November 21, 2011

NCLB leaves Native children behind

Educator in Navajo Nation Grapples with ‘Savage Inequalities’ in Reservation Schools

By Brittani K. RoyIn my experience, the students attending schools on Indian reservations, much like their inner-city counterparts, are handicapped by, as author, educator and activist Jonathan Kozol calls them, “savage inequalities.” Indian reservation schools, like inner-city schools, serve mostly low-socioeconomic and culturally marginalized students who typically struggle on the standardized tests mandated by the federal government’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). There are many factors contributing to this sorry record of underachievement:

• there is less per-student spending by state and federal agencies;
• there is a very high teacher turnover rate due to the unique challenges of teaching on a reservation;
• teachers are teaching to the test rather than focusing on student progress;
• there are pronounced deficiencies in resources for students labeled English Language Learners (ELLs);
• a lack of teacher training for working with ELLs;
• lack of computers and books at home;
• lack of electricity in many homes makes it hard for students to do homework after dark;
• dirt roads that prevent students from attending school regularly due to mud and other resulting conditions.

These challenges, which have been largely eliminated in most parts of the country, unfairly detract from the quality of education that many American Indian students receive. As a result, the dropout rate for American Indians is 8.4 percent, compared to the Anglo dropout rate of 2.7 percent. While 62 percent of all U.S. high school students go to college (according to the American Indian Education Foundation), only 17 percent of Native American high school students do so.
And:[S]chools that serve underprivileged students often enter into the deadly cycle of “failing” on the NCLB tests and having their funds cut. A study conducted by the Education Trust discovered that “poor and minority students tend to be segregated in the most overcrowded and underfunded schools” and that the United States spends approximately $900 less per year on each student in the schools with the poorest students than in the school districts with the fewest poor students.

The biggest predictor of college success is performance in rigorous high school courses. As Antonio Flores, president of the Hispanic Association of Colleges & Universities rightly observes: “Money does matter, especially in lower-income communities (such as on the Indian reservations) that lack the staffing to offer the rigorous courses needed for colleges.” Furthermore, ELL students are particularly segregated as the language services they require entail additional funding. As a result, the cycle of underperforming schools not receiving the necessary funding to adequately provide for their students feeds on itself. Without sufficient funding, schools struggle to increase their students’ authentic learning because of a lack of resources. Due to the lack of resources and subsequent lack of authentic learning opportunities, these schools continue to be labeled as “failing” as they are not able to sufficiently prepare their students for the testing standards. The big-picture effect of NCLB: More and more marginalized students and schools are being left behind.
Comment:  I posted something on Kozol's book back in 2009. Check it out: Savage Inequalities in Our Schools.

Compare this with the conservative rhetoric that we're in a post-racial world where everyone has equal opportunity. As Kozol persuasively argues, minority schools deserve more money than average to make up for past shortfalls. Yet they get less money than average--much less.

This is structural racism in action. No one "intends" to keep minorities in their place, but the lack of funding ensures they'll continue at the bottom indefinitely. Even if a few exceptions like Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey rise to the top.

For more on Native education, see Cherokee Nation in JA BizTown and Native Science Nerds.

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