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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the three best books on education ever, September 30, 2009
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This review is from: Crazy Like a Fox: One Principal's Triumph in the Inner City (Hardcover)

Crazy Like A Fox is one of the three best books on education I've ever read. (My other two all-time favorite books are both by Jay Mathews: Escalante, the best book about an individual teacher, and Work Hard, Be Nice, the best book about entrepreneurship in education, building one school into a national network.)

Crazy Like A Fox rounds out the list. It is by far the best book I've ever read in explaining, in no uncertain terms, exactly what is the No Excuses educational philosophy, which is shared by nearly every school that successfully educates low-income, minority children. As such, this book should be required reading for every teacher and principal who is educating such kids.

The book is written by Dr. Ben Chavis, who turned around the worst school in Oakland, the American Indian Public Charter School, and has expanded it to five charter schools in the city, all of which are among the top 1% of public schools in California and three of which are in the top 10 schools statewide according to the state's Academic Performance Index scores. These results certainly aren't due to favorable demographics -- in fact, at the original AIPCS school, 97% of the students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, 98% are minorities and 74% speak English as a second language.

Chavis has an amazing story, starting with his childhood of extreme poverty in rural North Carolina with a violent and largely absent father. He says that of all of the inner-city Oakland students who've ever attended one of his schools, not one of them had a childhood as bad as his -- and he's no doubt right. Chavis describes himself as "a country Indian from the South, who was a sharecropper with uneducated parents, who paid his way through college and sent his family money each semester, and who graduated from a state university..."

But what's most interesting to me is his version of the No Excuses philosophy of how to educate poor, minority children. It's similar to other comparable high-performing schools, but Chavis takes it to an extreme. It starts with his Golden Rule: "If you act like a fool, you'll be treated like a fool. If you act like a winner, you'll be treated like a winner." He lavishes praise and will do anything for kids who work hard and play by the rules -- but woe unto the student who acts like a fool. To them, Chavis turns into one of the craziest, scariest, meanest dudes on the planet. Ditto for parents and teachers who act like fools. He's borderline crazy (and proud of it), but it works!

There are two reasons why this is such a great book: A) It's filled with great advice and wisdom that any educator will find useful (even if one doesn't agree with all of it); and B) It's the most entertainingly politically incorrect book I've ever read -- by far! He speaks harsh truths and takes special joy in debunking left-wing dingbat liberal dogma.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 28, 2010 9:24:22 AM PST
Pondoora says:
Chavis' American Indian Public Charter School phenomenon is a lie based on demographic engineering. He does not reveal the extent of this in his book.

The year before Chavis arrived, the school enrolled 64.7% American Indian students. By 2008-09, only 1.6% was enrolled.

For the 13 school years from 1996-97 to 2008-09, these are the changing percentages of students who were either Asian or White: 0.0 (1996-97), 2.9, 6.2, 0.0, 2.9, 0.0, 1.2, 25.7, 44.6, 33.7, 22.4, 38.4, and 54.4% in 2008-09.
And these are the changing percentages of students belonging to one of the following subgroups: American Indian or Alaska Native, Pacific Islander, Filipino, Hispanic or Latino, or African American: 100.0 (1996-97), 97.0, 93.8, 100.0, 97.0, 100.0, 98.7, 74.3, 55.4, 65.3, 51.1, 50.5, and 42.3% in 2008-09.

In 2006-07, the school had an unusual spike in the number of students reporting "multiple or no response." The spike appeared about the time questions were being raised about the school being demographically engineered by Chavis. The percentage had averaged 0.29 for the previous 10 years. In 2006-07 it jumped to 26.4%. In 2007-08 it fell to 11.1%. The following year, Chavis resigned, after which this student category fell to 2.7%. Such an unusual sequence reflects an attempt to confuse the facts.

Crazy-like-a-fox Chavis largely worked his "magic" with a combination of local school cherry picking, creaming, and pressuring the unwanted students out. The Oakland Unified Office of Charter Schools declined Chavis' most recent new petition. It also has admonished these charter schools for screening test scores of student applicants, and is monitoring them closely.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 15, 2010 3:43:15 PM PDT
Common Sense says:
I was intrigued by your assertions and took a few minutes to fact check them. While there has been a demographic shift over time, I find your representation of it intellectually dishonest. You have very selectively cherry-picked your facts to represent something that I don't think is borne out by the full set of facts available. Just as an example, you decided to leave out the fact that the Asian, Latino, and African American students all perform similarly on standardized tests at AIPCS. Most egregiously, you fail to account for the individual and collective progress of the students in question, regardless of their race. It should have been noted by you that while the racial demographic has shifted, the socioeconomic demographic has not.

You also failed to explore or even momentarily entertain any reasons for the demographic shift other than your thesis of demographic engineering. You should at least have entertained the idea that some of the demographic shift could have been politically or socially motivated. It is an acknowledged (though, to my thinking, unfortunate) fact that political and racial demographics are very unevenly distributed in the area serviced by this school. I think it is well within reason to suggest that Mr. Chavis' rather brazen antagonism toward political correctness and other left-leaning sensibilities would indirectly, but very effectively, skew the racial demographic of parents who would wish to send their child to this school.

Did that idea cross your mind for even an instant, or did you draw your curve before you plotted your points?

Indeed, what I find more more remarkable than the shift you highlight is that a charter (read: "voluntary") school in Oakland, CA with a principal who regularly used racial epithets like "darky" managed to maintain a 23% African American and 22% Latino student body. That, to me, is a testament to the effectiveness of his methods, however unfortunate or offensive some may find his sensibilities and manner.
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