PIERRE, S.D. - Education could be a solution to poor race relations, economic development and improved quality of life, tribal educators urged recently.
American Indian teachers hired by non-tribal public schools, socio-economic understanding, plans to stop student migration among schools on reservations and forgiving student loans were part of the list presented to the State-Tribal Relations Committee by tribal educators.
Thirty-two schools in South Dakota failed the No Child Left Behind test requirement, 20 of the schools were on or next to reservations, others were located in Rapid City where high numbers of American Indians live and two were on Hudderite Colonies. Schools that fail the tests are in jeopardy of closure by 2014 unless changes occur.
The state can help by changing the standards of the testing, said Dr. Richard Bordeaux, superintendent of the Todd County Schools, located on the Rosebud Reservation.
Dr. Bordeaux said the BIA schools passed the requirement test because they used the federal standard, but the state standard is more stringent and because of socio-economic conditions on the reservations education takes a back seat to finding a loaf of bread.
What the committee discussed with education leaders was a judicial process on reservations that did not hold families or students accountable for missing school, many parents did not take control of or responsibility for their children's education.
"What I'm hearing is offensive. No Child Left Behind lets the federal government say it's ok to leave Indian children a little behind?" said Stan Adelstein, republican representative from Rapid City and chairman of the State-Tribal Relations Committee.
Dr. Bordeaux said the state could help in the area of teacher recruitment of quality teachers to work in impoverished areas. He said Todd County Schools recruit between 30 and 50 teachers a year and are recruiting from a pool that doesn't have the quality necessary.
"Sinte Gleska University (Tribal College on the Rosebud Reservation) graduated four people and we hired everyone," Dr. Bordeaux said.
According to No Child Left Behind, all students must be proficient by 2014. Dr. Bordeaux said half of his future students haven't been born yet. And the students come from a socio-economic area that must be taken into account.
What American Indian educators want is to get a clear definition of what adequate progress means. "There are disparities all over," Dr. Bordeaux said.
Students tend to do better and feel better about school if at least one parent is employed. On or near the reservations where unemployment is from 70 to 80 percent and jobs are few, that may not always be possible.
"On Fridays I deal with discipline problems and most times it is just the grandmother that comes in. I don't know if we can change," Dr. Bordeaux said.
It was proven in one of the Rapid City schools, Adelstein said, that when they provided breakfast the attendance was up. But many schools are no longer providing breakfast because of federal cutbacks.
Dr. Bordeaux said that some of the schools in his district provide hot breakfasts to impoverished children.
What may help education in the state and on reservations is the resurgence of the South Dakota Indian Education Association. It is now headed by Dr. Wayne Evans, Sicangu from Rosebud and teacher of American Indian Culture at the University of South Dakota.
"Today the schools are still trying to assimilate Indian students," Dr. Evans said.
"It would be a shame if we can't understand our language and culture. We need to be teaching the four R's; Reading, 'Riting, 'Rithmatic and Racism."
In fact, Dr. Evans said, in the room where the meeting was held there was not indication, among many posters and pictures that American Indians even existed in the state.
He added that the difficulties in the No Child Left Behind Act will not be solved until the underlying economic issues are solved.
"Young people are smart. They see who runs the banks and stores and infrastructure and that merchants don't hire minorities. Then we tell our kids to go out in mainstream America, here's your diploma go get a job, but there are no jobs. If they are lucky they will go back to the reservation, some will go to prison," Dr. Evans said.
"We tell young people to get off the reservations and they will get jobs, they won't. There must be a dialogue with the children, parents and the community," Dr. Evans said.
He said what is needed in the state is a dialogue. When a student finishes the 12th grade they should be told they are at an 8th grade level. "They need to know that, the truth."
The answer is that they need to continue going to school, Dr. Evans said.
Non-Indian public school students need to see American Indian teachers in the classroom so the stereotypes about American Indians change. Those teachers should have their student loans forgiven if they teach in the public or tribal schools, just like other states.
Dr. Evans suggested the state and tribes appoint a panel of people, a red-ribbon or blue ribbon panel and go to the students, parents and communities, "Don't get into issues of who is responsible, we are all responsible. We compartmentalize too many things, we need to think holistically, think globally and cut across all disparities. We need to create jobs and bring wages up, address the economy," Dr. Evans said.