I used to live in the Oakland ghetto, I was the only white woman stupid enough to do so, for the surrounding five blocks. At first my neighbours left me alone, cause they thought I was an undercover cop. After my neighbours got used to me, they asked me 'What's a white bitch doing living in the ghetto?" I said, "Saving up money to get the fuck out of here; whats a black nigger doing living in the ghetto?". Everyone was silent... While most of my neigbhours spent the little they earned on alcohol and drugs; I saved mine, and left the ghetto. They are still there. Luckily for the few who want their kids to get out of the Oakland ghetto, there is the tough love, straight talk express no excuses, no victim stories, just hard work and discipline, of Dr. Ben Chavis; whose book Crazy Like a Fox, begins like this:Before I became principal, people called American Indian Public Charter School the zoo. … The students smoked cigarettes, fought, drank, and broke beer and liquor bottles on Magee Avenue, the road lining the school. There were old, dingy mattresses nearby where they had sex. A staff member allegedly sold drugs to the students, some of whom snuck into a tool shed on campus to smoke pot. Students threw water balloons off the roof and computers out the class windows.Crazy Like the Fox is described as:The inspiring true story of one man's determination to make a difference- and the school he changed forever.
"If you act like a winner, you'll be treated like a winner. If you act like a fool, you'll be treated like a fool."
This is the golden rule set forth by Dr. Ben Chavis, the highly unorthodox principal of Oakland, California's American Indian Public Charter School, which was hailed as an "education miracle" by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger after it was transformed from a failing "nuisance" into one of the best public middle schools in the nation.
This is the story of how one man, in daring to be different, effected such stunning change. With his rigorous, no-nonsense approach, Dr. Ben Chavis debunks the myth that poor, minority, inner-city schools have little chance at academic excellence. Focusing on back-to-basics ideals, he has created a structured educational model that, combined with the enthusiasm of his students and teachers, delivers astounding results.
Now, Dr. Chavis recounts how he did it-in his own words and through the stories of the extraordinary young people he's helped.
If you were living in the Sowetho ghetto, would you prefer to find a school run by a Crazy Like a Fox Chavis, based on strict discipline and hard work values; or one run by Sowetho's Black Consciousness group Blackwash, whose Facebook maxim is: It’s a new day vuka darkie… Coz 1994 changed fokol!:Dear young black person..... Black youth living in South Africa today is in deep trouble. Even though we were promised a better life after 1994 by our black government, many of us still live in squatter camps and small RDP houses because white people still own more than 80% of South African land which has been stolen over the last 300 years. As young black people we have to ask ourselves what is stopping our government from improving our lives and is there a future for us if black people do not have land. Will black people not be trapped in squatter camps and townships forever if our government refuses to take our land back from whites?
Many of us do not pass matric because black schools do not have good resources like Model C and private schools, just like in the days of Bantu Education during apartheid. What have we done to deserve this? Some of us end up in prison because we are forced to steal and do other crimes to survive. Because young black people do not pass at school or do not have money for tertiary education, many of them end up doing crime and being locked up in prison. The poverty of black people means that many of us end up behind bars because we are forced to do what we can to survive and keep our families alive. Why is it that those who stole our land and continue to benefit from that are not seen as criminals? Why is the black person who steals a cellphone, a few thousands, a laptop or a pair of jeans punished more than those who live on stolen land?
Some of us end up doing drugs and drinking a lot of alcohol because we need to forget this hard life. A lot of the time we fight and sometimes even kill each other over small things because there is nothing else to live for. The reason our lives are like this is that white people have been oppressing us and controlling every part of our lives for a very long time. This is why our schools are of bad quality. This is why WE are poor and they aren’t. This is why we live in shacks or in RDP houses in townships. It is a pity that even our black government does not have intentions to change the bad conditions we live in. But we have not chosen to be poor or black! [» » Blackwash: Poor People's Alliance Protest]
Black learners 'will fail'
In an open letter to black Grade 12s, black consciousness group Blackwash explains why they are set up for failure.
Blackwash, Mail & Guardian
Jan 07 2010 05:55
8 December 2009
Look, there is a very big chance you will fail the 2009 Grade 12 examinations. Each year, thousands of black learners who write these exams do not make it and an even bigger number never even get to Grade 11 or 10. A large percentage of those who do pass, do not have good enough results to go to university or simply cannot afford the fees. So there is clearly a problem, yet each year prayer meetings are held and ‘good luck’ messages are sent in the hope that all matric students will pass, but none of these confront the simple reality that black learners in this country are likely to fail. This is a hard truth we can no longer ignore, in the same way that we cannot ignore the fact that the majority of white learners are guaranteed to pass.
But why is this the case? Why is it that white learners can be sure of passing Grade 12 while most blacks who are in township schools are more likely to fail? Is it because white learners are naturally smarter and harder working than black learners? Are the blacks in Model C schools perhaps cleverer than blacks in township schools since they also pass well and have better chances of going to university to further their studies. Or maybe this has nothing to do with individual blacks and individual whites at all, but with how the South African system favours whites to blacks in all situations. But what exactly do we mean by this?
We all know that during apartheid blacks had to study under Bantu Education which was an inferior form of education compared to what whites got. Black people were oppressed in all forms of life and Bantu Education was just one of the many ways of ensuring that they would remain oppressed and work for whites. Under apartheid, black schools had bad text books or none at all, no stationary or libraries. The schools were also overcrowded because the white government simply refused to build more schools for blacks while white classes were small enough for each learner to get the necessary attention they needed. Black schools also didn’t have enough sports facilities or extra mural activities while white schools provided activities such as chess, music lessons, swimming, debating, drama, art classes etc etc. All of these things cost money to provide and the white government put more money into white schools than into black schools as a way of oppressing blacks. And this money they used to build better schools in white areas was mostly from gold, diamond and platinum mines which black people worked on while earning peanuts. In other words, black people worked as slaves on farms and mines so that white kids could get a good education. And the white government was right to look after white learners because it was in power at the time; in fact it would have been foolish not to do so. We must ask ourselves though why these conditions persist even after a black government has been put in power.
In the last fifteen years of democracy, nothing much has changed. Township schools are still getting a type of Bantu Education that results in very low pass rates amongst black learners. (Even if this education is given all sorts of names like OBE, it remains Bantu Education for blacks). Most of the teachers in township schools were also educated under apartheid and do not have the necessary skills that white teachers have. And so the reality is that even though we now live at a time when blacks and whites are supposed to get equal opportunities, blacks who are in township schools have little opportunities or skills. For example, a Grade 7 learner in a white school is more likely to have better mathematics and literacy skills than a black learner in matric. So black learners fail Grade 12 because they have been systematically underprepared from Grade 1. Even those who manage to pass and go to university often fail their first year because they don’t have good reading and writing skills. This means that out of all the Grade 12 learners who wrote the 2009 exams, a very small number of black learners have a chance to get good jobs in three to four years time. Many of them will join the unemployed blacks who are trapped in townships and struggling to make ends meet.
But each year the Department of Education promises that things will get better and that they need more time. While young people wait for things to get better the country builds expensive stadiums that we don’t need and the children of our government ministers go to fancy schools where they are guaranteed to pass. In countries where the government is serious about making sure that blacks are not oppressed, education is always made a priority. In Haiti, for example, the pro-black government of President Aristide, reduced illiteracy levels by a large percentage in less than four years. In Burkina Faso too, Thomas Sankara was president for only four years before he was killed but he had managed to put in very good education programmes for the black poor and was very unpopular with the white world for doing this. Both of these countries are much smaller and poorer than South Africa but their leaders were revolutionaries who wanted to see the end of white power.
After this year’s results are announced many individual black learners in rural and township schools who did exceptionally well will be praised for their hard work and dedication. We will be told by the newspapers that all black learners in townships who work hard can also do well. But this is a lie. The majority of white learners pass well whether they work hard or not and black learners also fail either way. If you fail you may blame yourself, see it as a personal failure and be depressed as a result even though you have been set-up to fail by forces beyond your control. Some parents might also think they are personally responsible for their kids’ bad results even though the responsibility lies with our government which continues to make life a breeze for whites and a living hell for blacks.
As the revolutionary leader Che Guevara said, "An uneducated people is easy to deceive". We must not allow ourselves to be deceived into believing that this is the best that we deserve and demand a better education. The youth who fought the Apartheid government in 1976 didn’t die for things to be like this. It's time to take action. Vuka Darkie!
First published in City Press
Blackwash is a Black Consciousness youth social movement based in Soweto.
» » » » [Mail & Guardian]
Spitting in the eye of mainstream education
Three no-frills charter schools in Oakland mock liberal orthodoxy, teach strictly to the test -- and produce some of the state's top scores.
By Mitchell Landsberg | Los Angeles Times
May 31, 2009
Students sit in detention at American Indian Public Charter school in Oakland for offenses ranging from getting up during class or skipping a problem on a homework assignment. Students who misbehave in the slightest must stay an hour after school; if they misbehave again in the same week, they get more detention and four hours of Saturday detention.
Oakland, CA -- Not many schools in California recruit teachers with language like this: "We are looking for hard working people who believe in free market capitalism. . . . Multi-cultural specialists, ultra liberal zealots, and college-tainted oppression liberators need not apply."
That, it turns out, is just the beginning of the ways in which American Indian Public Charter and its two sibling schools spit in the eye of mainstream education. These small, no-frills, independent public schools in the hard-scrabble flats of Oakland sometimes seem like creations of television's "Colbert Report." They mock liberal orthodoxy with such zeal that it can seem like a parody.
School administrators take pride in their record of frequently firing teachers they consider to be underperforming. Unions are embraced with the same warmth accorded "self-esteem experts, panhandlers, drug dealers and those snapping turtles who refuse to put forth their best effort," to quote the school's website.
Common Sense and Useful Learning at AIPCS
[AIPCS :: AIPCS II :: AIPC S III]
Students, almost all poor, wear uniforms and are subject to disciplinary procedures redolent of military school. One local school district official was horrified to learn that a girl was forced to clean the boys' restroom as punishment.
Conservatives, including columnist George Will, adore the American Indian schools, which they see as models of a "new paternalism" that could close the gap between the haves and have-nots in American education. Not surprisingly, many Bay Area liberals have a hard time embracing an educational philosophy that proudly proclaims that it "does not preach or subscribe to the demagoguery of tolerance."
It would be easy to dismiss American Indian as one of the nuttier offshoots of the fast-growing charter school movement, which allows schools to receive public funding but operate outside of day-to-day district oversight. But the schools command attention for one very simple reason: By standard measures, they are among the very best in California.
The Academic Performance Index, the central measuring tool for California schools, rates schools on a scale from zero to 1,000, based on standardized test scores. The state target is an API of 800. The statewide average for middle and high schools is below 750. For schools with mostly low-income students, it is around 650.
The oldest of the American Indian schools, the middle school known simply as American Indian Public Charter School, has an API of 967. Its two siblings -- American Indian Public Charter School II (also a middle school) and American Indian Public High School -- are not far behind.
Among the thousands of public schools in California, only four middle schools and three high schools score higher. None of them serve mostly underprivileged children.
At American Indian, the largest ethnic group is Asian, followed by Latinos and African Americans. Some of the schools' critics contend that high-scoring Asian Americans are driving the high test scores, but blacks and Latinos do roughly as well -- in fact, better on some tests.
That makes American Indian a rarity in American education, defying the axiom that poor black and Latino children will lag behind others in school.
On Tuesday, American Indian's high school will graduate its first senior class. All 18 students plan to attend college in the fall, 10 at various UC campuses, one at MIT and one at Cornell.
"They really should be the model for public education in the state of California," said Debra England, of the Koret Foundation, a Bay Area group that has given more than $100,000 in grants to American Indian. "What I will never understand is why the world is not beating a path to their door to benchmark them, learn from them and replicate what they are doing."
So what are they doing?
The short answer is that American Indian attracts academically motivated students, relentlessly (and unapologetically) teaches to the test, wrings more seat time out of every school day, hires smart young teachers, demands near-perfect attendance, piles on the homework, refuses to promote struggling students to the next grade, and keeps discipline so tight that there are no distractions or disruptions. Summer school is required.
Back to basics, squared.
Ben Chavis, who has been principal of American Indian Public Charter School since 2001, talks with students Kevin Lee and Dominique Collins. Chronicle photo by Carlos Avila Gonzalez
"What we're doing is so easy," said Ben Chavis, the man who created the school's success and personifies its ethos, especially in its more outrageous manifestations. (One example: He tends to call all non-white students, including African Americans, "darkies.") Although he retired in 2007, Chavis remains a presence at the school.
A Lumbee Indian who grew up poor in North Carolina and later struck it rich in real estate, Chavis took over American Indian in 2000, four years after it was founded with a Native American theme.
He began by firing most of the school's staff and shucking the Native American cultural content ("basket weaving," he scoffed). "You think the Jews and the Chinese are dumb enough to ask the public school to teach them their culture?" he asks -- a typical Chavis question, delivered with eyes wide and voice pitched high in comic outrage. There is no basket weaving at American Indian now -- and little else that won't directly affect standardized test scores. "I don't see it as teaching to the test," said Carey Blakely, a former teacher at the school who is writing a book about it. "I see it as, there are certain skills and knowledge that you're supposed to impart to your students, and the test measures whether your students have acquired those skills and that knowledge."
In Lindsay Zika's 8th-grade classroom, the day begins precisely at 8:30, when, without prompting, her students recite the American Indian credo:
"The Family," they chant. "We are a family at AIPHS."They recite this in a slightly robotic monotone. With barely a pause, they shift to the school's mission statement, which is twice as long and includes the promise that American Indian will develop students to be "productive members in a free market capitalist society."
"The Goal: We are always working for academic and social excellence.
"The Faith: We will prosper by focusing and working toward our goals.
"The Journey: We will go forward, continue working, and remember we will always be part of the AIPHS family."
To the test
Another day begins.
Zika starts with some comments about a recent history project, "Civil War for Dummies," in which the students wrote primers on the Civil War.
"These are very well done," she tells the class. "They're fabulous to read . . . and they show that you guys understand the Civil War incredibly well."
She moves to spelling. The students, seated in old-fashioned lift-top desks in tight rows, pull out worksheets. Zika selects a shy girl, Alexandria Lai, to lead a drill in which she says a word, and others spell it.
Zika is dressed in business attire: black glasses, black skirt, black wool overcoat, her blond hair in a ponytail. She is the quintessential American Indian teacher: young (26), well-educated (Notre Dame, Oxford), self-confident, mature. A product of Oakland Catholic schools, she is warm yet reserved, with an underlying sternness.
"I think kids want structure," she says. "They want strict teachers."
By 8th grade, discipline is not really an issue. Classes are preternaturally quiet and focused. Visitors may be startled to notice that students do not so much as glance at them. They have been told to keep their attention on their work. They do as they are told.
Students who misbehave in the slightest must stay for an hour after school; if they misbehave again in the same week, they have more after-school detention plus four hours of Saturday detention.
Under Chavis, the school also relied on humiliation to keep students in line, ridiculing miscreants and sometimes forcing them to wear embarrassing signs. When one boy was caught stealing, Chavis shaved his head in front of the entire school. (The boy, Jeremy Shiv, now a straight-A student at American Indian High, considers what Chavis did "pretty cruel.")
A framed poster in a hallway quotes Chavis: "You do outstanding things here and you'll be treated outstanding. You act like a fool and you'll be treated like one."
That concept isn't dead at American Indian, but it has been toned down.
All American Indian students have 90 minutes of English and 90 minutes of math a day.
The grammar lesson today focuses on appositives, nouns that modify other nouns. Student Isa Bey is asked to write an example on the board.
"The extreme abolitionist John Smith was hung after a brutal revolt," he writes.
Zika smiles. "Historically, there's a problem," she says. "Grammatically, it's correct." Chagrined, Isa erases "Smith" and writes "Brown."
"I like that he's connecting it historically," Zika tells the class, "but let's get it correct."
At 10:05 a.m., the students switch to math. The move takes about 10 seconds.
American Indian's administrators believe that one of the secrets to success in middle school is having one instructor teach all subjects except physical education. The goal is to have that teacher stay with the same children all three years -- a policy that seems to be more theory than reality, given high teacher turnover.
The idea is that students will form a deep bond with the teacher and gain class time by having no passing periods. "We really see things in terms of minutes," said principal Janet Roberts, who took over from Chavis.
Five minutes per passing period might not sound like much, but over the course of a year, American Indian saves the equivalent of more than a week's worth of instruction.
Math class begins with a warmup exercise to get students thinking numerically. Then the class goes over the previous night's homework, and moves to new material.
All students at American Indian take Algebra 1 in 8th grade, and the school prides itself on its math achievement. Last year, every 8th grader scored "proficient" or better on California's state algebra test. Statewide, only half the 8th graders even took algebra, and fewer than half of those scored "proficient" or better.
Today's lesson is Chapter 14: probability.
"What is probability?" Zika begins. "Rebecca?"
"The chance you have of getting something," Rebecca says.
"Yeah," Zika says. "This is an important skill in life."
Zika displays a confidence in math that is rare for someone who majored in political science. "I like teaching math the best," she says.
They move on to factorials, and before long, Zika has the students doing rapid-fire exercises in which she gives them a number and they figure out its factorial on a whiteboard and hold it up for her to see. (A factorial is the product of all positive integers less than or equal to a given number.) The students are generally correct, and seem enthralled.
One of the most common questions about charter schools is whether they "cherry pick" the best students and most motivated families.
Charters are required to take all applicants -- or, if they have more students than seats, to hold a lottery. American Indian has never done this, and was denied a charter to open a new school last fall in part because school district officials said administrators were "unable to describe" the selection process.
Both Roberts and Chavis say they have never had more applicants than seats, which is why they never held a lottery. They also say that they attract a representative sample of students from local elementary schools.
But Ron Smith, the principal of nearby Laurel Elementary, who sent both of his own children to American Indian, says that's not the case for students from his school.
Of those who go from Laurel to American Indian, "I'd say 70% are academically strong, and 30% are a cross-section. . . . They have kids who I know could go anyplace in the state and succeed."
The school could not provide its students' elementary school test scores, so it is hard to say if they were above average. Roberts did provide three years of middle school scores for all students who entered American Indian in 2004 (with names removed for privacy), showing their progress in math and English from 6th to 8th grade. Of the 51 students who entered American Indian's middle school that year, only six scored lower than "proficient" in both math and English at the end of 6th grade.
It's impossible to tell whether the students were academically strong at the start of 6th grade or were brought up to grade level by the rigors of a year at American Indian.
Of the six who scored below "proficient," three left the school, and the remaining three showed some progress by the end of 8th grade.
It isn't clear why the students left. American Indian insists that it has never expelled a child, but that some leave because their families move or decide that the school is a poor fit. Of the 51 students who made it through their first year, 39 finished.
"They've had a reputation among the local public schools as being very interested in kind of recruiting kids who are going to do well, and getting rid of kids who won't," said Betty Olson-Jones, president of the Oakland Education Assn., the teachers union. Both Chavis and Roberts strongly deny this, and say their method works with all children. "Give me the worst middle school in America and let us run it," said Chavis. "I guarantee it will improve."
When math ends at 11:40, Zika switches to science. With no lab equipment and an emphasis on textbook learning, it is hard to imagine that American Indian will turn out the next Darwin or Edison. The students have brought in paper towel tubes and, after a discussion of the American space program, Zika leads the class outside, where they have about 5 minutes for a rare experiment: making rockets. It doesn't go well. With so little time, the experiment more or less fizzles, and then it's lunch. Zika admits it was a mistake; the next day, she'll have the students discuss what went wrong and try again.
After lunch, it's history (Reconstruction and its legacy), and then preparation for a philosophical debate. "Isa, how do you know you're really sitting here? How do you know you're not a brain in a dish hooked up to a machine?" Zika asks.
"I am because I think I am," pipes up Terae Collins, paraphrasing Descarte.
Ben Chavis credits his upbringing and education in rural North Carolina as part of the Lumbee tribe of Indians for shaping his philosophy as director of Oakland's high-scoring American Indian Public Charter School. At the core of his approach are the rewards and discipline he experienced in his youth -- whether receiving money for his hard work or strict discipline for failure:
At the core of his approach are the rewards and discipline he experienced in his youth -- whether receiving money for his hard work or strict discipline for failure:
This is as fun as it gets.
At 2:10, the students have P.E. -- running and calisthenics. No games.
The class returns at 2:50 for some last-minute homework instructions. School ends at 3. Most stay and do homework until 4 -- just because they can.
A face appears at the door. It is De-Zhon Grace, a boy who was in Zika's class until Barack Obama was inaugurated as president.
Until then, De-Zhon and his mother had been fairly happy with American Indian. "I'm a single mom, and I'm trying to raise an African American young man, and I'm very serious about his education," said Chaka Grace.
But on Jan. 20, De-Zhon stayed home to watch the inauguration with his extended family. And that crossed a line for Roberts, who believes that nothing -- absolutely nothing -- should get in the way of class. According to De-Zhon's mother, Roberts said the boy would receive extra work as punishment, and that she might rescind his recommendation to a private high school.
That, said Grace, "took it to another level for me. . . . I felt that was evil." She pulled her son out of the school.
De-Zhon, a neatly dressed, well-spoken boy who came back for a visit, conceded that he misses American Indian.
"I miss my class; I miss my teacher," he said.
There are no televisions at American Indian -- no computers in the classrooms, either -- so there was no way for students to watch the inauguration. But Roberts wants to be clear: They wouldn't have been allowed to watch it anyway.
"It's not part of our curriculum," she said.
Love it or hate it, it's the American Indian way.
» » » » [Los Angeles Times]
Hard Line, Top School
Simone Sebastian, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, December 16, 2005
At the end of the American Indian Public Charter School's front hall hangs a sign quoting French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant: "There's never any talent without a little stain of madness."
It's an appropriate motto for this small but controversial Oakland middle school. What happens inside its walls has been called miraculous by supporters. Critics call it scandalous.
In five years, the charter school, run in a converted church building in Oakland's Laurel neighborhood, has been transformed from one of the city's worst performers into the highest-scoring middle school in Oakland.
In 2001, suffering from rapidly declining enrollment and low test scores, the school came under the direction of Ben Chavis, a former faculty member at San Francisco State University.
His tactics -- an old-fashioned, back-to-basics teaching model paired with an unorthodox discipline policy -- drove the school's evolution and created controversy.
"I don't care what the critics say, because the critics aren't turning schools around," Chavis said in his characteristically caustic tone. "You don't contact me when a school starts. You come to me when it's (expletive) up."
The school received its charter from the Oakland Unified School District in 1996 but operates independently with its own curriculum and governing board.
Its first few years were unremarkable, but since 2001, the school's state test score has more than doubled, reaching 880 on the 1,000-point scale. That's better than any other middle school in Oakland, beating out the next highest by nearly 80 points.
The 130 students at the school, in grades six through nine, follow strict rules. They must wear waist-high dark-colored pants with white shirts -- no jewelry, makeup or brightly colored hair accessories.
Most of the school day is spent in one classroom with one teacher, who moves with the students to higher grades. The day begins with three hours of math and language arts, followed by a 20-minute lunch. Forty-five minutes a day are devoted to physical education.
Arts are allowed only after school. And there are no computers. Chavis believes they bring mischief -- theft, pornography and unforeseen costs.
Students have hours of homework most nights, and two weeks of summer school are mandatory.
Those with good grades and perfect attendance all year are rewarded with spending money from Chavis' own pocket -- up to $100 depending on the student's age. Breaking a school rule, such as not completing homework, being tardy or breaking the dress code, means an automatic detention.
Repeat offenders are subject to public embarrassment. Those students must stand in front of other classes as Chavis or a teacher exposes their misconduct.
"An eighth-grader hates to be sent back to a sixth-grade class," Chavis said. "I want them to be embarrassed. I'm preparing them for the real world."
“Chavis said part of the schools’ secret (if there is one) is retaining kids, not giving them the boot. “We hold back 12 to 15 percent of our sixth grade class,” he said. If OUSD held back more students, rather than sticking to a policy of promoting students who are not at grade level, dropout rates in secondary schools would decline, in his opinion..”
[*Crazy Like a Fox*]
But it's the most extreme forms of discipline that have thrown the school into the critics' line of fire.
With parental permission, Chavis cut the hair of a student accused of stealing. A boy who admitted to calling his classmate a derogatory name was pinned with a note that read "I'm an (expletive)" in front of other students.
Chavis said incidents of such discipline are isolated. Still, one led Monica Peoples-Brown to withdraw her sixth-grade son, who was pinned with the note after a heated conversation with Chavis that included name-calling and a threat to call the police.
"My child was traumatized," Peoples-Brown said. "It hurt me to sign him out. My child was really learning. But I can't deal with an administration that is a dictatorship."
Some take issue with what they call Chavis' inappropriate use of racial stereotypes, cursing and name-calling to embarrass students at the school. Floundering students become the public targets of labels like "stupid" and "lazy Mexican."
"I tell the students, if you don't do your work, people are going to call you a lazy Mexican. You're black, they expect you to be an idiot," said Chavis, who is Native American. "I use it to motivate the kids."
The school loses about 10 students a year. Chavis said most of them moved out of the area. Disgruntled parents say they and others were pushed out or became fed up with Chavis' inappropriate language and overly aggressive discipline.
Rachael Huang disagreed when her daughter was assigned to retake Algebra I in September. After a series of intense discussions with school administrators, she said her daughter came home with a list of other Oakland schools photocopied from the phone book.
She took the hint and removed both her daughters from the school.
Chavis admitted that he's prompted students to leave, saying that his method isn't for everyone. He said his target demographic is "ghetto, poor kids."
"I don't use that middle-class rhetoric. I don't believe in building self-esteem, fundraising, parent involvement," Chavis said. "My system is not for middle-class, upper-class whites."
Parent Rose Lee, who has two sons in the school and serves on its governing board, credits Chavis and his approach with "changing my sons' lives.''
Both were not doing well in public school, she said, but did a 180-degree turn under the disciplined approach of American Indian Charter.
One measure is homework. She no longer has to struggle with them to get it done, she said. "They do it on their own.''
About three-quarters of American Indian Charter's students qualify for free or reduced-price meals because of low family incomes, according to school records. The vast majority of the students are minorities, though only 20 percent are American Indian, a decline from 65 percent since Chavis became the director.
Yet state test scores rank the school on a level with middle schools in far more affluent Bay Area communities. Last year, more than 70 percent of the charter school's students scored "proficient" or higher on tests of language arts and math, compared to fewer than 30 percent of all students tested in the Oakland Unified School District. If the school continues to improve at its current rate, it will surpass top-tier schools in Lafayette and Piedmont by next year. Not surprisingly, there is a waiting list to get in.
"They've taken kids who are not the brightest and propelled them to the top of state standards," said Patricia Gimbel, dean of admissions for the Deerfield Academy, a top college-preparatory school in Massachusetts.
Gimbel visited an eighth-grade class at American Indian Charter last month and called the experience "inspirational."
In November, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell nominated the school, which runs on a $1 million budget, for the national Blue Ribbon award that recognizes about 200 academically excellent public schools each year.
Chavis credits his rigorous academic model and the school's teachers for the success. He said his teachers are the best in Oakland. It's one area where he and his critics agree.
Most of the seven teachers are in their 20s and are recent graduates from big-name colleges. Several don't have teaching credentials, but Chavis said they are in credentialing programs.
First-year teachers are paid $42,000 a year, with a $1,500 year-end bonus. By comparison, entry-level teachers in Oakland Unified's public schools receive $37,000.
Chavis, who has outside income from a real estate business, said he uses his own $30,000 school salary to fund teacher bonuses and student field trips.
With about 28 students per teacher, parents and students say the classrooms are conducive to learning.
"I got more attention from my teachers, and my math improved a lot," said former student Avery Glover-Mackey, who transferred to American Indian Charter from a public school where she was recommended for special education. "I understood the material and did so much better on the tests."
But test scores are not the only things that changed with the school's leadership.
Oakland charter schools coordinator Liane Zimny noted that changing demographics can affect a school's test scores as much as the curriculum.
At American Indian Charter, Asian students make up the majority of those attending the school, followed closely by black students, according to data from last spring. The percentage of parents with college credits, a good indicator of student achievement, has increased slightly in recent years.
Oakland school board member Alice Spearman described Chavis as "brilliant" but added that his discipline and motivation methods wouldn't fly in the district's regular schools.
California law explicitly forbids corporal punishment as a form of discipline in schools. Embarrassment and humiliation are not prohibited but are considered ineffective and inappropriate by professional standards, according to education experts. Charter schools are largely exempt from the professional standards of discipline and conduct observed in other public schools.
"They are charter schools. They operate separate from us," said Oakland school district general counsel Roy Combs. "We don't monitor, review or supervise discipline. The district has no obligation."
Chavis wants to open a high school in the fall, and the Oakland school district will consider awarding a charter in January.
He said he will follow the same model used at American Indian Charter and expects to produce the same results.
Society "has created a system to make minorities stupid. It's not called prison; it's called middle school," Chavis said. "If you follow our model, you'll be a winner. By the time these kids are in ninth grade, I don't have to call them idiots anymore."
E-mail Simone Sebastian at email@example.com.
This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
» » » » [San Francisco Examiner]
Empangeni Learner used Orphan grant to pay school fees
Durban - KwaZulu-Natal's top matric maths achiever used a government orphans' grant to pay his high school fees.
Nkosinathi Mbatha, 18, of Old Mill High School, in Empangeni, started using the grant for his schooling when he was in Grade 6.
"I am very proud of myself. I spent many sleepless nights studying and putting in a lot in my studies," he said on Thursday.
Mbatha's mother died in 2001 and his father in 2003. He moved in with a friend's family, which treated him as one of their own children.
Mbatha received As in mathematics, physical science, life science and life orientation. He received a B in IsiZulu, a B in English and a C in computer technology.
He encouraged the 2010 matric class to study hard.
"I am very proud of myself, anything is possible with hard work...," said Mbatha.
» » » » [Excerpt: News 24]
Zuma: Learn from 'old white schools'
[If German Shepherds can learn Discipline...?]
Johannesburg - If township schools want to improve their matric results, they should learn from "old white schools" about discipline.
And instead of driving South African farmers out of the country, agricultural and commercial farmers should be cherished for the good of the country, since this is such an important sector.
According to Free State Premier Ace Magashule, this was president Zuma's message to a delegation of the Free State executive council earlier this week.
Attitude change needed
According to Magashule, Zuma said if South Africa is to be rebuilt, the country should focus most of its resources on education, and not poverty or unemployment. That way, recovery and rebuilding will happen on its own.
Furthermore, a change in attitude is necessary, so that apartheid or subsidies to commercial farmers don't always get the blame.
"When he addressed school principals [at the meeting], he said they can go and learn about discipline from the old white schools where they teach for seven hours a day, while schools in the township teach for three or four hours a day and then expect to do well.
"He emphasised the fact that schools must understand the truly important issues at hand, such as teachers being punctual."
'Black kids can achieve'
After the news conference Magashule told Volksblad that black pupils' achievements in "old white schools", such as Grey College, Eunice and Brebner in Bloemfontein, thanks to the changing demographics of South Africa, show that black children can also achieve excellent academic results with the appropriate discipline and tuition.
"It's not just about resources, but about who the leader is and how you work together."
Learn from "old white schools", says Zuma.
"And don't alienate SA farmers."
» » » » [Excerpt: News 24 (PDF)]
Question posted to Morning Talk with Siki Mgabadeli- SA FM (104-107): Re: 13 January 2010 Radio Interview:"After 11 - we chat to Zandi Radebe from Blackwash. In an open letter to the Matric class of 2009 - a black consciousness group called Blackwash, warned black matriculants that the majority of them are more likely to fail because they have been systematically underprepared from Grade 1, especially those who hail from rural schools.