Monday, May 18, 2009

Dear Mr. Finn

David Whitman’s "Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism" was recently promoted by David Brooks in his widely-read piece called “The Harlem Miracle.” Brooks told readers the book will help them understand the culture in a new model of schools; he describes it as “…a superb survey of these sorts of schools…”

Knowing the degree to which demographic engineering has played a large role in the "success" of one of the six schools which Whitman profiled, I left the information for him in a comment under Pedro Noguera’s response. I also thought I'd try to reach him through Chester Finn, President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which also happens to be the publisher of the book. Here's the email I just sent:

Dear Mr. Finn,

I would like to provide you with simple, yet important, factual information about one of the schools featured in David Whitman's book, "Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism." The school is the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland. It has received a great deal of acclaim for producing high test scores and was a 2006 National Blue Ribbon School.

I am hoping you will be able to forward this message to David Whitman. I've been unable to locate his email address.

Please take a look at the changing percentage of students who belong in one of the following subgroups: American Indian or Alaska Native, Pacific Islander, Filipino, Hispanic or Latino, or African American. This is for the 13 school years from 1996-97 to 2008-09. All figures are from DataQuest at the California Department of Education’s website.

· 1996-97 = 100.0

· 1997-98 = 97.0

· 1998-99 = 93.8

· 1999-00 = 100.1

· 2000-01 = 97.0

· 2001-02 = 100

· 2002-03 = 98.7

· 2003-04 = 74.3

· 2004-05 = 55.4

· 2005-06 = 65.3

· 2006-07 = 51.1

· 2007-08 = 50.5

· 2008-09 = 42.3

The school’s American Indian or Alaska Native percentage in 1996-97 was 100%. This year it is 1.1%.

Now look at the changing percentage of the school’s students who are either Asian or White.

· 1996-97 = 0.0

· 1997-98 = 2.9

· 1998-99 = 6.2

· 1999-00 = 0.0

· 2000-01 = 2.9

· 2001-02 = 0.0

· 2002-03 = 1.2

· 2003-04 = 25.7

· 2004-05 = 44.6

· 2005-06 = 33.7

· 2006-07 = 22.4

· 2007-08 = 38.4

· 2008-09 = 54.4*

Ben Chavis took over the failing school in 2001-02. It only took him a short time to figure out how to maximize his school’s test scores. One of his primary methods was simply to change the demographics.

In 2006-07, the school had an unusual spike in the number of students reporting “multiple or no response.” The spike appeared about the time questions were being raised about the school being demographically engineered by Chavis. The percentage had averaged 0.29 for the previous 10 years. In 2006-07 it jumped to 26.4%. In 2007-08 it fell to 11.1%. This year, it is 2.7%. In a school which prizes itself for having an extreme sense of order, such an unusual sequence reflects an attempt to confuse the facts.

Chavis resigned as principal of AIPCS at the end of the 2006-07 school year, but he continues to be the director of the charter organization which manages three similar schools in Oakland, all with similar demographics.

By the way, when the figures of his three American Indian Model schools are combined, their average enrollment of students w/disabilities was 1.3% in 2007-08. The district average was 10%. Their combined enrollment of English Learners in was 3% in 2007-08. The district average for that subgroup was 30%.

How many other charter schools are using similar tactics? Since few people are delving into it, who would know?

Some proponents, like David Whitman, apparently aren't willing to question, or investigate, some very basic information (available to anyone w/internet access) before they perpetuate the myth of an outstanding success. Other proponents, like George Will who gushed over Chavis and the AIPCS last year, aren't willing to publicly acknowledge this information when it is presented to them. I sent this simple report to Will last year but never received a response. I've now sent this information to David Brooks, but I don’t expect to hear back from him either.

My family and I have lived 1/2 mile from this school since before it was formed. I drive by it nearly every day. Although some of its practices are admirable, such as longer instructional time for students and the stressing of school order, I also know for certain that the school engages in questionable strategies, such as large amounts of time spent on non-condoned state-test practicing and the cherry-picking of students.

I happen to have a deep understanding of the qualities found in many of the low-income Asian families in my community, and see how Chavis' grab for low-income Asian students sets him up for easy success. These children have been my daughters' classmates for many years; I also worked with these families for seven years when I was a Parent Coordinator at a traditional public middle school. If you would ever like me to explain the familial characteristics which contribute to the tremendous academic achievement of this set of children to you, I would be happy to do so.

Since charter schools will continue to declare that they are using "innovative" practices, it is essential that the practices which are legitimate are differentiated from those which are not. Until this happens regularly and is made utterly transparent, solutions for the achievement gap will be obscured.


Oakland, CA

*All of whom were Asian. White enrollment has always been low, or altogether absent.


nikto said...


What a devastating indightment!

The Charterizer/Privatizers are using divisive and deceptive techniques to
their War To Annex Public Education.

Another HS about 3-4 miles from mine is undergoing the Charterization process right now, with parent demonstrations, divided faculty, accusations flying, etc etc.

The Charterizers are trying to take THE ENTIRE SCHOOL, instead of just part of it, as previously agreed.

It is barely even being covered by local papers, which indicates approval, and a quiet, subtle kind of Collusion, between corporate media and the Charter Movement.

My school will be one of the next ones to enter the battle, within a year or 2 most likely.

Uneasy days ahead, for sure.

nikto said...

One question I have after reading this is, where did Chavis get all the Asian students from?

Did they bus them in?

Were they lured out of nearby
private schools?

The cherry-picking looks obvious.

But where was the "cherry tree"?

It must not have been a regular/"normal" source of the school's students.

Did Chavis arrange to have the "feeder" school changed?

I'm just curious as to HOW (i.e.from where) they were able
to shift the school's population
so dramatically.

The Perimeter Primate said...

Locals told me that the principal would go to the local elementary schools and recruit families of GATE identified students.

In one case a student doing interpreting for Chinese parents at an information meeting was told to tell them something that (he knew) was a lie. This made him very uncomfortable, but he did it anyway. The boy's mother is the person who told me the story. She was angry but too timid to confront the principal.

Dumping was also suspected since lesser students from AIPCS (just a couple) would arrive mid-year to enroll at the local middle school's attendance office, esp. before testing it was observed. No one in the district was tracking this at the time, so it is all anecdotal.

Parents who are looking for a strict, controlled, rigorous environment for their kids are drawn to this school. Many Chinese parents are this type, so the school is a good fit for them. At AIPCS they know their kids won't be in classes with academic riff-raff. Also, this set of parents tends to be highly compliant with the kinds of demands that a school like that would make. Self-selection is definitely at play.

The transformation of the student body was definitely a factor in the school's success. No dramatic change was wrought with the original types of low-achieving students.

nikto said...

"No dramatic change was wrought with the original types of low-achieving students."
The Charterizers absolutely deserve to be objects of overt hatred for their deceptions and thievery.

These low-achieveing students, who the Charteers are so quick to get rid of, or bury any way they can, are being used as
a BLUDGEON against Public Schools, who struggle with trying to educate these highly-problematic youths every day, but are blamed and burdened with these troubled
kids' failures.

nikto said...

Sorry, I get so PO'd sometimes, I forget to proofread.

The Perimeter Primate said...

Neither Mr. Finn or Mr. Whitman have yet responded.

nikto said...

A bit off-specific-topic here, but I thought this was worth posting.

Here's a brilliant response today (5-27) to an LA Times Article about Arnie Duncan's so-called "listening tour", in which the verbs used are isolated in a very insightful and revealing way.

1st, here's the original article:

Then, the very perceptive,
and damning, reader response:

"Your reporter says Duncan was in California on a '15-state listening tour.'

Yet I discover from reading the article that Duncan warned, challenged, said, repeatedly told, said, said, told and warned.

Then a superintendent raised a gnawing concern. So Duncan demurred, and another official said he feared.

So Duncan challenged, said, assessed, slammed, also said, said, then met privately with state officials to discuss.

We are then told that Duncan called for, said, noted and also spoke.

So when does his listening begin?"

Richard K. Moore
Huntington Beach

The worst and most formidable enemies the Charterizers and Privatizers have are just REGULAR PEOPLE who bring common-sense and everyday practical insights to this abominable nationwide situation where true oversight and reality have been diligently undermined by the combined efforts of media, politicians, Big Bizness-People
& CEOs,Venture Capitalists, MBAs, etc etc-----All the parties that stand to gain, financially or otherwise.

They are all so easily undermined when the bright light of common-sense, practicality and ETHICS are applied!

I would imagine at least some of the Privatizers secretly fear this.
At least, the smarter ones.

The Perimeter Primate said...

That was a good one, nikto.

I call what you're talking about "public school mother-wit."

I most definitely have it, and so do you.

nikto said...

Thanks for the compliment, PP!!

nikto said...

Relative to the "Reform" movement, We The People are just like Clinton Advisor Brooksley Born in 1996-98, trying to warn the public about the dangers of unregulated derivatives in the financial markets, and being turned-back by the powerful efforts of the Randian Marketeers in the administration who insisted everything was OK and there was, in essence, nothing to worry about except worry itself.

Here's the post about it (by dday) from Digby's Hullabaloo:

Brooksley Born was fully, even devastatingly, vindicated

And the corporate Randian naysayers about the danger?


We The People Who Believe In Public Education and are speaking out against Privatization/Charterization,
are in Ms. Born's position today.

We are targets of ridicule, or ignored.Or suppressed.
But WE are right, and the Money-Fir$t Privatizers are WRONG.

Public Schools do need reform, but not the cynical, self-serving thievery that the Business Roundtable and other corporate interests are so zealously
engaged in, while the complicit corporate Media buries the story, nationwide.

And now, the same Free-Market Vampires who opposed Ms. Born (or at least share the same "Randian" philosophy), are the ones who now stand like invaders AT and even INSIDE the gates of Public Education.

These "Randians", or whoever the hell they are, are the true enemies of America----Or, at least, enemies of every AmericanPublic Institution they can access the funds of,
and FEED.

They are just money-grabbers, happily hurting America and Americans for their profit opportunities.

And I no longer care how they rationalize their thievery.

They are filthy scum, and
they need to be called out as such,

That is gonna' take some
real guts to do.

Be Like John Brown said...

Back before the US Civil War, standardized tests would have measured an "achievement gap" between white children and children of color. But the abolitionists would never have allowed it to be described in such absurd terms. The Quakers, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Beecher Stowe would have put the blame for the testing disparity where it belonged, on slavery! That vicious racist institution made it a crime for a child of color to pick up a book and even attempt to learn to read.

In this day and time, those of us who seek to meet the corporate attack on the public schools should be very careful about fighting that battle on the enemy's terms. The slaveholders would have loved to debate over an "achievement gap" while the existence of slavery was ignored. Today, the masters of US public education oversee an apartheid-like system where teachers of color are steadily disappearing from the classroom. Little wonder they are so determined to make their stand on the "achievement gap" while the society's fundamental racism and the profound and disproportionate effects of severe poverty on children of color are ignored.

Look at the all-star line-up of public school bashers who revel in the "achievement gap" charade and pose as civil rights crusaders before deciding to play the game on their terms.

George W. Bush
Rod Paige
Margaret Spellings
Ruby K. Payne
Eli Broad
Joel Klein
Michelle Rhee
Arne Duncan
Bill Gates
Paul Vallas
Jeb Bush
Wendy Kopp
Newt Gingrich
Rush Limbaugh
Michael Bloomberg
Armstrong Williams

Did the election of Barack Obama change everything? Did the election of Abraham Lincoln end slavery?

Does racism still exist in the United States? Today we await the facts in the killing of NYC Police Officer Omar J. Edwards before a verdct is rendered.

Paul A. Moore

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all your hard work. I just read Mitchell Landsberg's piece in the LAT about the American Indian Public Charter. Apparently, he didn't have time to do the in depth number crunching that your post includes. If he had, readers might've gotten a clearer picture of how "entrepreneurs" like Ben Chavis cook the books. Not that LAT's Sam Zell or wife Helen want clarity:

The Perimeter Primate said...

I sent the same info to Landsberg. Here's his response, Sunday, May 31, 2009 10:29 PM:

Dear Ms. Higgins,

I don’t have time right now to respond at length, but I did want to thank you for such an information-rich message. I was aware of some of this, particularly the cherry-picking charges, which I addressed in the story, and the change in demographics, which I didn’t, largely because I didn’t have more space and also thought it was not the most important detail about the school. I did ask Chavis about it, and his explanation was at least plausible: that Asians were drawn to the school once the test scores started rising, and have come in increasing numbers as the scores have gotten extremely high. He also claimed that Latinos and African Americans have better test scores than Asians, which isn’t exactly true, but they do nearly as well and outperform Asian students on some tests. If you can name another school where that’s true, please tell me.

I finally came around to this: The school is remarkable in any case. It outperforms schools for the gifted, and schools in extremely high-achieving, affluent suburbs. I think all your concerns are worthy and I tried to address some of the same issues in the story, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be paying attention to what the school does right.

Thanks again.


Mitchell Landsberg

Los Angeles Times

The Perimeter Primate said...

I received a response from Jack O'Connell today.

Dear Ms. Higgins:

Thank you for contacting the California Department of Education (CDE) regarding American Indian Public Charter School.

As you may know, there is existing protocol for filing a complaint against a charter school.

For complaints regarding a teacher or school, the issue should first be addressed at the school site by talking with the teacher and, if necessary, the school principal. If the problem is not resolved, the school’s governing board should be contacted, followed by the school’s charter authorizing entity. Charter schools receiving federal funds are subject to provisions of the Uniform Complaint Procedure. You may view the procedure at the CDE Uniform Complaint Procedure Web site at

However, since your complaint is regarding the school administrator, please contact the school's governing board, and then the charter school authorizer, which is Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). You may locate the contact information for OUSD at the CDE California School Directory Web page at

You may also wish to view the CDE Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Charter Schools Web page at

If you have any questions regarding this subject, please contact Michelle Ruskofsky, Education Program Consultant, Charter Schools Division, at 916-322-1755 or by e-mail at

Again, thank you for contacting the CDE.


State Superintendent of Public Instruction


The Perimeter Primate said...

Landsberg’s article mentioned that the children of the local elementary school principal also attended the AIPCS. I happen to know he is an African American man. With an advanced degree in education, it’s a good bet that his kids would have been more academically successful than the average African American student in OUSD, but this important detail won’t show up in the CDE’s stats.

The Perimeter Primate said...

From a recent discussion about AIPCS on an Oakland listserv:

"The Oakland Charter School middle school in the Fruitvale district has been creaming for successful students since Chavis' protégé, "King" Jorge Lopez took it over about 5 years ago. Problem is that no witnesses have come forward yet. The mostly Latino immigrant parents in the neighborhood struggle to get their kids in, because the local district middle schools are so unsafe, so they're not inclined to snitch on Oakland Charter. I've heard stories of Jorge demanding to see potential enrollees' 5th grade test scores, and telling parents that this or that child is "not qualified" to get in.

[X] and I toured the school 2 1/2 years ago (they didn't know who we were), and saw lots of fear in kids' faces. It was similar to the West Oakland KIPP school: quiet and joyless like a minimum security prison. In both schools, the teachers we got to observe did "front of the room" lecture as kids sat and listened (or pretended to listen). In the Fruitvale school, I noticed that some kids had still not reached full English proficiency and looked confused as teachers babbled in English.

Too bad nobody has exposed them. Jorge was promoted to the powerful State Bd of Ed in Sacramento this year, no?"

nikto said...

I shared this article with the teacher of the Indian Education Program for Native American students at my school.

She knew absolutely NOTHING about it and expressed surprise.

It is easy to be
defeated by an enemy when

The Perimeter Primate said...

The Oakland Unified Office of Charter Schools declined Chavis’ most recent new petition.

It also has admonished his charter schools for screening test scores of student applicants, and is now supposedly monitoring them closely.