They did it their way

Oakland’s American Indian Public Charter High School will graduate its first class of low-income, minority students in June: All 18 are headed to college with 10 going to University of California campuses and two more to MIT and Cornell. Spitting in the eye of mainstream education has worked for the two AIPC middle schools and one high school, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Not many schools in California recruit teachers with language like this: “We are looking for hard working people who believe in free market capitalism. . . . Multicultural specialists, ultra liberal zealots and college-tainted oppression liberators need not apply.”
. . . 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.

Students, almost all poor, wear uniforms and are subject to disciplinary procedures redolent of military school.

On California’s Academic Performance Index, the AIPC schools — two middle schools and a high school — rank among the very best schools in the state, outperforming schools with middle-class students.

. . . 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.

The first middle school started out with the goal of teaching Indian culture. Scores were very, very low; parents were pulling out their kids. The outrageously outspoken Ben Chavis, a Lumbee Indian, was brought in to save a school on the verge of closing.

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.

The schools now attract Asian, Hispanic, black and American Indian students. Critics say good students disportionately choose AIPC and are more likely to stick with the demanding program, which offers no electives or extra-curriculars.