From the L.A. Times, a look at a cluster of California charter schools which “mock liberal orthodoxy with such zeal that it can seem like a parody.” At American Indian Public Charter,
School administrators take pride in their record of frequently firing
teachers they consider to be underperforming. Unions are embraced with the same warmth accorded “self-esteem experts, panhandlers, drug dealers and those snapping turtles who refuse to put forth their best effort,” to quote the school’s website.
Students, almost all poor, wear uniforms and are subject to disciplinary procedures redolent of military school. One local school district official was horrified to learn that a girl was forced to clean the boys’ restroom as punishment.
The school serves a low-income population, yet its students routinely post some of the highest standardized-test scores in the state.
Among the thousands of public schools in California, only four middle schools and three high schools score higher. None of them serves mostly underprivileged children.
At American Indian, the largest ethnic group is Asian, followed by Latinos and African Americans. Some of the schools’ critics contend that high-scoring Asian Americans are driving the test scores, but blacks and Latinos do roughly as well–in fact, better on some tests.
Is this a miracle story? Is the charter’s success as simple as the triumph of discipline and common sense over basketweaving? The school’s critics claim that American Indian’s high test scores result from active recruitment of high achievers and, in the words of the local
teachers’-union president, “getting rid of kids who won’t” perform well.
And then there’s the matter of the mother who withdrew her son, concluding that the school was “evil.” She had proposed to keep her son at home to watch the presidential inauguration in January, to which the school’s principal responded with the threat of extra homework as
punishment and, more objectively disturbingly, of rescinding a recommendation to a private high school.
It’s clear, at any rate, that when this school administration says “zero tolerance” for attendance or behavioral infractions, they aren’t kidding. And not-kidding produces results. It’s possible to argue about the means, and about the value of the end of high test scores, but the results are undeniably there.