Sharon R. Higgins is an Oakland parent activist who runs several blogs and does great research. One of her blogs is The Perimeter Primate. Another is Charter School Scandals. She also follows the Gulen charter chain.

P.S. Sharon does not mention it but David Whitman, who praised Chavis’s school, is Arne Duncan’s chief speechwriter. Whitman’s book is called Sweating the Small Stuff, an admiring account of “no-excuses” schools that practice paternalism.

Here she tells the amazing story of the American Indian Charter Schools in her own city of Oakland.

Update on American Indian Model charter schools and Ben Chavis

This past week the Oakland school board voted 6-1 to issue a “notice of intent to revoke” the charters of the three high-performing, “no-excuses” American Indian-named charter schools associated with Ben Chavis, the foul-mouthed and controversial director. A public hearing will be held on February 13 and the final decision will be made in March. If the OUSD school board ultimately revokes the charters, the schools could appeal to the Alameda County Board of Education, and if unsuccessful, to the California State Board of Education.

This current situation is the result of an investigation which revealed “$3.8 million in questionable expenditures, rife with conflicts of interest, from construction contracts and lease agreements to mandatory summer programs going to Chavis’s companies…” Ben Chavis had cleverly placed close associates on the American Indian Model Schools (AIMS) board of directors and his wife in charge of the books. The County Superintendent referred the findings to the District Attorney several months ago, but no one has yet been charged with a crime.

To date, the California Department of Education has terminated the schools’ ASES funding (After School Education and Safety Program) due to misappropriation of funds. And the California Finance Authority has found AIMS in default of Charter School Facility Grant Program Agreements. Chavis has been the landlord of all three school properties for many years and continues to get $62,564 in monthly rent payments, $750,772 per year.

Among those who have glorified and promoted Ben Chavis and his charter schools are:

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who once hailed the school as an “education miracle”
Washington Post columnists George Will and Jay Mathews
Democrats for Education Reform board member Whitney Tilson
The Los Angeles Times, in a lengthy piece by Mitchell Landsberg
John Stossel, first on ABC’s 20/20, then again on his Fox Business show
The Cato Institute
The National Review, which described Chavis as “undeniably one of the country’s finest educators.”
MSNBC, which featured Chavis on “Making the Grade” in 2010 and again on “Education Nation”
David Whitman, Fordham Institute staff member and former U.S. News & World Reporter, who included AIPCS as one of six ‘paternalistic’ schools in his 2008 book promoted by David Brooks and others

Chavis was hired in 2001 to lead Oakland’s struggling American Indian Public Charter School (AIPCS), a school that had been created to help Native American students. His first year, the enrollment at AIPCS was 106. Chavis opened a high school in 2006 and a second middle school in 2007. In 2011-12 the three schools enrolled a total of 698 students.

Chavis’ supporters never wanted to look too closely at how he began to engineer the school’s demographics once he arrived at AIPCS, turning his primary interest towards recruiting Asian families. The number of Asian students increased from zero (0%) to 473 (68%), with the remaining students in 2011-12 being Hispanic (17%) and Black (10%). To compare, the district’s enrollment that same year was 14% Asian, 41% Hispanic, and 32% Black.

As for the original intent of the school – to help Native American students – during Chavis’ first year, AIPCS enrolled 45 (43%) American Indian/Alaska Native students. By 2011-12, there were only 6 AI/AN students (<1%) at all three schools.

Over the years a lot students and/or parents have either been forced out or have become so dissatisfied that they’ve left. AIPCS’s Grade 6 to Grade 8 student retention for the past two years has averaged 66%, and AIPCS II’s was only 57%. The high school’s Grade 9 to Grade 12 student retention for the past two years was only 56%. The obvious question is, if these are such great schools that should be upheld as a model, why do so many students leave?

More and more, it seems like Ben Chavis’ charter schools might be coming to their end. Without the presence of a strong and independent board of directors, their governance is now in total disarray. The sense is that Oakland’s school board is quite determined, and it isn’t likely that this particular group will be granted a charter by the county or the state considering all that is known. Some people think a completely different charter school operator might enter into the picture somehow. At this point, many Oakland residents just feel sorry for the families and hope that something of value will be learned from this experience. Locals who have been aware of Ben Chavis’ shenanigans for years could have warned all the people who promoted him that the “miracle” they believed was not exactly so.

A timeline of news articles about Ben Chavis and his charter schools is here. Tables of the enrollment figures are here.