Oakland closes high-scoring charters

Oakland’s school board has revoked the charter of three very high-performing schools on a 4-3 vote, saying American Indian Model Schools board hasn’t acted aggressively to separate the schools from its former director, Ben Chavis. Now a consultant, he’s “accused of channeling millions of dollars to himself and his wife,” reports the Oakland Tribune.

The investigation leading to his ouster began in 2012 with allegations of fraud that led to a five-month investigation by state auditors of the charter organization’s records. They found $3.8 million in questionable expenditures, rife with conflicts of interest, from construction contracts and lease agreements to mandatory summer programs going to Chavis’ companies — all while his wife, Marsha Amador, handled the books. At one point, Chavis served on the governing board while he was director.

Under pressure from the school district, the AIMS board gave him notice on Jan. 12 that he could no longer have a role in running the institution. They appointed former OUSD trustee Sylvester Hodges as interim director and produced a thick binder of reforms.

The Alameda County District Attorney is reviewing the case against Chavis and his wife, but no charges have been filed.

Unless the county or state grants a reprieve, the three schools — a K-8, a middle school and a high school — will close on June 30.

These exceptionally successful schools should remain open, writes Cato’s Andrew Coulson in the San Jose Mercury News.

In a 2011 study, I found that AIM is the highest-performing charter school network in the state, by a wide margin. That is after controlling for student characteristics and schoolwide peer effects.

Low-income black and Hispanic AIM students actually outperform the statewide averages for wealthier whites and Asians. AIM even outperforms Lowell, one of San Francisco’s most respected and academically selective high schools.

When AIM started as a school for American Indians, scores were abysmal. Chavis, who’s part Lumbee, took over and transformed the school, then expanded.

The board’s financial mismanagement justifies closure, argues Robert Gammon in the East Bay Express.

It’s time to reboot charter governance, concludes Fordham in a new report.

About Joanne


  1. Well, one obvious question comes to mind — were they really high scoring, or was there cheating on the tests?

  2. Should probably be mentioned that the schools are 50% or more Asian. Because “low income minority” in Oakland wouldn’t bring Asians to mind first, whereas “high test scores” certainly would.

    • And it should also be mentioned that the Oakland school board oversees a pretty lousy district which brings up the question of their motivation in shutting down the charters.

      I do however enjoy your efforts to avoid the taint of racism while excusing the poor performance of the other schools in the Oakland district by suggesting that black kids are stupid. The last time I saw someone twisting themselves like that the Chinese Acrobats and Contortionist show was in town.

      • It is a simple fact that native born, Black Americans significantly underperform every other race/ethnicity out there, including African Blacks.

        I personally believe this is due to culture rather than race. I also believe that we will never fix the problem until people can point it out without being called racist.

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        It is said that the first Rockefeller used below-cost pricing to drive competitors out of business. He could stand this because he had so much business elsewhere. After which, he went to high, monopoly pricing. At least, that’s what I was taught.
        Not a lesson lost on the school district, I guess.

        • Mark Roulo says:

          We were taught this in school. Doesn’t make it true. The actual price i have seen don’t support that narrative ( granted, these are often provided by pro-Rockefeller folks … but the other side doesn’t seem to think that data is important).

        • You might want to take the next step and consider what happens when a monopolist without the power of government to back them starts setting “high, monopoly pricing”.

          They attract competition. They create competition. Competition springs out of the ground like toadstools after a rain.

          Monopolies always – always – create the circumstances that lead to their demise. Even access to government power to preclude competition is only effective within the reach of the compliant government. Outside its reach, example the auto manufacturing business, monopolies spur competition since the monopoly assures the validity and value of the market. At some point those excluded competitors overcome the artificial barriers erected by the monopoly. Sic transit gloria.

          We may be watching the beginning steps of that process in the field of education.

  3. Oakland’s sd is notoriously corrupt. But the fact remains that if you say “high scoring minority low income” in Oakland, people think “African American”. When in fact, the high scores are due primarily to the Asian population; the black population at the hs level is very small.

    • I don’t care what people think but what the various institutions do.

      American Indian seems to do a pretty damned good job for the kids it gets and OUSD doesn’t. It’s the wrong schools that are being shut down if it’s education you value but political power allows the incompetent and uncaring education officials of OUSD to shield themselves from embarrassing comparisons.

  4. Mike in Texas says:

    Let it go, Cal. No matter how many facts you present Allen will ignore the fact that charters cherry pick their students.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      I think it would be more accurate to say that successful charters cherry pick their students. Though “cherry pick” is probably a misleading term. Students (or their parents) have to affirmatively apply to a charter but in most places it is illegal for the charter to choose who to take. If the charter is oversubscribed, the applicants go into a lottery.

      The “cherry picking” comes after. Students who aren’t doing well at the charter often go back to more traditional schools. They may be encouraged in this by the charter.

      There are lots of unsuccessful charters, unsuccessful in the sense that their students score on standardized tests about the same as students in traditional schools. This may be because these schools wind up doing the opposite of cherry picking. They don’t get the “strivers” and “diamonds in the rough” that places like KIPP do. They get the students who are doing so badly in traditional school that a charter is a desperation move.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        I should have also said that schools like KIPP do some “cherry picking” beforehand just by being honest. “We have a longer school day and a longer school year than your present school” is not calculated to appeal to kids who are looking for an easy ride.

    • I await the day you present those facts.

      By the way Mike, did you hear about the neat way Indiana’s Blaine amendment was undone? Pretty slick hey?

      Looks like you stalwart defenders of the status quo may not be enjoying the benefit of anti-Catholic bigotry much longer and without need to amend state constitutions.

  5. cranberry says:

    Multiple, serious conflicts of interest are good reasons to revoke a school’s charter.

    • Sorry, but it’s multiple, serious allegations of conflicts of interest that are good reasons to revoke a school’s charter. If that were the widely-applied standard then there’d be precious few school districts that wouldn’t get the axe since fiscal irresponsibility and public education are practically synonymous.

      And really, why would any reasonable person expect anything else? After all, if there’s no reason to concern yourself with the public’s kids then there’s no good reason to concern youself with the public’s dollars. Other then to see that they continue to flow in of course.

      • Mike in Texas says:

        Yes we now see Allen’s viewpoint of how things should be. I bet you also say it doesn’t matter how bad Wall Street screwed up the economy b/c they made so much money for themselves.

        • The day I need you, Mike, to explain my viewpoint you’ll be the first one told. As it is, you seem to have little appetite for explaining why a school board that fails at its task should have say so over and educator who succeeds at his.

          Oh, and if you want something to bet on, bet on the longevity of the district system of public education.

          I’d say we’re less then five years from the first state’s dissolving of school districts in favor of some mix of charters, vouchers, tax credits and education savings accounts. And of course any other bright ideas unleashed by the collapse of public faith in the district model of public education.

          So, how do we arrange the bet, Mike?

          • Mike in Texas says:

            Allen, have you forgotten the local school board is elected by the local population?

            As for your ridiculous predictions, I believe you’ve been making them for awhile now. But yet, the pushback against high stakes testing and false “reforms” has begun. Or did you not notice the big protests in DC and Chicago?

      • cranberry says:

        allen, the recent indictments in Atlanta show that test scores can be manipulated. If this charter network posts better results than the norm with little financial support, that’s wonderful. However, at some point, one should wonder if the figures can be trusted, especially if the finances are being mismanaged.

        It seems the state took over control of the Oakland Unified School District due to financial problems in 2003. http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2009-07-09/article/33300?headline=UnderCurrents.The.End-of-OUSD-State-Control-A-Tale-of-Two-Legislators-By-J.-Douglas-Allen-Taylor#.UPRNIDsVMQ.email

        So it happens to public, non-charter schools as well. I suppose the current OUSD school board does not want to lose control to the state, which gives them a good reason not to turn a blind eye to financial improprieties.