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Will Oakland’s top-scoring school be closed?

By Katy Murphy
Monday, April 2nd, 2012 at 7:19 pm in charter schools.

BEN CHAVISDuring a 6 5:30 p.m. special meeting Wednesday night, the Oakland school board considers the fate of American Indian Public Charter School II, a middle school in downtown Oakland with a near-perfect Academic Performance Index of 990.

American Indian Public Charter School II, one of three schools run by American Indian Model Schools, is up for its 5-year charter renewal. At the same time, state auditors are investigating allegations of financial fraud in the school’s charter management organization. The Oakland school district’s charter schools office has recommended that the board reject the American Indian renewal application.

You can find our story here, and the district’s report here, along with a progress report from the auditors from the Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team.

The staff report cites numerous reasons for its conclusion, from compliance issues (teacher certification and occupancy permits) to a pending investigation into allegations of fraud, conflicts of interest and deliberate misappropriation of funds.

The FCMAT letter says that, given the timeline, the county superintendent might suggest a conditional renewal with a fiscal adviser. But OUSD’s charter schools director, Gail Greely, recommends against taking that course. You’ll find her arguments on Page 7-8. I’ve pasted some excerpts below.

A conditional renewal of the charter has been considered, but is not recommended for the following reasons:

  • The violations of the charter and applicable law and regulation identified by the staff and the extraordinary audit are serious and wide-ranging. (See pages 8, 21-22 and Attachment III to this report.) They involve the safety of students and staff, as well as millions of dollars of public funds. To authorize a conditional renewal would undermine the ability of the District to hold charter schools accountable to their legal and ethical obligations.
  • American Indian Model Schools’ governing board does not exhibit the willingness or capacity to address the failings identified in this report and in the preliminary findings of the extraordinary audit. …
  • The school has not sustained compliant management in the face of historical violations, including:

o Violation of an agreement to remove the former director
o Failure to obtain an occupancy permit
o Failure to ensure compliance with teacher credential requirements
o Failure to provide timely and accurate financial and attendance reports

Given the fact that the investigation is not complete, what do you think the school board should do?

Reporting note:

When I learned about the audit in February, I formally requested public records related to any recent investigations of American Indian Model Schools. The documents were made available to me today, after much of the information was posted online.

The district’s general counsel decided not to include the complaints of “sexual harassment and verbal or physical abuse of students” referenced in one of the letters I read today; the district spokesman cited privacy concerns. The packet also did not include responses provided by American Indian to the district. I’ve requested those as well.

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  • del

    Well, this is a huge non-surprise to anyone who has any knowledge of schools in Oakland. Sadly, all of this did not come to light earlier… but that is also part of the “success” of the school.
    The scores are undeniable. The students are well behaved and excellent at regurgitating information. Mr. Chavis’ “tough love” approach resonates with some members of our community, and is mirrored by many successful parents. None of that means it is good for education with public dollars.
    First of all, we know that API or any other test scored-based measure of school quality is incomplete at best. It is even more questionable when financial fraud amongst school leadership is alleged. However, I have no reason to believe that these students didn’t get these scores—-any school that cherry picks students and emphasizes test scores as the be-all and end-all will produce high scores.
    However, giving the school credit for these scores is as ridiculous as giving the students the blame for the financial fraud. These students would have gotten high test scores if they were in isolation for a year with their text books. They got these high scores before AIPCS, they got them after after.
    This school recruited a very specific type of student (as is clear from the demographics). I was appalled when I attended a school choice function put on by Lincoln Elementary a few years ago. The school leader for AIPCS said quite clearly that they believe in hard work and punishment, and that if a student didn’t do their homework, they would be physically punished. The positive reception that comment got from many of the assembled parents was both predictable and very disheartening to the other schools making their case for the well-rounded education they were trying to provide. State law is very clear on what can and cannot be done in public schools, and if a school wants to advertise their questionable treatment of students public schools will not be able to compete.
    One of the public school representatives at the meeting was not as concerned as I was, however, and noted that many of the students would flee the school after having to wear a dunce cap for a day or spend the day in a kneeling position. Many others would simply not be asked back and would re-enter the public schools, bringing their grades and test scores back (it should be noted that “charter refugees” don’t have their test scores count if they transfer part way through the year, nor does the public school get money for the child).
    Again, these practices definitely played fast & lose with the law, it is no surprise the same happened with money. It’s also no surprise that people didn’t complain publicly or formally—after all, they only accepted the most compliant students from compliant families—many with out enough experience or knowledge in America’s laws to know what was acceptable.
    I agree that the kids are the victims… but I also argue that they already were. Hopefully they will enjoy other schools where they are allowed to be normal kids and not just test score factories.
    (Another quick note: “finishing the text book” is about the worst judge of a teacher, curriculum, or school, that I have ever heard. My cousin read “Grey’s Anatomy” before his 14th birthday. He would have been a lousy doctor).

  • Anon

    @#51 Del,

    “I agree that the kids are the victims… but I also argue that they already were.”

    This is the problem with education. You don’t believe in minority students.

  • Anon

    Katy Murphy,
    Please do a play-by-play reporting of this evening’s meeting if possible.

  • Katy Murphy

    Good idea! The board hasn’t yet taken up the issue. They just returned from closed session.

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/2012/02/three-handy-pages-with-facts-about.html Sharon

    Re #44: Katy, The charter renewal for Fulton Science Academy in Alpharetta, a high test score-producing charter school in an affluent community in Georgia, was denied by Fulton County school board in December 2011. The school played chicken and lost, having refused to agree to changes in the agreement which were imposed by the district in an attempt to correct non-compliance and other issues.
    http://charterschoolscandals.blogspot.com/2011/05/fulton-science-academy-middle-school.html

    An effort is currently underway to change the GA charter school law. If it’s successful, FSA will probably attempt to get its charter approved by the state.

    Incidentally, FSA is in the network of charter schools being operated by the Gulen movement. FSA’s parents are in denial about the seriousness of what that means, and the school’s operators have been very successful with establishing their political cover.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/largest-charter-network-in-us-schools-tied-to-turkey/2012/03/23/gIQAoaFzcS_blog.html
    http://gulencharterschools.weebly.com/fulton-science-academy.html

  • AIPCSTEACHER

    I would also appreciate updates!

  • Katy Murphy

    I’ve started the live blog!

  • Student

    This school is not good. Just because we have high scores does not mean that it is a good school. Yes, there are good teachers at this school, but not all of them put in the same effort. The teachers are sometimes lazy. They dont collect our homework sometimes. I remember getting a lot of homework for winter break, and the teacher did not even collect it. Some students did not even do it, but they still go the credit. Teachers tend to take sides. They give higher grades to those who they prefer. If you come and ask all the students if they like the school, most of them will say no. The school has changed. They are becoming less attentive towards the students. They dont care anymore. This school has never been about parent-inolvement, but now they are trying to get parents involved. They sent out memos to parents asking for the parent’s support. They wanted parent’s to come to school and support the school. Like, really?! The school will come up with a sneaky plan to keep the school open. Dont be fooled by their words. Close it down. Colleges wont want “cheaters” from this school. I can assure you that students from this school will not be accepted into good colleges anymore due to the fraud. Trust me, the school changes the student’s grades. If an Asian doesn’t get a high grade, they boost it up.
    Is that fair, no. If you really want to do the right thing, close the school down before something worse happens.

  • Student

    I cannot believe so many people wanted the school to shut down because of Chavis’ financial fraud. I agreed that I did not like this school because of the homeworks, detentions, and saturday schools; also because of the school’s appearance. To many people ( including me), the school does not look like a school because it was held inside an apartment or office building. But, no one could deny the students’ and the teachers’ hardwork. Many teachers stayed until 5-6 p.m afterschool to help students and some of the students have tutoring everyday until 4-5p.m. Shutting down the school is like denying the students’ and the teachers’ efforts. Why are so many people attending this school and not other schools? One reason was that because they were forced by their parents to attend this school. Second, was because of the high API. Third, because this school provide a safe environment for the students, where they do not need to worry about gangs, violence, bullying, guns, or knives. Lastly, was because the parents believe that by sending their kids to this school could help their kids to get into a good college, which is true. Seniors in this school were accepted to colleges, such as, Princeton, Dartmouth, UC Davis, UCLA, and UC Berkeley; they also do not need to pay for it. Also, what would happen to the students in this school? They work very hard over past few years, suffering from the load of homeworks, detentions afterschool, and saturday schools. Most importantly, they believed that their hardworks would finally paid off once they graduate and get into a good college. Most importantly, if the school is shut down, then where the students should go? To other schools? I do not think some of the students could fit in with other students in other schools. Please considers about the students and teachers in the school before making any decision. The school does not deserves to be closed down because of Chavis’s fault.

  • Henry 4 teach

    Does the board realize what they have done? They just allowed this school to be approved for a K-8 charter.

    No one even blinked to that. A middle school that was slated to be closed all of a sudden is allowed to expand- man Oakland is in trouble with this board.

    So….the school will remain in his facility, so the game will continue! Wow- Oakland is pathetic. If I ran a charter school in the city I know its all about that board and no one else.

  • PoohBear

    Chavis controls the board. The new accountant is a friend of Michael Stember’s. Spearman is a personal friend of Chavis. The principals don’t have credentials. One principal has repeatedly swept the fact that adults have dated and tried to date students. The board having to go through training won’t help if the board is corrupt. One board member is paid by Chavis, the other lives with him. It has NOTHING to do w/the students. The school needs to close, get its act together, get rid of the board, and force Chavis to just be the landlord.

  • Jim Mordecai

    The motion of staff to deny the renewal of the charter of the American Indian Public Charter School II as recommended by staff was substituted with a motion to approve the charter petition with conditions moved by Board member Spearman and second by Board member Gallo.

    Vote was 4-3. Affirmative Spearman, Gallo, Hinton-Hodge, Dobbins and negative Kakishiba, Yee, London

    The negative vote was about lack of commitment by governance to put changes in place that will show governance wants to address criticisms and problems.

    In my view the decider was Board Member Dobbins. He stated he couldn’t vote to close a school with 990 score. High score verses good stewardship of the public’s trust and high score won Dobbins’ vote.

    I wanted to raise the issue of conflict of interest for Board member Spearman. But, although her defense of her publicly stated friend Dr. Ben Chavis may seem like a conflict of interest, I don’t believe it fits a legal conflict of interest as she has no financial gain by her vote.

    And, if Board member Spearman had declared a conflict-of-interest because of personal relationship with the founder, Ben Chavis, the Board wouldn’t have had four votes necessary to pass the substitute motion. The substitute motion would have failed and the main motion to deny the charter would most likely failed too for lack of four votes. That would have meant, I believe, that the renewal would be granted as the Board has a window to act and if it doesn’t act renewal is automatic.

    Clever how the law is written to with the default is approval of charter schools when the Board doesn’t act.

    Interesting question is whether the Board has legal power to approve a charter with conditions. A start-up charter can be granted for less than 5-years but a renewal must be for 5-years. The two elementary schools being converted next year to charters were granted their charters with conditions but remains to be seen if the District will or can enforce any of its conditions.

    I am not sure conditions that were a part of the motion that was voted on. One condition was that the governing board receives training and that standard accounting procedures be followed. Discussion was had by the Board about one condition was not permitting expansion beyond grade levels 5-8 in the current charter. However, I don’t think restriction to 5-8 grades was mentioned in the final language that was voted on.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Sue

    PB- In over your head is what I believe I said. Welcome to urban politics 101!

    Congrats AIPCS 2 – A very well orchestrated show (except for the board pres) wow- he is not the sharpest tool in the shed!

  • livegreen

    I agree with Jim that a 5-year renewal, up or down, is troubling. In the middle of an investigation, before it’s complete, and with the President of the Board denying there are any problems. (That is really really troubling).

    I agree that the high scores are inspiring. But the financial management is not. And the Board members who voted for approval essentially said one is more important than the other. Is this a campaign platform, for higher office?

    BOTH are important. When a Charter is denied by the Board, can they reapply after they work to address concerns? (Regardless of what the County Board does…).

  • del

    @52 aka Anon
    You think the problem is that I do not believe in minority students. Yet I am a Black man who sent all my children to school and college. I spent more than 30 years working OUSD. Read what I wrote. The problem is that I DO believe in all students, and I also believe that physical abuse, bullying by adults, and public humiliation is not appropriate in publicly funded schools. Am I wrong? Or do minority kids “need” that in your view?

  • Jim Mordecai

    Livegreen:

    Up or down renewal vote is the basic concept of the charter school as being based on a market decision. The idea is that the high achieving charter schools survive and the low achieving schools are discarded based on performance.

    If test scores is the be all, then unless cheating is found, as little regulation as possible is what the market model demands.

    I don’t believe that test scores should be the only value because public school children and the public’s money are involved.

    The involvement of the public in how its public schools are run should be open and transparent. But, because charter schools are corporations, that transparency is not enforceable.

    The School Board majority voted to do the opposite of what the staff had recommended regarding a conditional approval. From the staff report page 7 of 39.

    “A conditional renewal of the charter has been considered, but is not recommended for the following reasons:
    “The violations of the charter and applicable law and regulation identified by the staff and the extraordinary audit are serious and far-ranging. They involve the safety of students and staff, as well as millions of dollars of public funds. To authorize a conditional renewal would undermine the ability of the District to hold charter schools accountable to their legal and ethical obligations.”

    In other words governance of the AIPCS II will not be held accountable for the next five years.

    Jim Mordecai

  • http://www.parentsacrossamerica.org CarolineSF

    A response to:

    Charles Weil Says:
    April 4th, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    Ms. Caroline,

    Are you insinuating that all high performing charter schools are abusers and badly managed?

    No. After many, many years of following the charter sector and the education “reform” sector closely (as a parent volunteer advocate) I believe that most if not all high-performing charter schools engage in practices that would drive up any school’s performance (such as quietly picking and choosing students and pushing out the low performers without replacing them).

    But I believe that a school with sky-high test scores whose operator has engaged in dishonest and fraudulent financial practices is highly likely (if not guaranteed) to be engaging in dishonest and fraudulent testing and reporting practices too. Frankly, anyone who doesn’t see that is hopelessly naive.

  • American Dad

    I think the purpose of the people who are labeling successful charter schools as Gulen Charter Schools is to defame Fethullah Gulen and successful charter schools. It was mentioned on CBS’s 60 Minutes that nationwide TIME Magazine listed some of those two successful charter schools in top 10 schools of the nation. They’re combining those schools as Gulen Charter Schools, because they’re successful. Those people who are actually against good and goodness picking Fethullah Gulen’s name as a person to mention with those successful charter schools. Whoever they are, they don’t like Fethullah Gulen because of his teachings and positive contribution to humanity in 21st century.

    http://www.gulencharterschools.tk , http://www.gulenschools.org

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  • http://ibaduzz.com tiffany yan

    If you guys are going to shut down this school,where will the students’ go ,where all these hardworking teacher and staff going to find another job. Some people (including me) like this school because most of the students and teacher are stay after school for a reason. the student are staying after school because they need help with homework, tutoring ,or helping their teacher. The teachers are staying after school because they are getting ready for the next day for class, helping their student, or doing their own work. Shutting down this school means a lot to the AIPCS students’. Even throw there is a lot of Asian doesn’t mean that the Asian are very smart they’re trying to get a good grade and going to a great college when we students at AIPCS .This is the best school in Oakland shut it down just means the student at AIPCS that they did hard work for nothing .I know a lot of people in this school that doesn’t like it here just because it is strike. After the years I’ve been here my grades have improved. this is why my mom send me to this school so I can get into a good college when i grow up. Who care if they are strike ! They are strike for a lot of reason because the teachers want the students to get good grades and going to a great college . The AIPCS students, teachers, and staff are pleasing the district not to shut down the AMERICAN INDAN PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL . This school means a lot to the people that goes to this school

  • J. Lee

    I’m tired of this roller coaster. I am enrolling my son in a private school. The teachers union is behind this. I hate to say this but most Chinese are too timid to fight for themselves so I doubt this battle can be won. Unless these parent get together and seriously get mean, they will end up having to choose which poor performing, dangerous ghetto school their children will be attending in the near future. I feel sorry for the majority who simply can’t afford to a private school or to simply move out of the district.

  • Jim Mordecai

    American Dad:

    Perhaps you know better than me why I am a critic of Gulen network of schools. But I believe Gulen network raises questions, not because it is linked to followers of Imam Gulen, but because its 136 charter schools in America are not transparent. American tradition has been local schools authorized by each state and the 10th amendment makes education a subject of the individual states.

    As an American Dad you also know the American tradition of separate of church and state. The largest non-profit network of charter schools in America is Gulen linked network of charter schools managed by males that speak Turkish. Should in America Turks have Turk cultural schools? Most Americans could care less. But, most would also say, I believe, such cultural schools should not be financed by the public. Remember the American public includes taxpaying Armenians that have a history that doesn’t favor financing Turkish anything.

    But, I acknowledge that Gulen schools if they are followers of Gulen, and true to his published word, educate students for service to the community from which children come. Oakland even has a charter school with Catholic followers the private managers of that Oakland charter school. And, in time its Catholic managers will likely be networked like Gulen schools. If Catholic followers grow enough charter schools maybe they can compete with Catholic managed charter secular schools for converts, I mean students.

    But, this particular Gulen/Bay Technology School has not kept the promise it made from a show of engineers and scientists to provide a program that dynamically boost math and science test scores. If you look at the STAR test scores for Chemistry, the school students never took the test. A STEM advertised school and students never take the end of course STAR Chemistry test? And, with a school emphasizing math, how come there is little difference between English Language Scores and Math scores across the grades? Shouldn’t the program outcome be consistently higher math scores?

    Perhaps the school followers of Gulen at Bay Tech follow the Imam and make education about community and service, but the School Board didn’t see that as the outcome priority. And, why the followers of the Imam and Jesus value service to the community, the rules of the charter school game is American Indian charter type of score worship and outcome.

    As an American Dad You know: community in America is subordinate to individual achievement. American Mom says: Cut that apple away from yourself little one so that you don’t cut yourself!

    Oh, one possible difference between potential Catholic followers’ charter school network and current 136 charter school Imam Gulen network is that schools in the Catholic charter network won’t likely be requesting as many Green Cards.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Student at AIPCS

    This sickens me. Sure the school has it’s perks and their mistakes. Every school has at least a flaw. When I started at AIPCS 2, my Elementary grades were C-’s and below. At the end of the year I achieved a 4.0 GPA. First of all, the teachers have done nothing. It’s the founder of the school’s fault. People shouldn’t be blaming the teachers, they’ve done their best to make the students do the best and work their hardest. The teachers make learning fun. We share our opinions and we discuss them. There is no problem with working in this school. Teachers are rarely fired anymore. Why? Because most of them are ACTUALLY working hard. But the district wants this school to close. They got what they wanted. Should they be happy? I don’t think so. Losing one of the top schools in the STATE.
    When the meeting happens. The OUSD school district haven’t told the students AND the parents what the problem actually is until the verdict is made. So how are we, as student and parents, able to make a case when we don’t know the problem of this chaos. So it isn’t our fault we couldn’t give evidence that this is a good school. This is just sick.