Chavis on CNN.com: Money won’t fix bad schools

Ben Chavis, former director of Oakland’s high-performing American Indian Public Charter School, surfaces again to promote his educational philosophy (and new book) — this time on CNN.com.

“I believe all the money in the world would not be enough to improve schools run by incompetent public school administrators,” he wrote in a commentary published this week. (Last month, he called to ask what OUSD’s total budget was. I gave him the figure I reported in June, a fact he attributed directly to me in the piece.)

An interesting assertion to make, especially at a time when schools are making such deep cuts, with more to come. In your view, is there any truth to his argument?


So, how did Oakland’s charter schools do?

Tribune file photo by Laura A. Oda

You wanted to know how the city’s independently run, publicly funded schools performed on the 2009 state tests. Here’s your answer, courtesy of the OUSD Charter Schools Office.

Of the 27 charters that were around in 2008, 15 made significant gains in both English and math.

The charters with the biggest up-swings were Continue Reading


Ben Chavis’s new book: “Crazy like a fox”

It’s not yet for sale, but I recently received a book written by the (officially) former director of American Indian Public Charter School, Ben Chavis. It’s titled, “Crazy like a fox: One principal’s triumph in the inner city.”

The book 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.

Continue Reading


A charter debate to watch, at your own risk

UPDATE: I’ve just learned that the debate has been postponed — not sure why.

Tribune file photos of Ben Chavis and Yvette Felarca

Let’s just say that when I chose my furlough dates last month, I had no idea that the below event would be happening in the middle of my time away.

Ben Chavis, the infamously temperamental, “Bay Area liberals”-loathing former director of the American Indian Public Charter Schools is taking on Yvette Felarca, a likewise outspoken leader of BAMN (Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights And Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary) and her colleague, Shanta Driver, in a debate about charter schools.

I wonder if OUSD is taking any additional security precautions. Continue Reading


Black “History” Month

I know that this blog may get a bit of comments but I’ve been thinking about this lately and feel that it is necessary to discuss this.

Before I start saying anything, I want to apologize for being MIA. So, Hello everyone. I hope everyone is enjoying the 2009 so far.

February is known as Black History Month in America. However, I would much rather call it Black Heritage Month. At Life Academy, we have “Advisory Challenges.” Students and teachers make posters and post them around the school asking “Who is this person and what did he or she do?” The challenge for this month is to see which advisory can find out the most information of these people. Upon this challenge, I started to contemplate about Black History Month. After listening to a poem about Black History Month and thinking about this some more, I came to the conclusion that I would rather not call February Black History Month. Here are my reasons/questions that I have:

  • Why is February, the shortest month, Black History Month?
  • If February is Black History Month, does that mean every other month is white history?
  • Is black history not the same thing as American history? Continue Reading

Four Oakland schools win Title I awards

Around this time each year, the state education department gives props to schools whose low-income students cleaned up on high stakes tests.  These are high-performing schools with ”socioeconomically disadvantaged” populations of at least 40 percent. 


This year’s Oakland winners are: Continue Reading


Charter schools and children in poverty

The high test scores of the Oakland Charter Academy and American Indian Public Charter schools have surfaced again, this time in a brief released today by the California Charter Schools Association.

The charter schools advocacy group performed a simple analysis that compared the composite test scores – the API — of high-poverty public schools in California (those in which 70 percent or more of the students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch). Guess what it found?

Twelve of the 15 schools on that list are publicly funded (tuition-free), privately run charters. Six of the top 15 are located in Oakland, and Continue Reading


Lessons from a “small school from the ‘hood”

photo of Oakland Charter Academy student by D. Ross Cameron/Oakland Tribune

The racial and economic achievement gap comes up, in some form or another, at almost every Oakland school board meeting. Yet there are a handful of schools here in this city that have made that gap invisible, at least on their campuses, and I sometimes wonder who is paying attention.

Take the Oakland Charter Academy, a charter middle school in Fruitvale with a Latino population of about 93 percent. Last year those students — the vast majority of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunches — scored a 902 this year on the state’s Academic Performance Index out of a possible 1,000 points.

The average Latino middle schooler in California scores in the 600s.

I wrote a story in today’s Trib about the loads of work that these kids (and those at the American Indian charter schools, which use a similar model) are putting in every day — and about the general skepticism surrounding their success. You can read it here.

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Denied: new American Indian charter school

The five local schools that use the American Indian Public Charter model might be among the highest-scoring public middle and high schools in Oakland (not to mention the state), but tonight, the state administrator stopped a new one from opening.

David Montes de Oca, Oakland’s charter schools director, was careful to say that his recommendation to deny the charter petition “is not a condemnation of the American Indian Public Charter School model or its schools — far from it.”

The problem, Montes de Oca said, was Continue Reading


Another American Indian charter school?

The American Indian Public Charter School, a once-struggling institution that rose to national prominence — and local infamy — under former director Ben Chavis, already has two sister schools (four, if you count the charters started by Chavis’s protege, Jorge Lopez).

Now they’re asking for another one: American Indian Public Charter School – AIM.

At tonight’s board meeting, director Janet Roberts presents the charter petition to the board and the state administrator (who, as of now, makes the call). Continue Reading