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American Indian Public Charter School: The Ironic Charter School

Lisa Snell
June 1, 2009, 4:11pm

The American Indian Public Charter School is perhaps one of the most interesting stories in the school reform movement. As the Los Angeles Times reports:

Reporting from Oakland -- 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."

That, it turns out, is just the beginning of the ways in which American Indian Public Charter and its two sibling schools spit in the eye of mainstream education. These small, no-frills, independent public schools in the hardscrabble flats of Oakland sometimes seem like creations of television's "Colbert Report." They mock liberal orthodoxy with such zeal that it can seem like a parody.

This was a school that started as one of those schools that the school choice opponents warn you about: a school with a narrowly focused cultural agenda that did not lead to any improvement in student performance. Here in lies the irony: while the school still has a culturally focused name, it is perhaps the least politically correct school in America.

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."

The school is perhaps not for every child, but represents the great benefit of choice. For those parents who want a school that embraces discipline and competition, the charter school movement has created this option. For an entertaining and heartening tale about what is possible when school leaders have autonomy and control, read the whole thing.


Lisa Snell is Director of Education


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