From Indiaz.com- Sandra Fox: Fixing the education system for our Indian children

“It is encouraging that more and more individuals, groups, tribes, and government officials are recognizing the need for major change in Indian education.

Most of the time, however, the focus of recommendations for change is on the facets of the system that have least to do with improving instruction, such things as who should be in charge and where the power should physically be located. With these kinds of changes, Indian children will still be left behind.

Until the area of appropriate instruction becomes the topic of discussion and investigation, academic achievement of Indian children will not improve. The facts are:

The State of Education for Native Students report by the Education Trust (2013) indicates that the academic achievement of Native children showed no improvement under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) from 2005 to 2011 according to results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and only 18% of fourth grade Native students in the United States scored at the proficient and advanced levels in reading achievement. BIE students scored the lowest of all Indian groups identified, including their counterparts in state public schools. BIE students scored lower than students in major urban school districts other than Detroit.The 2014 Kids Count: Race for Results report by the Casey Foundation rates American children’s success based on 12 indicators including reading and math proficiency, high school graduation, teen birthrates, employment prospects, family income/education, and neighborhood poverty levels. On a scale of 1 to 1000, white children rated 704, Latino children 404, American Indian children 387, New Mexico Indian children 293, Arizona Indian children 282, North Dakota Indian children 280 and South Dakota Indian children 185, the lowest score for any group in any state.

After many years of No Child Left Behind, the results for Indian children speak for themselves.Schools were strictly regulated and trained in terms of the requirements of the law governing instruction for poor children which included the use of an instructional approach that is opposite of the research recommendations for improving Indian student learning.

The programs utilized under NCLB did not allow for recognizing and addressing learning styles, and they included instructional strategies that were generally not compatible with the learning styles of Indian students. Elementary science and social studies classes were removed from the curriculum in favor of drill and kill math and reading instruction for most of the day for memorizing lower order skills with student “seat time” where students had no movement or hands-on learning activities. Schools with Indian children utilized professional development providers that did not know about Indian people, Indian education, or about how Indian students learn best, and, in fact, discouraged the use of anything cultural in instruction.

Poor children across this country did not do well under No Child Left Behind. What is described above is contrary to what is known about teaching and learning, but like sailors on a sinking ship, we run to the other end of the boat. In this case, we run from an incessant focus on lower order skills to a focus on higher order skills. Higher order skills are very important and are very needed in the Indian world, but the following must also be taken into consideration.

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