Native American students and dropouts: Confronting the problem

An excellent article in the Seattle newspaper highlights some of the issues surrounding the extremely high drop out rate for American Indian students.

The article states in part: “Reports by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction reveal that Native American students in grades nine through 12 dropped out of high school at a rate of 11.5 percent during the 2007-2008 school year. That was the highest out of five racial groups surveyed — American Indian, Asian/Pacific Islander, black, Hispanic and white. It was also 2.5 percentage points higher than the group with the second-highest dropout rate, African-American students, at 9 percent.”

“Many leaders in Indian education blame the problem on standardized testing, like the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, which students were required to pass to graduate high school. Critics say it is inadvertently racist by expecting all students to meet a standard that certain groups may have difficulty meeting.”

“Michael Pavel is a Skokomish tribal member and a professor at Washington State University who studies Native American student achievement. He said another factor contributing to high dropout rates is the history native tribes have had with European settlers involving war, disease and marginalization. We have to understand the historical influence of colonization,” he said. “The impact of [that history] can be felt.”

“He added if schools hoped to improve the graduation rates of their native students, they needed to include courses that focused on critical tribal issues and contain accurate tribal history. . . . Efforts are already being made to do that in schools around the state through the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

This native education program sprouted from a bill sponsored by Rep. John McCoy, D-Marysville. and passed by the state Legislature in 2005. The bill encouraged schools to add more tribal history to their social studies curriculums.

Though it became law in 2005, no money was available to fund its intended efforts. Workers at the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, headed by Indian education overseer Denny Hurtado, took the reins to secure that funding when they were under no obligation to do so.”

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