It is reported that all four federally supervised Indian schools in northern Minnesota failed to meet federal testing standards last year, yet they aren’t likely to see much of the money being doled out to public schools across the country under the Obama administration’s signature education reform plan.
Two of the schools are sorely in need of physical repairs or replacement, and have been for years. Yet, at current funding levels, the money to fix them may not arrive for years, possibly decades.
“No student in Minnesota should have to contend with mold problems or huge leaks, but that’s what kids in some reservation schools deal with every day,” said Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, a member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “Students can’t be expected to achieve at high levels when their school building is falling apart.”
The four schools, all in northern Minnesota, are among 183 schools funded by the Bureau of Indian Education, which is managed under the Department of the Interior. The Bureau acts like a giant, nationwide school district, one of just two federal agencies that directly manage schools (the Department of Defense is the other).
Under federal No Child Left Behind rules, a certain percentage of students at each school must score at or above grade level on state standardized tests in order for the school to meet expectations. If they don’t, the school fails. Each failure leads down a ladder of progressively stricter sanctions, to the ultimate penalty: restructuring.
Typically, restructuring means sweeping changes to the curriculum, accompanied by things like longer school days or years.
Three of the four BIE schools in Minnesota are currently one rung removed from being ordered to restructure.
Just 24 percent of Indian schools met federal testing standards, compared to 70 percent of public schools nationally. Programs have been launched across the Bureau of Indian Affairs to increase the number of schools meeting testing standards, and reports indicate those have borne some fruit.