Public Charter School. I’m glad to see that he might have taken his routine a bit too far with the wrong crowd. As the Express notes, his success has allowed him to get away with a lot. But the righteous outrage of offended Mills students and their professor (they were on a tour of the school) may force Mr. Chavis to tone down his routine, which is designed to rile “white liberals,” “multi-culturalists,” and other bogeymen of the Libertarian imagination.

In several long letters, the Mills group complained about the spectacle of Mr. Chavis’ taunting, mean, and over-the-top behavior to just about every education official they could think of. But the Express notes that neither the county board of education or OUSD’s superintendent has much authority over AIPCS. That’s good.

Still, I hope this experience will cause Mr. Chavis to retool his act. Or better yet, have the sense to not behave like a maniac when an education professor from Mills College comes calling. The spectacle of a foul-mouthed principal hurling racial insults distracts too much already from the many good things the school does. It keeps the school from becoming the model that it could be to struggling schools in the district.

The teachers, administrators, parents obliged to design the “new” Cole Middle School because too many years of poor test scores have caused the “old” Cole to close, borrowed heavily from American Indian Public Charter School. For example, at the new school, which opens with a single sixth grade class next year, teachers will remain with the same group of students for three years.

I’ve always enjoyed talking to Mr. Chavis, and I consider him a friend. When we first met, he said something like, “You are one big white guy. That must be hard in the Bay Area.” (I told him that white is beautiful wherever you are) He then gave backhanded encouragement to two students doing homework in his office by saying, “Black kids doing well in school! What’s this white man going to think?” The kids smiled nervously, like the children of an unpredictable parent, who is liable to say something embarrassing at any time.

Once we got past the race routine and into matters concerning education, and yes, race, the conversation got interesting.


51 Responses to “A Schtick Too Far”

  1. Caroline said

    Do you honestly think this guy is not engineering massive cheating on his school’s test scores? Charters get no oversight and can do anything they want. He’s not exactly Mr. Delicate Niceties.

  2. V Smoothe said

    Caroline –

    I’m interested to see exactly how you think Mr. Chavis is “cheating” on his test scores. How would he engineer that?

    Generally, people don’t make accusations like that without some sort of evidence. Do you have any? Or you just have a problem with charter schools in general?

  3. len raphael said

    Ok that the principal is a character.

    What is he doing right and what can be replicated at other schools in Oakland?

    Is there any way to figure out how much of that charter school’s success is due to “self-selection” by parents choosing to send their higher performing kids there?

  4. Caroline said

    Yes, I do have a problem with charter schools in general.

    But that aside: When a school with absolutely no supervision, control or oversight — and a principal who clearly has no controls on his own behavior — shows stupendously soaring test scores, only the hopelessly naive would NOT wonder whether those soaring test scores were legit. He could engineer it any way he wanted to — again, there is no oversight whatsoever. How could anyone be so starry-eyed as to not wonder about that?

  5. Caroline said

    Or let me put it this way: If you saw a professional sports player — and one who clearly displayed outrageous and “win at all costs” attitudes — suddenly bulk up and significantly improve his performance, would you be out of line to at least wonder if he was using steroids? Seems to me it would be embarrassingly naive to refuse even to entertain the thought.

  6. novometro said

    The baseless charge that AIPCS is cheating underscores why Ben Chavis should drop his nutty behavior. Pointing to his boorishness first lends a thin cover to the racist and classist assumption that the school must be “engineering massive cheating.” I would say it’s naive to imagine that a dozen teachers, several hundred students, and a half-crazy principal with a big mouth could successfully conceal a school-wide cheating scam for three years.

  7. Caroline said

    I dispute that it’s racist and classist. Suddenly soaring test scores, for no apparent reason — in a school led by someone who is clearly irrational and out of control, and one that gets zero oversight and answers to no one — would naturally pique the suspicion of anyone who’s been around the block. That would be true no matter what color the students were. And by the way, wouldn’t Chavis himself upbraid you (if not punch you out) for making it about the ethnicity of the students and calling me a racist?

  8. dto510 said

    Caroline, I think what NM meant is classist is not your baseless accusation, but your assumption that dramatic improvement (as a result of drastic educational reforms) is impossible in Oakland. The defeatist attitude coming from critics of charter schools or the state administration is disheartening, to say the least. I know that charter-school pedagogies are experimental, but certainly bureaucratic oversight (as opposed to oversight from parents, who are free to send their children to other schools) failed the OUSD in the past.

  9. Pink said


    It’s really sad to see that it’s the kids that lose out as adults engage in debates about political correctness and academic theory.

    Have you ever met Dr. Chavez or his students? I suggest you do. You need to see how much his students love him. I met a student from his school yesterday — a girl who was formerly a student at Calvin Simmons. She used to believe she wasn’t smart at all till she came to American Indian. Now, she tutors other kids. His kids know that he cares about them. They don’t care about race. They care about “being smart,” in their words. As adults, it really doesn’t help to see the world in black and white. But just because he puts on a show when he wants to — and only when he wants to — provoke certain people does not mean he’s out of control. I have met him three times, and have never seen the bad behaviour everyone keeps talking about. The world is in shades of gray. Why look at it in black and white? People can be very intelligent, and be prone to theatrics at the same time, as Dr. Chavez is.

  10. novometro said

    Caroline, Since you can’t seem to be persuaded from your suspicion that the school is cheating, let me correct one error in your theory. AIPCS did not “suddenly” start doing better. They hit 800 API three years ago – four years after Mr. Chavis took over. If you have evidence that hundreds of teenagers are successfully keeping a huge secret over a period of years, rather than simply working hard, please break the news here. It would be like the Da Vinci Code of California education.

    Also, I think your suggestion that Mr. Chavis answers to no one is insulting to the parents and guardians who send their children to AIPCS.

  11. Carey said

    As someone who taught at American Indian Public Charter School for three years and who now works as the site administrator at American Indian Public High School, I take great offense to the accusation that our schools’ success is based on cheating, and I do find that accusation both racist and classist. Essentially Caroline is saying that poor minorities can’t do well in school, so those who do must cheat. Furthermore, does Caroline understand how difficult it would be to cheat on the STAR tests and then cover it up? That would be the conspiracy to outdo all conspiracies.

    As Novometro pointed out, American Indian Public Charter School’s success did not happen overnight. Since Dr. Chavis assumed leadership of the school, the yearly Academic Performance Index scores went as follows: 436; 596; 732; 813; 880; 920. You’re looking at six years of hard work, six years of believing in a system, developing it, sticking by it, and proving that it works.

    The notion that charter schools are not held accountable is erroneous. If charter schools do not meet the needs of students and families, they will lose enrollment and, therefore, funding. Charter schools have to follow the No Child Left Behind Act, and if they don’t live up to their stated goals, they can have their charter revoked and be shut down.

  12. Caroline said

    No, I’m not saying that poor minorities can’t do well in school. (Also, the school seems to have drastically reduced the number of poor AA and L students in its population, when it comes to that.)

    However, I think it’s classist and racist to say that what poor minorities need is a dose of humiliation, intimidation and abuse — treatment that middle-class whites like me (I can’t speak for any of these other posters, not knowing their demographics) would NEVER tolerate for our kids. And that seems to be a good chunk of the philosophy behind this bizarre school.

    Carey, 436 to 920 in 6 years is not credible, sorry. All my skepticism red flags are up. Sorry. Not buying. And I stand by my comment that charters are not accountable. It’s practically impossible to revoke their charter and shut them down if they choose to fight — they have the mighty firepower of the Bush administration and the right-wing think tanks behind them.

  13. Pink said

    Wow! Caroline.. I have to say — it’s amazing that you’re basing so much on one article. You won’t believe parents who send their kids to this school, you won’t believe people who work at the school, you won’t believe the scores, you won’t believe how well students who graduate from this school do. I hate to say this, but you’re the same way as people like George Bush. You’re the other side of the same coin. I’m sure you don’t mean to be, but what sort of liberal would be so closed-minded? The facts are in front of you, but you’re so convinced that what you think is right that you won’t give anyone a chance.

  14. Caroline said

    I’ve been following charter schools closely since the ’90s, and I’ve been reading about this bizarre school for quite some time. I started out back when with a reasonably favorable view of charter schools, but the more I learn, the more I recognize what they’re really about.

    The best way to learn about them is from the pro-charter materials coming from the anti-public-education right, such as the Center for Education Reform,

    You can disagree with me, but you can’t say I’m “basing so much on one article.”

    I would like to hear how well students who graduate from the school do, actually — can you give some information on that? If I see long-term outcomes that match the purported high test scores, then I’ll be open to acknowledging that my suspicions are unfounded.

    For the contrarian view on charter schools (contrarian to the massive PR effort from the Bush administration, the right-wing think tanks, the misguided centrist Democrat organizations — and the endless gushing by the gullible mainstream media), go to:

  15. V Smoothe said

    Caroline –

    In your penultimate comment, you claim both that AIPCS has “drastically reduced the number of poor AA and L students in its population” and that “middle-class whites like me…would NEVER tolerate” Mr. Chavis’s methods. Which is it? And are you seriously making statements like that with a straight face while at the same time denying being racist? The mind boggles.

    I’ve posted some further thoughts on your baseless accusations over at my blog, Great Expectations.

  16. Caroline said

    Without responding to the bullies and flamers, I do want to hear the info about the long-term outcomes for alumni of this school. So Pink, please give more information about that —
    I’ll keep an eye out for it.

  17. Pink said

    Caroline, I’m not sure what you want to know since you don’t believe any numbers. I can’t believe you’re having an entire debate with people who know this school without ever having gone to any event at this school. But you must be very happy with the state of the Oakland public school system that you’re so against anyone that wants to try something different. What I do know is that many students from American Indian have gone on (and these are not rich kids) to get accepted into very good colleges like Dartmouth etc. But you probably will have a problem with that, too!

    Also, you may have done a thesis on charter schools, but you cannot paint all charter schools with the same brush (with us or against us principle/black or white, no in-betweens?). I have middle-class white friends who sent their kids to charter schools. All the kids I know turned out fine.

  18. Caroline said

    I did a little research. American Indian Public Charter School appears to have opened (or converted?) in the 99-00 school year with 12 students in its 6th-grade class (grades above that opened year by year as the school expanded).

    Those 12 students would be the only students who attended American Indian Public Charter School old enough to have graduated from high school yet (as the class of 2006). If they ALL went to Dartmouth or similar, I agree that that would constitute “many.”

    So, has someone tracked where all 12 high school graduates who would have attended AIPCS went to college? If someone is tracking, that should be pretty easy. Where did they go to high school and how did the high school education figure in?

    You can stop wasting energy on insults and bullying; it’s really pointless. Instead, let’s look at the outcomes for these kids! Where did you get the information about Dartmouth; where can we find out where those 12 kids went to high school and where they are now? And where are the kids in subsequent AIPCS grades in high school now?

  19. […] are “intentional deceitful” or “just stupid.” She also weighs in on the NovoMetro blog debate, featuring the accusation that American Indian Charter School is cheating on its […]

  20. Caroline said

    I would say that I _raise the possibility_ that this school is cheating on its tests, which falls short of an _accusation_.

    Everyone here scoffed “oh, that’s impossible, blah blah blah,” but you’ll note that today’s San Francisco Chronicle features a top story about how schools cheat on tests. Obviously it’s not impossible.

    Anyway, I make that point to correct the notion that I ACCUSED. Test scores rising that fast, under the leadership of a flamboyant character so obviously unconcerned with conventional niceties, are highly suspect to anyone with an ounce of healthy skepticism. But what I did was point out the possibility.

    But back to the outcomes for the students, which is really more telling. AIPCS fan Pink claims that “many” of its alumni have been “accepted into very good colleges like Dartmouth.” The hard numbers show that AIPCS could have only 12 alumni who are old enough to have finished high school, as its first 6th grade opened with 12 students in the 99-00 school year. Thus, those 12 students would have been in the high school graduating class of 2006.

    (Disclaimer: OK, more who started at AIPCS the following year may have skipped grades or finished high school early. What if we say that COULD have possibly happened to an additional 12 — that would still be 24 total.)

    So, the questions are:

    — Have the educational outcomes for those 12 to (possibly) 24 students been tracked, studied and reported? (And by what source?)

    — With such a small number, if they have been followed and studied, we should be able to get specific details of the educational outcome for each. What colleges are each of them attending? What high schools did they attend?

    — If they haven’t been tracked, how can we confirm that “many” went to very good colleges like Dartmouth? Where did that information come from?

  21. Student said

    As a student, I can safely say that it takes a large amount of hard work to get those test scores. It pisses me off that you’d go out of your way to say that our hard work is nothing but the result of cheating. I mean, sure, don’t get me wrong. I *wish* we cheated on those tests. It would certainly mean a lot less stress and a lot more free time for us. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case, so we have to work hard. Really hard.

    Anyway, I don’t even know who the hell you are. But I’m *pretty* sure that our school is the least of your concerns. Do you seriously have nothing better to do than to talk bad about us? Get a hobby or something. I mean, think about it. Dr. Chavis is over here, spending a huge portion of his time working with our best interests at heart (sure, he may not be the most conventional guy, but it’s clear he cares about us and what he does works). You’re just sitting around and using your apparent overabundance of free time to accuse us of cheating. At the very least, gather some evidence to support your absurd and unfounded claims. Just give it a rest, lady, you’re just being laughed at.

    Well, I’ve got more homework to do now. Oh wait, that’s right. I’m sorry, I meant that I have more homework to go cheat on. [/sarcasm]

  22. len raphael said

    lighten up Student. C’s raises some valid questions asking what the real life, non test outcomes have been, because it is extremely rare to get those kind of results and yes, there’s tremendus pressure on teachers to cheat.

    True, it’s very irritating to listen to her ranting about Bush and right wing conspiracies (gotta chuckle at Pink’s “but what sort of liberal would be so closed-minded?”; gosh Pink, since when did conservatives have a monopoly on dogma?

  23. Caroline said

    I’m still waiting for Pink’s explanation of how to learn about the outcomes for the 12 APICS alumni who are old enough to have graduated from HS and started college (plus, to give maximum possible benefit of the doubt, any younger ones who skipped a grade or graduated HS early).

    Yet another reminder that flames and bullying are honestly a waste of everyone’s time and energy, and they do absolutely nothing to bolster an argument.

  24. Caroline said

    And by the way, student, I’m not accusing you — or any individual students — of cheating.

    So do you agree with the fan of AIPCS, posting here as “V Smoothe,” who on his/her own blog endorsed strategies like
    ” … abject terror … no limit on the level of cruelty … [being] a sadistic asshole who made my life a living hell … [causing students] misery …” to raise student achievement, and implies that’s what’s working at AIPCS? Is that the school climate at AIPCS, and do you think it’s effective? What do you think of the charges of the Mills College professor and students about Dr. Chavis’ behavior to them and to students?

  25. Pink said


    I know when my time and energy are being wasted, and I see that there are other people out there now giving you, hopefully, the evidence you need. I suggest you walk down to the school, ask for where all the alumni are. You won’t believe what I say, you probably won’t believe what the school says. Go find out. You might be shocked, or surprised.

  26. Caroline said

    I didn’t dispute you, Pink. I just asked for more details after you mentioned “many” AIPCS alumni going to top colleges. If there are only 12 AIPCS alumni who are college-age, and their education was tracked after they left AIPCS, surely that information should be available.

    If it’s not, I’m just asking where you got the information. It would waste no more of your time to answer the question than to bluster, would it? I don’t see anyone else giving me the information — where do you see that?

  27. Chauncey said

    I am a fromer OUSD dropout (Castlemont) and I am not the brightests, but I am smart enough to know that this lady ” Caroline” should be spending all of her energies teaching her students, than on this damn site.

    I am also smart enough to go to board meetings and listen. In the past years, I have never heard a union member ask for more time in the classroom, only for reasons to work less.

    What has happened to most Monopolies, will happen to public schools in America-competition makes you better!

    Say what you wanna, argue what you will- in the meantime my black child from East Oakland may be rooming with yours at CTY site and thanks to what?? A CHARTER SCHOOL!!

    OUSD flatland schools are the worst, if you do not think so, then why dont you send your precious children to them?

  28. Caroline said

    I can’t afford to actually send my kids to those pricey CTY programs, or I’d be delighted if they roomed with yours. They take the tests because they want to.

    Which CTY program are yours going to? Are they worth it?

    I send my children to SFUSD public schools, since that’s where I live. I’m not a teacher.

  29. Chauncey said

    I dont pay for CTY, my kids got a scholarship. Hell Yes they are worth it.

    What most middle-upper class whites and others do not understand is that ghetto kids get talked too about college all of the time in school, but it is an abstract idea since most of us in the hood never went.

    Thanks to AIPCS, a charter school,my kids went to a CTY site and stayed 3 weeks in a dorm. They attended a Satnford, where they were among the only 2 blacks in the program. They studied science and liked the program a bunch.

    You see, Caroliners think that you could just wish, and protest your way into college. That aint the case. Hard work, structure and a disciplinarian is what ghetto kids need. My kids are doing better than ever and are motivated. What you people raised outside of the ghetto think is bullying, for us is the everyday chop up. Have you ever thought about where we live ? You need to have an edge.

    A a 3 week summer trip to CTY is better than any day in the flatland reality of East Oakland. Caroliners read, and comment but aint never lived in our shoes.

    School Choice is Life Changing!!

  30. Caroline said

    So what is it about AIPCS that is helping your kids succeed? The harsh treatment and the contact with JHUCTY? Other aspects too?

  31. Mr. G said


    You can’t explain how a school that uses methods you don’t agree with and do not fully understand, can do better than the broken system you are familiar with. Your suggestion that the school’s performance is analogous to professional baseball is flawed. It isn’t like a professional athlete growing big muscles during the off season. It is more like someone who’s been sick regaining the strength she’d lost during her illness. The Oakland public school system is so damaged, students at most schools cannot compete. Most students’ minds are atrophying. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the results at AIPCS are typical. I’m simply saying they are hardly impossible for a group of students who work hard, study a great deal, and focus on academics above all else. Do you believe that the state tests are so challenging that a group of intelligent young boys and girls who come to school every day and work hard are incapable of the results they’re attaining? If so, do you feel the same way about the students at Piedmont (for example)? If not, what do you see as the difference – if not the population? Oh yes, the director….

    Your assertion that Dr. Chavis is “engineering massive cheating” is supported only by your opinion that “he is not exactly Mr. Delicate Niceties.” That he is not. Dr. Delicate Niceties, perhaps, if we can assume that an American Indian like him could earn a doctorate without cheating. Maybe if he was more in touch with his students’ feelings and got their input on curriculum decisions; instead of making them work hard, take pride in themselves and their school, understand the meaninglessness of racial stereotypes, and care about their performance on state testing, it would be a better school in your eyes. You never explain the correlation you’ve identified between Dr. Chavis’s prickly personality and your certainty that he is cheating. Can only nice people succeed? Can only kind people motivate? Do you have to be polite to lead effectively? Let’s hope not.

    I agree with the student above. Though you may not be directly targeting the students for cheating, you are clearly saying that they are incapable of making the type of gains they have by their own hard work – that their success can only be explained by cheating. It’s a real shame that you don’t seem to understand the value and effect of hard work. What kind of message does that send to the students in our schools? And shame on you for taking away from their success.

    You have every right to your opinion, but unless you have evidence to support your assertions, you should consider the negative impact you are having on the young boys and girls in our local schools and keep your mouth shut.

  32. Caroline said

    I did not assert that the school is cheating, nor say I was certain. I said the rapid rise in test scores piques my suspicions, and it still does. I would think that if a group of lily-white blond rich kids from Piedmont made that rapid a rise too. I’m truly astounded that this doesn’t seem to occur to anyone else.

    The barrage of bluster I’ve gotten for pointing that out (I appreciate that Mr. G is the first poster who didn’t actually call me names) only makes me more suspicious.

    So, as I said, let’s look at long-term outcomes for the students — if they are as successful after finishing AIPCS as those test scores would indicate, I will be reassured.

    One poster talked about outcomes, but scoffed when I asked for specifics. Can anyone give more information?

    And Mr. G, I appreciate that you’re concerned that my posts may hurt the students’ feeling, but how consistent is that with your support for a school that appears to function by bullying, humiliating and intimidating them?

  33. len raphael said


    how effective would AIPCS have been with kids you know, if their parents/guardians weren’t making sure like you obviously do that they got to school on time, did their homework, read books, applied to supplemental programs?

    for sure, my kids went to flatland oakland public schools where no amount of parent involvment even tried to reverse years of earlier weak schooling. but does AIPCS succeed even when parents/guardians don’t do those kind of things to support their kids?

  34. Louie said

    I am one of the 12 students who attended AIPCS for its 8th and 9th grades. I have graduated class of 2006 in Uprep Charter Academy and is now attending CSU East Bay.

    You don’t know Dr. Chavis like I do, but he cares about every single one of his students. By using motivation and discipline it’s the reason we have one of the best test scores. This school was like family to me and because it was like a family, I will be cussed and be mad at, I will learn from my mistakes, and I will be motivated to succeed. Coming from Calvin Simmons, he changed my indolent ways and made me who I am right now.

    When I was an 8th grader at AIPCS, he called me lazy because I didn’t do my math homework. To me, Dr Chavis uses his tough words to motivate his students to become better. Calling me lazy made me prove to him that I can do my work and succeed. To this day, I still continue to prove him wrong.

  35. Caroline said

    American Indian Public Charter High School only opened for the 06-07 (current) school year; there doesn’t appear to have been a 9th grade before this school year. So how did you attend 9th grade there in what would have been the 02-03 school year, when it didn’t have a 9th grade?

    University Prep Charter High School was one of the ones mentioned in the Chronicle article whose API has been suspended for cheating.

  36. Caroline said

    I’m correcting myself, Louie, because I took a closer look at the enrollment figures for AIPCS. It seems to have (strangely) had a 9th grade in some years and not others, and it DID have one in 02-03 — with 76 students in it!

    What odd figures, though — AIPCS reported zero 9th-graders in 01-02, 76 9th-graders in 02-03, 21 9th-graders in 03-04, zero 9th-graders in 04-05, and 9 (nine) 9th-graders in 05-06. Now, that is some unusual fluctuation. What’s that about?

  37. Chauncey said


    Parent Involvement?!! Let me set something straight here, this is the ghetto! If you lived in the flatlnads block, you’ll know this is aint real. Parent involvement is fake.

    Do you want criminals working at the school? I know somwe of you are too soft to say the truth, but look around. I live on 70th and Mac, come to my neighborhood and see what is real.

    I served time, do you want me working with your kids?

    We are in the ghetto, let us not think that parent involvement is the key; that should happen at home.

    I think that this whole parent involvement thing is for the Caroliners and upper class people who do not have to hustle for money. They can volunteer, raise money for the school and all that stuff. Me, I am hustling for my family, and aint leaving the house after 6pm, or else crime happens and I aint there fro my kids.

  38. len raphael said


    i used the wrong words: what i meant to say wasn’t “parent involvment” at school, but at home: just making sure your kid is working on school assignments, getting to class, not spending every moment plaing video games or b ball or much worse.

    am under no illusion that parent showing up at school is any good for anyone: gets in the way or intimidates the teachers, embarasses the students, waste of time all around. and i think the statistical studies back that up, regardless whether the kids are rich or poor.

    but darn right, don’t want any felons volunteering at schools, but might make an exception for you 🙂

  39. Caroline said

    Len, can you provide links or citations to those statistical studies showing that parental involvement is not helpful?

    In my district, San Francisco Unified, I’ve been on the citywide PTA board and the board of the organization Parents for Public Schools, giving me a pretty clear-eyed look at a lot of schools districtwide. Higher parental involvement is directly correlated with the higher-achieving schools in my district.

  40. Devo said

    touche Len

  41. len raphael said

    my recollection is that the statistical work was cited and footnoted in Freakonomics (popular book of about 4 years ago by U of Chicago economist and a NYTimes write), but i gave my copy away so can’t check my memory or give you the cite.

    Their conclusion won’t be popular with any of the participants in this discussion: their point was that parental income was the only reliable predictor of kid’s educational test performance. Things like which school district, and parental volunteering at schools had little or no correlation.

    But why would that surprise you? Volunteering at schools to raise money, chaperone dances, drive kids to sports practices, lobby for more resources is still a good thing, a mitzvah, but probably not for your own kid unless a parent were similar to those teacher butt kissing parents I remember from public school in brooklyn a century ago.

    Successful inner city school administrators and teachers are a very rare breed, but they do exist. (source: my kid sister who trains teachers in NYC and has observed zillions of administrators) It’s vital that we figure out how to replicate their success.

  42. Caroline said

    The parent volunteering I’ve done, and observed, in schools includes helping kids with classwork, tutoring, providing enrichment teaching (such as art projects), and other assistance that definitely impacts the quality of the education. (Along with the examples you mention.)

    I forgot that I had heard about that discussion in “Freakanomics.” But there’s tons of (largely boring) research showing otherwise.

    (Just one random example.)

    I believe that exceptional inner-city school administrators and teachers exist, of course. The combination of that eye-popping degree of rise in achievement and a no-holds-barred, whatever-it-takes administrator continues to pique my skepticism about AIPCS, however. (Along with a long history of following “it’s a miracle!” claims for charter schools, many of which have fizzled embarrassingly.)

    As I’ve said, better information on long-term outcomes for the alumni might convince me otherwise. \

  43. Devo said

    There is a school in Oakland called Oakland Charter Academy, in the Fruitvale. They are now the 2nd highest in Oakland and have a huge Latino student population, and are a 9 and an api of 857.

    Do you think they are cheating?

    By the way I saw the website you attached. It seems like a middle class PTA infused website to me.

  44. Caroline said

    I am skeptical that those scores are credible, for the same reason I’m skeptical about AIPCS’ scores. I’ve read about that principal too, and he’s also the no-holds-barred, anything-goes, whatever-it-takes, in-your-face type.

    It’s the combination of that type of leader, the skyrocketing scores and the total lack of supervision, oversight, accountability etc. that makes me unwilling to drink that Kool-Aid without question.

    Hmm, what’s a middle-class PTA-infused website? And what about the actual content of the commentary?

  45. Devo said

    What supervision are you referring too? Who supervises the other schools? Private? Public?

    Accountability? to who? The state? Parents?

    Oversight? Who oversse the other private, and public schools?

    If these are the necessities for a succesful school, then why dont public schools in the inner city excel?

    I also read about Oakland CHarter and Mr. Lopez, who was raised in this environment, and though he may not be as controversial as aicps and Mr. Chaves, he gets results with poor Latinos. To me his school is a much better story.

    Do you think they also cheat? Do you think they cheat beacuse poor Latinos cant perform academically?

    I think it is great that poor minorities are giving us of a more privildged reality a run for our money.

  46. Caroline said

    Private schools are in their own world, so I’m not talking about them.

    Who supervises — well, Oakland is a world of its own there (or rather in common with other districts run by the state).

    My district, SFUSD, has an elected school board and a huge amount of public engagement with it, and a superintendent and staff overseeing the schools. They are certainly accountable. It’s not a perfect system, but they are absolutely overseen by and answerable to the district and the elected school board. That situation does not make them high achievers. In my view, that accountability is essential in and of itself, though.

    I do not think that poor Latinos can’t perform academically. I do think that a school with a do-anything-to-win, no-holds-barred, in-your-face leader who answers to nobody and can do anything he wants, and skyrocketing test scores, is inherently open to suspicion about whether the test scores are cooked. I don’t care what color the kids are.

  47. Mr. G said


    What you either don’t realize, or more than likely, what you are unwilling to admit, is that there is little difference between explicitly stating that a school is cheating and stating that you have reason to believe a school is cheating. You certainly are entitled to your opinion, and you have every right to state it, but that doesn’t make it any less reckless to do so. For example, you would have every right, as a member of a Catholic parish, to express an opinion that you had reason to believe the priest was a pedophile. This would be your right. But if it was based solely on the fact that you didn’t like the priest’s methods, it would be the wrong thing to do.

    Now, I’m not an idiot. I know that there is a difference between cheating on standardized tests and pedophilia, but the logic stands. Either example is character assassination, and though you are within your rights, it doesn’t mean that you are correct to be expressing yourself so haphazardly. Rumor is enough to ruin a well-earned and well-deserved reputation.

    You could say that you don’t like charter schools. You could say that you don’t like Dr. Chavis’s methods. You might even get away with asking how someone who uses those methods has been successful, as you would have expected him to fail. But going beyond that is going too far. Because along with your very clear implication that the school is cheating is the implication that the students are incapable of the level of success they have achieved. No, I realize you aren’t stating that explicitly. In truth, you are willing to state very little explicitly, but your intentions are clear and they are reckless.

    You seem well educated on and passionate about this topic. I respect that. What I do not respect, though, is an adult who doesn’t understand the power of her words casting doubt upon the hard-work of others and tarnishing the reputations of individuals and institutions without a scintilla of proof of wrongdoing. Please consider that, though you have the right to express your opinions and your suspicions, it is not always appropriate to exercise that right.

  48. Caroline said

    It is not the LEVEL of success but the meteoric rise in scores, coupled with the anything-goes attitude of the principal and his total freedom to act without supervision and oversight, that piques my suspicion. I’m sorry, I am exercising that right. Nobody with any sense would NOT at least wonder, under the circumstances, in my opinion. Sorry if it hurts anyone’s feelings.

  49. cgrannan said

    I was reading education commentator Jonathan Kozol (author of such books as “Shame of a Nation” and “Savage Inequalities” on injustices in education) and came across this quote from a n interview, which seemed relevant here.

    Interviewer: What do you say to folks who say, “Well, yeah, but look at this inner-city school over here that’s doing wonderfully”?

    KOZOL: The heroic exceptions are usually highlighted in the media, not with the serious notion that they represent replicable models, but in order to humiliate the others. And also in order to convey the utterly inaccurate idea that you don’t need more resources to change anything because this one exciting school principal prevailed.

    The school I described in my book, P.S. 30, is a pretty good inner-city school, and Aida Rosa is one of the best principals I’ve ever seen. … A charismatic principal can work temporary miracles in one place at one time. But a good society can’t be built on miracles. It’s far too random. Miss Rosa says again and again, “I cannot single handedly reverse these inequalities,” and that takes guts to say, because a principal who will pretend that she can do it without money is highly valued by the mainstream press in this country. That’s what they love to hear.

  50. Caroline said

    Interesting article on Christina Broadcasting Network about AIPCS.

    No-Nonsense Teaching in CA School
    By Paul Strand
    CBN News
    May 26, 2007 – OAKLAND, Calif. – There’s only one school in Oakland that both President George Bush and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have chosen to highlight for its excellence.

    Yet, it used to be one of the city’s worst failures. Here’s more on the school and the wildly controversial principal who took the school from “worst to first.”

    Five years ago, the American Indian Public Charter School had some of the worst grades in Oakland and declining enrollment. Now five years later, parents are clamoring to get their kids in there, and it’s the best scoring middle school in Oakland.

    So what happened?

    CA Senate Passes Homosexual Education
    Principal Benjamin Chavis is what happened – a no-nonsense American Indian with some radical ideas about education.

    “I’m not into multiculturalism, self-esteem, liberal education,” said Chavis. “I’m the opposite. I’m into structure, discipline, respect and academics. And that’s something they hadn’t had.”

    It’s like what you’d expect if the Marine Corps ran your local middle school. The kids serve as the janitorial staff – coming to school early to clean up. Every day it’s the kids who turn the gym into the lunchroom.

    And that same gym is the site of rigorous 45-minute workouts that leave no room for coddling the weak. These same students do not have computers, arts classes, or music classes.

    Chavis said, “We’re teaching them back-to-basics.”

    That’s what attracted 6th grade teacher Janet Shewmon to the school.

    “We don’t do a lot of fluff education. We don’t do self-esteem classes. We don’t do health. We don’t do recess.anything like that. It’s just really basic education,” Shewmon said.

    And yet the students seem jazzed and upbeat. And they’re excelling. The school’s recognized as one of the 200 best in the nation.

    “We’re the first blue ribbon public school in Oakland, California in the 25-year history of the Blue Ribbon award,” Chavis said. “Had the highest math scores, highest language arts scores.”

    Eighth grader Armante Washington said, “Before I came here, I got D’s and F’s. Now I’m getting A’s and B’s.”

    What’s most controversial about this principal, though, is his tough take on discipline.

    Chavis explained, “Traditionally, in tribal society, if you were lazy or a loser or didn’t do your job, you got embarrassed. There were consequences. But here in the Bay Area where it’s liberal touchy-feely, there are no consequences: ‘Oh, that’s part of their culture.’ There are only excuses here.”

    But not at Chavis’ school.

    “If you’re going to be lazy, if you’re not going to do your homework, I’m going to embarrass you in front of the other students,” Chavis said. “You’re going to get detention. You’re going to be up on cleanup duty.”

    “He tries to scare you.he does,” said Amanda Haick, a 9th grader. “He wants you to succeed. That’s his main goal.”

    Chavis said, “We’re going to call up your aunts and uncles and embarrass you. We’re not going to call your mom and dad. I’m going to call your grandparents.”

    “He’ll take you home to his house and you’ll clean his yard,” Haick said.

    Mess up or be lazy and you could well end up losing your chair.

    Chavis said, “You’ll be sitting on a floor. Because a chair is for workers.”

    Yakub Bey, a seventh grader, said, “It gets you ready for the real world. Often in life, it won’t always be fair. And so this is a great example of that.”

    But Chavis is getting flak from some outsiders.

    Elementary school teacher Mary Loeser objects to Chavis’ methods.

    She sent one of her brightest, most confident graduates on to Chavis’ middle school. But when she next saw him, he was shaken, nervous, and depressed.

    According to Loeser, the student said,”They’re really mean there.” And he said, ‘They humiliate you.'”

    Patricia Arriaga says she suffered a verbal tongue-lashing from Chavis when she asked him if her son could return to a former teacher.

    Arriaga pulled her son out of the school after Chavis, she said, “just started swearing at me, telling me I was a racist, that I didn’t like the new teacher because he was black.”

    Loeser said, “She said he brought her to tears.”

    “I thought ‘If he does this to me, what is he doing to the kids?” Arriaga said.

    Another episode that upset Arriaga and Loeser is when Chavis shaved a student’s head.

    Chavis says he did it because the boy had previously agreed to the punishment.

    “He got caught stealing,” Chavis explained. “I brought him in front of the whole school and I said, ‘He’s going home with me tonight and I’m going to cut off all his hair.’ And that’s what I did.”

    Chavis insists that, for the few students driven away, there are hundreds of others thriving.

    He said, “Kids here know that I will embarrass them and I will punish them. And what people don’t realize — that’s what kids want. They like it when you embarrass a fool.”

    “You know the teachers are really watching you,” Bey said, “so you don’t try to do anything slick.”

    And Chavis uses rewards just as much as punishments. He pays $6,500 a year more to his teachers than other Oakland schools do to theirs.

    Chavis doles out up to $100 per student if they have perfect attendance for the whole year.

    “They get paid for it. It’s almost like their job,” said Shewmon.

    Students can get instant cash rewards if they can impromptu recite the school credo.

    All this comes out of the principal’s own pocket, because he’s already made his forture from real estate holdings,so he’s able to lavish his $30,000 annual principal’s salary on the students and teachers.

    He even paid to have 10 billboards put up around Oakland to celebrate a whole class that had perfect attendance.

    But he and the teachers believe most of all that it’s their conservative back-to-basics philosophy that’s sending their students’ performance and scores soaring.

    Chavis said, “They have high self-esteem now.”

    So maybe if schools want success like this school has, the wave of the future is going to be to go back to the old-fashioned ways.

  51. […] has a bug up her butt about the American Indian Public Charter Scool. Feel free to visit and read her inane ramblings for yourself if you like. Basically, she’s insisting, despite total lack of evidence or […]

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