'Thousands of Native children being left behind'; Education convention opens in Denver

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DENVER -- Responding to a growing dissatisfaction from Indian educators who
complain about damaging impediments resulting from the No Child Left Behind
legislation, the National Indian Education Association on Oct. 6 launched a
critical broadside at the federal education program with charges that it is
actually causing more American Indian students to give up and drop out than
it is helping.

"This is not a small and trivial matter," declared NIEA President David
Beaulieu in his opening statements to the 2,000 delegates assembled at the
Denver Convention Center. "NCLB is so focused on punishing school failure
rather than rewarding the many successes that our schools have achieved."

In a rousing speech, interrupted at times with applause, he cited the
components of the federal program that are causing the most problems.

"The Indian voice is heard less and less in this discussion as the Native
American community is only beginning to understand the impact, the
consequences of [discord] between NCLB and Title VII [the Indian Education Act programs]," warned Beaulieu, as he described the testimony elicited in
11 field hearings sponsored by NIEA in sites from Washington, D.C. to
Oklahoma City and Window Rock to Tacoma, and even Honolulu.

More than 200 American Indian tribal leaders and educators stepped forward
with thoughtful testimony around the issues caused by the program, and even
with praise for things that were working, according to Beaulieu.

"We need something different," he stated, "with a focus and respect for the
political sovereignty of Indian tribes."

Beaulieu, a vocal advocate for programs that strengthen reading, math and
language arts achievement among Native children, called for a halt in
blaming students for a school's failure.

"Kids are taking the blame for poor [Adequate Yearly Progress] scores and
don't even want to come to school," he noted, criticizing the focus on
testing and on classroom practice for the test. He suggested there should
be a love of reading because students are interested in what they're
reading. "There's a focus on the skill of reading, and not what they're
reading."

"NCLB parts don't fit," he continued, "with major disruptions in our
schools that directly impact on Native culture-based education."

Beaulieu released 1,000 copies of the summary report from the NIEA field
hearings that were held strategically throughout Indian country, charging
that the Department of Education "selectively" invited NCLB proponents to
its field hearings and quashing parts of testimony that were negative.

The NIEA convention was held Oct. 6 -- 9 in Denver, with dozens of forums
and workshops ranging from best practices and innovative strategies in
early childhood education through K -- 12 and higher education school and
program issues that serve American Indian communities.