What makes a “top” school, top? According to the San Francisco Chronicle (and most other media) it is test scores. Thanks to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Obama’s Race to the Top (RttT), test scores are all that matter these days. This has led to numerous cheating scandals, as well as a reduction in science, arts, physical education and other curricula to make room for more test preparation. It has also led to a number of other scandals, such as the one at Oakland’s American Indian Charter Schools, now under threat of closure for financial improprieties, despite its relatively high test scores.
The American Indian schools are currently being investigated by the Alameda County district attorney for funneling $3.8 million to founder and former director Ben Chavis and his wife for shady real estate deals and services, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. As director, Chavis signed school checks over to himself for properties he rented to the schools. In one case, he charged the schools $1.09 per square foot per month, when Oakland Unified was charging one-fifth of that ($2.50 per year).
The Oakland school board has asked the school to shape up and convince them their books are now in order. The board will make its final decision on March 20.
The problem is that it is not just financial improprieties that call the schools’ quality into question. Chavis, who ran the schools from 2001 until 2007, has been accused of humiliating students, swearing at them and calling them names publicly. The East Bay Express reports that he also made racist and sexist comments in front of students, while the WSWS reports he physically abused an adult visitor to the campus and forced a student to shave his head as a punishment. The Express also found that the schools’ high test scores had nothing to do with good teaching or school structure, but were the result of cherry-picking higher performing students—a form of cheating that violates OUSD’s own policies. In essence, the schools were phony “top” schools that rigged the system in order to look good, maintain high enrollment, and serve as a cover for Chavis’ embezzlement schemes.
While the OUSD is threatening to revoke the schools’ charters and shut them down, they should not be seen as the hero riding in on their white horse. According to the Express, the school board had known for years about Chavis’ abuses and misconduct, yet continually renewed the schools’ charters, citing their wonderful test scores as justification. Indeed, the OUSB, due its lack of effective oversight, was complicit in both the cheating scandal and Chavis’ embezzlement of millions of dollars from the district
The OUSD likewise had no problem with the schools’ refusal to hire unionized teachers or its rabid anti-communism (one of the schools’ “10 Commandments” was “Thou shalt be aware of quacks who believe in communism. Hast thou ever heard of illegal immigrants risking their lives to enter Cuba?”