American Indian Public Charter School

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American Indian Public Charter School or AIPCS is an Oakland, California charter middle school with predominantly low-income, minority students. It opened in 1996 and struggled over the next few years until a turnaround brought up enrollment numbers and test scores. The American Indian Model Schools charter system developed out of AIPCS and now operates several schools.

AIPCS' test scores are superior to almost all public schools in the state. In 2007 AICPS became the first public school in Oakland to win the National Blue Ribbon Award.[1]


AIPCS was chartered by the Oakland Unified School District in 1996 with the mission of improving the abysmal performance of Native American students in the Oakland schools. As a charter school, AIPCS is free to students and has significant autonomy. The school, once located in a converted church in Oakland's Laurel District, is now located at 171 12th Street. The high school is located a 746 Grand Avenue. The charter school district is known as AIMS, American Indian Model Schools. It originally had a predominantly Native American student population and focused on Native American culture; students had classes in bead-making and drumming and had smoking breaks.[2][3]

By 2001, the school was failing. Enrollment dropped to 34[4] and test scores were abysmal.[2][3] That year, Ben Chavis, a Lumbee Indian from North Carolina and a former faculty member at San Francisco State University, became school principal and made a series of changes. Though he had no previous affiliation with the school, Chavis, who had experience as a public school principal, volunteered for the job.

Chavis, who believes principals need to be held more accountable for their schools' performance,[5] replaced most of the school's staff, eliminated bilingual education and Native American cultural content from the curriculum, and gave away all the school's technology equipment.[6] Chavis focused instruction on the California Content Standards and instituted a number of unorthodox disciplinary policies.

In the years that followed, the school's enrollment grew[4] and test scores made dramatic improvements, becoming one of the highest in the state. During the same time period, the percentage of students identifying as American Indian at the school decreased to less than 5%, following the general trend in Oakland's public schools.

In 2007, AIPCS opened a second campus, AIPCS II, and a high school, American Indian Public High School (AIPHS). In the same year, Chavis retired after a string of controversies.[7] On March 20, 2013, the Oakland School Board in a 4 - 3 vote decided to revoke the three school's charters, including the elementary school where Chavis' own children attend.[8] On July 15, 2013, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo granted the school a preliminary injunction, allowing all three campuses to remain open.[9]

Educational approach[edit]

AIPCS employs a "back-to-basics, squared" approach to schooling. Students spend their academic school day in a self-contained classroom with one teacher. In theory, this teacher stays with these students through their three years at AIPCS, but in practice, high teacher turnover makes this impossible.

AIPCS adheres to the American Indian Model (AIM), the focus of which is excellent student attendance.[10] In keeping with this, originally AIPCS gave cash awards of up to $100 to students who attend every school day for a year[11] and claims yearly attendance rates as high as 99.6%.[12]

The school day at AIPCS begins with three hours of Language Arts and Mathematics, followed by a short lunch period(twenty minutes). Time between classes is intentionally minimal; the school estimates that this adds a week's worth of classroom time per year.

Students are assigned at least 2 hours of homework every night. Students with incomplete work are liable for a detention after school. Struggling students who show little to no improvement over the school year may be retained; one student was held back for earning a "B" in math. All students are required to attend summer school.

The student dress code is khaki- or navy-colored pants and white, collared shirts. Makeup and jewelry are not permitted.

Although the school had minimal lab equipment in 2012, science is taught mostly through textbooks. There are also no televisions in the school, as Chavis believed they led to mischief. The school offers music, performance art, study hall and club activities after school.

Andrew J. Coulson, Director of the Center for Educational Freedom, says that AIPCS has the formula for maximizing academic achievement for poor minority students: [AIPCS] "instills in the school environment those cultural characteristics necessary for academic success that are missing in the home".[13]

Physical education[edit]

Physical education at AIPCS is offered for forty minutes of the school day, and consists of primarily calisthenics and running. Students do not play traditional games such as basketball, football or baseball. According to the AIPCS website, AIPCS students significantly outperform the Oakland Unified School District average on multiple measures of physical fitness, including aerobic capacity, flexibility, and multiple measures of strength.[14]


AIPCS disciplinary procedures are in line with the California Education Code. Students who are disruptive, submit incomplete work, or misbehave in other ways are assigned an hour of detention after school. If the student commits a second infraction in the same week, he or she will get an additional hour of detention and four hours of Saturday School.

Other discipline is more unorthodox. For example, Chavis, with parental permission, shaved the head of a student accused of stealing in front of the entire school, forced a girl to clean the boys' bathroom as punishment, and forced some students to wear embarrassing signs.[15]

Not all AIPCS staff adhere to the methods used by Chavis,[3] and with his departure, some of the more unorthodox disciplinary methods have been eliminated or toned down.[15]

Conservative philosophy[edit]

We are looking for hard working people who believe in free market capitalism. . . . Multi-cultural specialists, ultra liberal zealots, and college-tainted oppression liberators need not apply.

— AIPCS teacher recruiting statement

AIPCS mocks liberal orthodoxy zealously and has been praised by conservatives such as columnist George Will and Andrew Coulson of the Cato Institute.[16] The school claims to be just as intolerant of unions as it is of drug dealers, and prides itself on firing underperforming teachers.[15]

Chavis summed up his beliefs about how liberal thinkers hurt minority students:[3]

They have no standards for minorities. They're like, you know, let's let them get freedom. Let's understand their learning style. Let's give them multiculturalism. And no discipline, no structure, no game plan. So they're destroying us. They've destroyed a whole generation. They've wiped out many more people than the Klan has.

— Ben Chavis

Test scores[edit]

In the five years since Chavis arrived, the school's Academic Performance Index (API) had more than doubled. API scores range from a minimum of 200 possible points to a maximum of 1000 possible.

  • In 2001, AIPCS had an API of 440, near worst among Oakland middle schools.
  • In 2006, AIPCS had an API of 967, eighth highest in the state, where the median API is roughly 750, and highest in the state among schools serving mostly low-income children, which typically score around 650 on the measure.[15] In the same year, the federal government named AIPCS one of the top 250 schools in the country.[17]
  • In 2010, AIPCS had an API of 988 - making it the highest performing middle school in all of California.

The school's 41 8th graders' performance in 2009:

California Standard Tests Scores, proficiency rate [3]
English Mathematics Science History/Social
100% 100% 98% 93%

Note: All AIPCS 8th grade students take Algebra I in the 8th grade, while many California students do not take Algebra I until their first year of high school.

For comparison, test scores of nearby schools in

  • Edna Brewer Middle School had an API of 782 and proficiency levels of English 51%, Math 53%, Science 67% and History/Social Science 50% [18]
  • Westlake Middle School had an API of 680 and proficiency levels of English 30%, Math 34%, Science 46%, and History/Social Science 23% [19]
  • Piedmont Middle School, with few low-income students, had an API of 918 and 8th-grade proficiency levels of English 83%, Math 88%, Science 81% and History/Social Science 80%[20]

High school scores[edit]

AIPHS students have also performed very well on standardized tests. Roughly 90% of AIPHS students score at proficient or advanced levels on most subjects, with lower scores in Chemistry and Earth Science.[21] In 2009, AIPHS graduated its first senior class. All eighteen graduating seniors were accepted to four-year colleges, including Cornell, MIT and UC Berkeley.[15]


IQ expert[13] Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, praised AIPCS and said he would send his children there. However, he expressed skepticism towards AIPCS' high test scores, stating that he had never seen an example of a school that produced dramatic score improvements that stood up to scholarly scrutiny. He proposed six questions that should be asked regarding AIPCS' test scores, such as whether the scores had been influenced by the "practice effect," and predicted that test score improvements at AIPCS under Chavis would prove much less impressive once the questions had been answered.[22]

AIPCS has been accused of "cherry-picking" - recruiting students who will do well and getting rid of students who won't.[23][24] AIPCS denied the allegations, but half the 6th grade students performing poorly in 2007 had left the school before graduation, and only 39 of the 51 students who started in 2006 completed their middle school years with AIPCS. It should be noted, however, that the students who entered below grade level and stayed through the 8th grade all improved.[15] The failure to take into account the attrition of poorly performing students who have dropped out of a school is often the most decisive indicator that a school's evaluation has been inadequate.[22]


AIPCS ethnic breakdown by year

For 2007-2008, the AIPCS student body of approximately 180 students represents the following ethnic groups:

  • 46% Asian
  • 23% African-American
  • 22% Latino
  • 3% American Indian/Alaskan Native
  • < 2% Caucasian, Pacific Islander, Filipino

Approximately 97% of AIPCS students are "socioeconomically disadvantaged"[25]

The recent demographics represent a shift from earlier years, when the school had a larger American Indian population and smaller Asian population.[26][27][28] At AIPCS II, located in Oakland's Chinatown neighborhood, 67% of the students are Asian and are recruited almost exclusively from the nearby Lincoln Elementary School, which also has high test scores and is predominantly Asian.[29][30]

Critics have suggested that AIPCS success is largely due to this demographic shift and the success of its Asian student population. However, the school's Asian, African-American, and Latino students perform similarly on standardized tests.[15]

AIPCS staff says the school attracts a representative sample of students from local elementary schools; however, California's Office of Charter Schools noted that AIPCS' demographics were out of line with those in the surrounding Oakland Unified School District's jurisdiction, where Asian students were only 14% of the student population and African American and Latino students each made up 36% of the population, and that these discrepancies could be due to AIPCS recruiting practices.[29]


From 2001 to 2008, AIPCS spent under $8,000 per student-year, which was less than half as much per student-year as the surrounding Oakland Unified School District.[31][32] AIPCS has also received grants of over $100,000 from the Koret Foundation[15] and more than $200,000 from the Walton family.[33]


California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger visited the school at least twice. During a 2006 visit, he said of the school, "... the reason why I’m here at this school specifically is because this is a perfect example. First of all, a perfect example of great leadership, that Dr. Chavis has less money per student than other schools have, and he has raised the test scores in the last five years to make it the best school in Oakland. And this is really an extraordinary accomplishment." [34]

Debra England of the Koret Foundation, said "They really should be the model for public education in the state of California. 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."[15]

The mother of an African-American student said it was "evil" for the school to punish her son for staying home to watch the inauguration of President Barack Obama on television, and she stopped sending him to the school. The student later came to visit AIPCS and acknowledged missing the school.[15]

The parent of another student removed her daughter from AIPCS after Chavis demanded the student repeat algebra even though she received a B in the course. She described Chavis as "frickin' nasty" and filed a complaint with the AIPCS board, which she said the board never responded to.

Chavis said "I don't care what the critics say, because the critics aren't turning schools around."[35]

Chavis-era controversies[edit]

During Chavis' tenure, AIPCS and Chavis were involved in a number of controversies.

Racially and sexually-charged statements[edit]

Chavis tended to call all non-Caucasian students, including African Americans, "darkies."[15] Chavis explained "I use 'darkie' every day, I use it in the context that I'm Indian and I'm black. I'm a darkie."[17] "I tell the students, if you don't do your work, people are going to call you a lazy Mexican. You're black, they expect you to be an idiot," said Chavis, who is Native American. "I use it to motivate the kids."[35]

Chavis also allegedly pushed a teacher down a flight of stairs while calling her a "fucking bitch", "stupid bitch", as she tried to retrieve her violin after he fired her; allegedly called his own niece a "slut", a "lying bitch" and threatened to kill her; and allegedly asked one of AIPCS female students if a male student "was still trying to suck your titties", which he denied.[17]

Chavis allegedly called a Mills College graduate student "a fucking black minority punk" after he showed up fifteen minutes late to a group visit at the school, calling the student "worthless piece of (expletive) people have been making excuses for"[36] Chavis said that he called the grad student a "dumbass minority," and said "he was an embarrassment to his race."[17] and he saw no reason to hold his guests to a different standard than AIPCS students, who receive an hour detention if they arrive a second late. "He came late. White people are on time. What does he think, there's black time? Mexican time? Indian time? The clock is white."

The evening of the incident with the Mills College team, Chavis announced his intention to step down from his position at AIPCS.[7]

Admissions controversies[edit]

California Charter schools are required to either accept all applicants, or, if they have more applicants than capacity, to hold a lottery to determine entrants. AIPCS has never held a lottery and was denied a petition to open a new school in the fall of 2008, in part because AIPCS was "unable to describe" their selection process. AIPCS staff stated they had never needed to hold a lottery because they had never had more applicants than seats;[15] however, in the same petition, AIPCS stated its primary motivation for opening an additional school was to serve the many families wishing to enroll that the existing schools could not accommodate.[29]

Furthermore, in 2006, an African-American parent filed a complaint stating that AIPCS told her there was no room for her son and refused to place him on the school's waiting list, even while it was accepting applications from white students. Chavis allegedly told a Caucasian parent that her son would be placed at the top of the school's waiting list because there were too many "darkies" and Asians enrolled in the school. If true, AIPCS violated federal and state laws, which prohibit public schools, including charters, from discriminating by race.[17]

Coordinates: 37°47′37″N 122°11′58″W / 37.79367°N 122.19939°W / 37.79367; -122.19939[37]

Extraordinary audit[edit]

In July 2011, the AIPCS governing board voted Dr. Chavis into an executive position to help with the expansion of the model. At a later board meeting in January 2012, the board announced Dr. Chavis’ resignation and thanked him for his service.[38] Less than one month later, California’s Fiscal and Crisis Management Team announced AIPCS would undergo an extraordinary audit. The audit focused on the ASES grant for an after school program, facilities lease and rent expenditures, and the Political Reform Act of 1974 regarding conflict of interest laws.

During the 2012 charter renewal process for AIPCS II, the Oakland Office of Charter Schools found practices in violation of the charter and applicable law. OCS also found lack of responsible governance on the part of the AIPCS governing board along with poor financial accountability. The shortcomings of the school adversely affected parents and students; financial resources were not used to address the needs of students. OCS noted the following strength of the school: AIPCS II did pursue its measurable student outcome in its current charter and met its AYP. The following challenges were noted: adherence to proposed educational program and compliance with regulatory elements (financial audits, reporting, enrollment, admissions, Brown Act, Political Reform Act).[39]

On April 4, 2012, the OUSD board held its AIPCS II charter renewal hearing. OCS recommended denying the charter. This was supported by President London, who suggested OUSD could deny the charter and AIPCS II could renew with Alameda County, given the pending FCMAT extraordinary audit. OCS noted Chavis was both lessee and lessor, that his personal car insurance was paid by the school (the school does not have any cars), and checks were made out to a board member, among other financial issues. President Michael Stember defended AIPCS and new accountant Christina Chen denied all charges against AIPCS. Given the outstanding API and numerous parent, staff, and student speakers, the OUSD board voted 4-3 to renew the schools’s charter for another five years. Spearman, Gallo, Dobbins, and Hodge voted to renew the charter, Kakishiba, Yee, and London voted against the motion. The board will return to the issue in two years to verify training of the AIPCS governing board and more rigorous accounting practices at the school. See minutes.[40][41]

In early June 2012, the FCMAT audit was published. Key findings in the sixty-five page document note conclusive documentation of fraud in rental agreements, funds siphoned from the SAIL summer program, and bidding for on site construction projects. The report also noted the fiduciary irresponsibility of the AIPCS governing board.[42] Michael Stember resigned between April and June; Jean Martinez is now president of the AIPCS governing board.[43] "The allegations against American Indian charter schools officials include $3.7 million in payments to businesses owned by founder Ben Chavis and his wife, including money for rent, storage fees, construction projects and the administration of summer school programs.”[43]

Charter revocation[edit]

In March 2013, the OUSD Board voted to revoke the AIMS charter. The Alameda County Board of Education has an option to overturn the OUSD decision, and the California Board of Education serves as a final point of appeal. If an appeal is not successful, the revocation will come into effect on June 30, 2013.[44][8]

How ever in 2017 the school's charter has been renewal for another 5 years.


  1. ^ Murphy, Katy. "Oakland public school a contender for the National Blue Ribbon." Oakland Tribune. Thursday, December 10, 2009. Retrieved on September 13, 2011.
  2. ^ a b Wilson, Emily (November 14, 2001), Beating a New Kind of Drum, East Bay Express [permanent dead link]
  3. ^ a b c d Wilson, Emily (August 23, 2006), A Charter School's Unconventional Success, National Public Radio 
  4. ^ a b Enrollment was never high in the early years, starting with 42 student and peaking at 68 in 1998-99. In 1999-00 it bottomed out at 18. From 2001 to 2009 it never dipped below 100, settling at around 180 students [1]
  5. ^ "Most principals are lazy, and when schools aren't performing well, we blame the parents and the kids when we should blame the principal. The principal is the coach," Ben Chavis, A charter on success in Oakland, Chip Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle
  6. ^ Vander Veen, Chad, Technology and the Three Rs, Government Technology 
  7. ^ a b Asimov, Nanette (July 26, 2007), Oakland charter school principal steps down, San Francisco Chronicle 
  8. ^ a b
  9. ^ Kwamilele, Tasion. "American Indian Model Schools to Remain Open". Oakland North. UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. Retrieved 29 July 2013. 
  10. ^ American Indian Model school's mission statement
  11. ^ Johnson, Chip (August 23, 2004), A charter on success in Oakland, San Francisco Chronicle 
  12. ^ StraightTalk with Kathy Weppner, WBEN, March 5, 2006
  13. ^ a b Coulson, Andrew, We are not seeing the Bell Curve's Toll, CATO at Liberty 
  14. ^ AIPCS Physical Fitness Results, 2007-2008
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Landsberg, Mitchell (May 31, 2009). "Spitting in the eye of mainstream education". Los Angeles Times. 
  16. ^ Will, George (August 21, 2008), Where Paternalism Makes the Grade, Washington Post 
  17. ^ a b c d e Gammon, Robert (June 6, 2007), Chavis is in Hot Water, East Bay Express, archived from the original on 2008-08-03 
  18. ^ Edna Brewer Middle School Accountability Report Card for 2007-2008
  19. ^ Westlake Middle School Accountability Report Card for 2007-2008
  20. ^ Piedmont Middle School Accountability Report Card for 2007-2008
  21. ^ American Indian Public High School STAR report for 2009
  22. ^ a b Murray, Charles, There Is No Such Thing as Miraculous Test Score Improvements, The American, The Journal of the American Enterprise Institute [permanent dead link]
  23. ^ Betty Olson-Jones, president of the Oakland Education Association, a teachers' union, said "AIPCS had a reputation among the local public schools as being very interested in kind of recruiting kids who are going to do well, and getting rid of kids who won't," Landsberg, Mitchell (May 31, 2009). "Spitting in the eye of mainstream education". Los Angeles Times. [2]
  24. ^ Drum, Kevin (May 31, 2009), Extreme Charter, Mother Jones 
  25. ^ AIPCS School Accountability Report Card for 2007-2008:
  26. ^ AIPCS School Accountability Report Card for 2003-2004:
  27. ^ AIPCS School Accountability Report Card for 2004-2005:
  28. ^ AIPCS School Accountability Report Card for 2005-2006:
  29. ^ a b c AIPCS Charter Denied
  30. ^ Katz, Alex (January 7, 2006), Chinatown school beating odds, Oakland Tribune 
  31. ^ Chavis, Ben (September 9, 2009), "Who Says Schools Need More Money?", CNN 
  32. ^ Murphy, Katy (June 25, 2009), Oakland school district passes budget, each school hit with 4.5 percent funding cut, Oakland Tribune 
  33. ^ 2006 Grants, The Walton Family Foundation, archived from the original on 2009-03-09 
  34. ^ Governor Schwarzenegger Visits American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland,, October 24, 2006
  35. ^ a b Sebastian, Simone (December 16, 2005), Hard Line, Top School, San Francisco Chronicle 
  36. ^ Murphy, Katy (July 26, 2007), Madman, genius or both?, Oakland Tribune 
  37. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: American Indian Public Charter School
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^
  41. ^ Tucker, Jill (April 5, 2012). "Fate of American Indian Charter School II debated". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
  42. ^
  43. ^ a b Tucker, Jill (June 14, 2012). "Oakland schools' officials may face criminal probe". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
  44. ^

External links[edit]