National Indian Education Study Highlights Need for Changes

The National Indian Education Study 2011, published July 3, indicates that more attention needs to be given to the education of elementary and junior high school American Indian and Alaska Native students.

The National Indian Education Study 2011, published July 3, holds no surprises, but it does clearly indicate that more attention needs to be given to the education of elementary and junior high school American Indian and Alaska Native students.

National Indian Education Association President Quinton Roman Nose says, “Providing high-quality culturally based education, along with allowing tribes and Native communities to be able to choose, shape, and control the learning their children receive, is critical to helping our children become the warriors for education who can preserve their cultures and bring prosperity to their families. This includes increasing funding for, and improving the quality of programs for American Indian and Alaska Native children funded through Title VII as well as gain more Title I funding for our Native children in urban and rural communities."

NIES 2011 is based on the scores and other information gathered on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also called the "Nation's Report Card."

The reading scores for fourth and eighth grade AI/AN students showed virtually no change from 2005 to 2011. Fourth-grade AI/AN students scored 19 points lower in comparison to non-AI/AN students who participated in the NAEP (Black, Hispanic, White, Asian, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, and students of two or more races). In grade eight reading, the gap was 13 points.

For mathematics, grade four AI/AN students' scores were virtually unchanged from 2005 and 2009, while scores for all other grade four students went up. The gap between the two groups was 16 points, larger than the gap in 2005, when it was 12 points. The grade eight mathematics results were pretty much the same: AI/AN students' scores were unchanged, while non-Native students scored higher. The gap in scores between the two groups was 19 points, while in 2005 it was 15 points.

Students in Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools know more about their cultures and have more frequent school visits by AI/AN community members than children attending other schools.

Eighth-grade students eligible for the National School Lunch Program (which gives free or reduced-cost school lunches to kids) scored 23 points lower in reading and 20 points lower in math than students who were not eligible. Eligibility for the program is used as a rough indicator of income. Students who qualify for the program generally come from lower-income families than those who do not. In 2011, 72 percent of fourth-grade AI/AN students participating in the reading portion of the NAEP qualified for the school lunch program, compared with 66 percent in 2009 and 65 percent in 2005.

A huge majority of AI/AN students taking the NAEP attend public schools (89 percent at grade four, 92 percent at grade eight). Fifty percent of fourth graders and 44 percent of eighth graders attend high-density schools, those in which there are more than 25 percent AI/AN students. Students attending low-density schools (less than 25 percent AI/AN students) performed best on the NAEP; those in BIE schools performed the worst. A higher percentage of children attending high-density public schools were eligible for the free lunch program (83 percent of fourth graders and 78 percent of eighth graders) than those attending low-density schools (62 percent of fourth graders and 57 percent of eighth graders).

These numbers indicate correlations, not causes. They say that this thing (attending a low density school) and that thing (higher reading scores, compared to attending a high density school) occur together. They do not say that attending a low-density school causes students to have higher reading scores. The latter statement may indeed be true, but further research would be needed to make a valid statement of cause and effect.

Nose says identifying and implementing best practices specifically for Native students is an important strategy for improving their educational outcomes. “There are some promising practices out there that we should support in order to help our Native children in their learning. One possible way to spread these practices is through partnerships between tribal education departments and school districts and state education departments. The State-Tribal Education Partnership pilot program that the U.S. Department of Education is launching this year offers some opportunities for tribes and public schools to work together, and in the process, help Native communities play stronger roles in controlling education.”

Finally, passage of the Native CLASS Act, says Nose, would "help our communities gain more power over what and how our students learn and ensure that they get culturally based education that will help them become ready for college and career." The act was introduced in the Senate last year by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a legislative hearing on the measure at the end of June 2011 and approved the measure in October. Similar measures were introduced in the House in December. They were referred to the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training in March.

To download a copy of the 2011 NIES Report Card, visit NCES.ed.gov.

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