LearnBoost welcomes American Indian Public Charter
American Indian Public Charter School or AIPCS is an Oakland, California charter middle school with predominantly low-income, minority students. AIPCS' test scores are superior to almost all public schools in the state.
AIPCS was chartered by the Oakland Unified School District in 1996 with the mission of improving the abysmal performance of Native American students in the Oakland schools. As a charter school, AIPCS is free to students and has significant autonomy. The school, located in a converted church in Oakland's Laurel District, originally had a predominantly Native American student population and focused on Native American culture; students had classes in bead-making and drumming and had smoking breaks.
By 2001, the school was failing. Enrollment dropped to 34 and test scores were abysmal. That year, Ben Chavis, a Lumbee Indian from North Carolina and a former faculty member at San Francisco State University, became school principal and made a series of changes. Though he had no previous affiliation with the school, Chavis, who had experience as a public school principal, volunteered for the job.
Chavis, who believes principals need to be held more accountable for their schools' performance, replaced most of the school's staff, eliminated bilingual education and Native American cultural content from the curriculum, and gave away all the school's technology equipment. Chavis focused instruction on the California Content Standards and instituted a number of unorthodox disciplinary policies.
In the years that followed, the school's enrollment grew and test scores made dramatic improvements, becoming one of the highest in the state. During the same time period, the percentage of students identifying as American Indian at the school decreased to less than 5%, following the general trend in Oakland's public schools.
In 2007, AIPCS opened a second campus, AIPCS II, and a high school, American Indian Public High School (AIPHS). In the same year, Chavis retired after a string of controversies. He remains involved with the school as advisor emeritus.
AIPCS employs a "back-to-basics, squared" approach to schooling. Students spend their academic school day in a self-contained classroom with one teacher. In theory, this teacher stays with these students through their three years at AIPCS, but in practice, high teacher turnover makes this impossible.
AIPCS adheres to the American Indian Model (AIM), the focus of which is excellent student attendance. In keeping with this, originally AIPCS gave cash awards of up to $100 to students who attend every school day for a year and claims yearly attendance rates as high as 99.6%.
The school day at AIPCS begins with three hours of Language Arts and Mathematics, followed by a short lunch period. Time between classes is intentionally minimal; the school estimates that this adds a week's worth of classroom time per year.
Students are assigned at least 2 hours of homework every night. Students with incomplete work are liable for a detention after school. Struggling students who show little to no improvement over the school year may be retained; one student was held back for earning a "B" in math. All students are required to attend summer school.
The student dress code is khaki- or navy-colored pants and white, collared shirts. Makeup and jewelry are not permitted.
The school has no lab equipment; science is taught mostly through textbooks. There are also no televisions or computers in the school, as Chavis believed they led to mischief. The school offers music, performance art, study hall and club activities after school.
Andrew J. Coulson, Director of the Center for Educational Freedom, says that AIPCS has the formula for maximizing academic achievement for poor minority students: "[AIPCS] instills in the school environment those cultural characteristics necessary for academic success that are missing in the home".
Physical education at AIPCS is offered for forty minutes of the school day, and consists of primarily calisthenics and running. Students do not play traditional games such as basketball, football or baseball. According to the AIPCS website, AIPCS students significantly outperform the Oakland Unified School District average on multiple measures of physical fitness, including aerobic capacity, flexibility, and multiple measures of strength.
AIPCS disciplinary procedures are in line with the California Education Code. Students who are disruptive, submit incomplete work, or misbehave in other ways are assigned an hour of detention after school. If the student commits a second infraction in the same week, he or she will get an additional hour of detention and four hours of Saturday School.
Other discipline is more unorthodox. For example, Chavis, with parental permission, shaved the head of a student accused of stealing in front of the entire school, forced a girl to clean the boys' bathroom as punishment, and forced some students to wear embarrassing signs.
AIPCS mocks liberal orthodoxy zealously and has been praised by conservatives such as columnist George Will and Andrew Coulson of the Cato Institute. The school claims to be just as intolerant of unions as it is of drug dealers, and prides itself on firing underperforming teachers.
Chavis summed up his beliefs about how liberal thinkers hurt minority students:
In the five years since Chavis arrived, the school's Academic Performance Index (API) had more than doubled. API scores range from a minimum of 200 possible points to a maximum of 1000 possible.
The school's 41 8th graders' performance in 2009:
Note: All AIPCS 8th grade students take Algebra I in the 8th grade, while many California students do not take Algebra I until their first year of high school.
For comparison, test scores of nearby schools in
AIPHS students have also performed very well on standardized tests. Roughly 90% of AIPHS students score at proficient or advanced levels on most subjects, with lower scores in Chemistry and Earth Science. In 2009, AIPHS graduated its first senior class. All eighteen graduating seniors were accepted to four-year colleges, including Cornell, MIT and UC Berkeley.
IQ expert Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, praised AIPCS and said he would send his children there. However, he expressed skepticism towards AIPCS' high test scores, stating that he had never seen an example of a school that produced dramatic score improvements that stood up to scholarly scrutiny. He proposed six questions that should be asked regarding AIPCS' test scores, such as whether the scores had been influenced by the "practice effect," and predicted that test score improvements at AIPCS under Chavis would prove much less impressive once the questions had been answered.
AIPCS has been accused of "cherry-picking" - recruiting students who will do well and getting rid of students who won't. AIPCS denied the allegations, but half the 6th grade students performing poorly in 2007 had left the school before graduation, and only 39 of the 51 students who started in 2006 completed their middle school years with AIPCS. It should be noted, however, that the students who entered below grade level and stayed through the 8th grade all improved. The failure to take into account the attrition of poorly performing students who have dropped out of a school is often the most decisive indicator that a school's evaluation has been inadequate.
For 2007-2008, the AIPCS student body of approximately 180 students represents the following ethnic groups:
Approximately 97% of AIPCS students are "socioeconomically disadvantaged"
The recent demographics represent a shift from earlier years, when the school had a larger American Indian population and smaller Asian population.. At AIPCS II, located in Oakland's Chinatown neighborhood, 67% of the students are Asian and are recruited almost exclusively from the nearby Lincoln Elementary School, which also has high test scores and is predominantly Asian.
Critics have suggested that AIPCS success is largely due to this demographic shift and the success of its Asian student population. However, the school's Asian, African-American, and Latino students perform similarly on standardized tests.
AIPCS staff says the school attracts a representative sample of students from local elementary schools, however, California's Office of Charter Schools noted that AIPCS' demographics were out of line with those in the surrounding Oakland Unified School District's jurisdiction, where Asian students were only 14% of the student population and African American and Latino students each made up 36% of the population, and that these discrepancies could be due to AIPCS recruiting practices.
From 2001-2008, AIPCS spent under $8,000 per student-year, which was less than half as much per student-year as the surrounding Oakland Unified School District. AIPCS has also received grants of over $100,000 from the Koret Foundation and more than $200,000 from the Walton family.
California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger visited the school at least twice. During a 2006 visit, he said of the school, "... the reason why I’m here at this school specifically is because this is a perfect example. First of all, a perfect example of great leadership, that Dr. Chavis has less money per student than other schools have, and he has raised the test scores in the last five years to make it the best school in Oakland. And this is really an extraordinary accomplishment." 
Debra England of the Koret Foundation, said "They really should be the model for public education in the state of California. 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."
The mother of an African-American student said it was "evil" for the school to punish her son for staying home to watch the inauguration of President Barack Obama on television, and she stopped sending him to the school. The student later came to visit AIPCS and acknowledged missing the school.
The parent of another student removed her daughter from AIPCS after Chavis demanded the student repeat algebra even though she received a B in the course. She described Chavis "frickin' nasty" and filed a complaint with the AIPCS board, which she said the board never responded to.
Chavis said "I don't care what the critics say, because the critics aren't turning schools around."
During Chavis' tenure, AIPCS and Chavis were involved in a number of controversies.
Chavis tended to call all non-Caucasian students, including African Americans, "darkies." Chavis explained "I use 'darkie' every day, I use it in the context that I'm Indian and I'm black. I'm a darkie." "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.".
Chavis also allegedly pushed a teacher down a flight of stairs while calling her a "fucking bitch", "stupid bitch", as she tried to retrieve her violin after he fired her; allegedly called his own niece a "slut", a "lying bitch" and threatened to kill her; and allegedly asked one of AIPCS female students if a male student "was still trying to suck your titties", which he denied.
Chavis allegedly called a Mills College graduate student a "a fucking black minority punk" after he showed up fifteen minutes late to a group visit at the school, calling the student "worthless piece of (expletive) people have been making excuses for" Chavis said that he called the grad student a "dumbass minority," and said "he was an embarrassment to his race." and he saw no reason to hold his guests to a different standard than AIPCS students, who receive an hour detention if they arrive a second late. "He came late. White people are on time. What does he think, there's black time? Mexican time? Indian time? The clock is white."
The evening of the incident with the Mills College team, Chavis announced his intention to step down from his position at AIPCS.
California Charter schools are required to either accept all applicants, or, if they have more applicants than capacity, to hold a lottery to determine entrants. AIPCS has never held a lottery and was denied a petition to open a new school in the fall of 2008, in part because AIPCS was "unable to describe" their selection process. AIPCS staff stated they had never needed to hold a lottery because they had never had more applicants than seats, however, in the same petition, AIPCS stated its primary motivation for opening an additional school was to serve the many families wishing to enroll that the existing schools could not accommodate.
Furthermore, in 2006, an African-American parent filed a complaint stating that AICS told her there was no room for her son and refused to place him on the school's waiting list, even while it was accepting applications from white students. Chavis' allegedly told a Caucasian parent that her son would be placed at the top of the school's waiting list because there were too many "darkies" and Asians enrolled in the school. If true, AIPCS violated federal and state laws, which prohibit public schools, including charters, from discriminating by race.
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