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. There is no secret to any of this. Portions of the American Indian model resemble methods used by the KIPP charter schools or, for that matter, urban parochial schools."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 nonwhite 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 eighth-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.""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."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."
Lessons from Oakland's American Indian Public Charter Schools
Lessons of what, I'm not sure.
Lessons of what, I'm not sure.