Ben Chavis turned the failing American Indian Charter School in Oakland into three very high-scoring schools — and was forced to step down after charges of financial mismanagement and overly strict discipline.
A Lumbee Indian, Chavis grew up very poor in Robeson County, North Carolina. Now, he owns a farm there. He converted the barn into five air-conditioned classrooms for a very strict, very intensive, three-week summer program, Math Camp in a Barn, writes Naomi Schaefer Riley in the Wall Street Journal.
Most of the 50 or so children in grades 5 through 9 are Lumbees, though a few are black or Hispanic. The county is North Carolina’s poorest. School achievement is low.
From 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday the children learn math, interspersed with some reading, physical education and lunch. Each gets 120 hours of instruction during the three weeks, equivalent to what they would get in a year at a typical public school.
. . . On Mr. Chavis’s farm . . . teachers drill math concepts over and over. They use flashcards, ask children to do problems on the dry-erase boards and to compete with one another to get answers right.
The closest thing these classrooms have to technology is an electric pencil sharpener. Students are given about two hours of homework each night. Detention (which can involve anything from washing windows and emptying the garbage to shoveling manure) is given for infractions such as tardiness, talking back to teachers or failing to turn in homework.
Some of the teachers are graduates of Chavis’ charter schools.