This is Dropout Nation: Leaving Our American Indian and Alaska Native Children Behind
The percentage of American Indian and Alaska Native fourth-graders reading Below Basic on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s latest report on the conditions of education for Native children. This level of illiteracy is higher than that for all other socioeconomic groups in the country. It is higher than the 33 percent national average for all American fourth-graders. The percentage of American Indian and Alaska Native students struggling with literacy increased by four points between 2003 and 2011, even as levels of illiteracy declined throughout the nation.
The percentage of Native fourth-graders scoring Below Basic on the math portion of the 2011 NAEP, 16 percentage points higher than the functional innumeracy rate for the nation’s children as a whole. The percentage of Native fourth-graders struggling with numeracy declined by only two percent between 2003 and 2011, a slower level of decline than that the 12 percentage point decline for black fourth-graders, the 10 percent decline for Latino peers, and the four percent decline for white and Asian fourth-grade students.
The percentage of American Indian and Alaska Native eighth-graders who were functionally illiterate in 2011, the second-highest level of illiteracy after African-American students. That’s 13 percent higher than the national average for all eighth-graders in the United States. Functional illiteracy among Native eighth-graders decreased by six percentage points between 2003 and 2011, a faster level of decline than for black, Asian, and white peers, but slower than the eight percent decline in that period for Latino students in the same grade.
The percentage of Native students scoring Below Basic on the 2011 NAEP, the second-highest level of innumeracy after African-American peers. The percentage of American Indian and Alaska Native eighth-graders struggling with numeracy declined by only three percent between 2003 and 2011, slower than the 13 percent decline among Latinos, 12 percent decline among black peers, the eight percent decline for Asian peers, and the four percent decline in innumeracy among white students.
One Grade Level
How far young Native fourth-grade men are behind their female peers in reading in 2011, a trend that is sadly typical for all young men regardless of race or socioeconomic background. On average, an American Indian and Alaska Native young fourth-grade boy scores12 points lower than their female schoolmates. Young native men in eighth-grade are also a grade level behind their female peers in reading.
The average reading score for a Native student on free-and-reduced lunch in 2011, a score virtually unchanged from 2003. Nationally, the average reading score for children from poor backgrounds increased by half a grade level within that period — and by nearly a full grade level for black peers, half a grade level for Latino and Asian peers, and little less than half a grade for white fourth-grade students. The average Native student from a poor background reads at a grade level lower than the national average for all students in similar economic circumstances, and half a grade level behind poor black and Latino peers.
Two Grade Levels
How far behind an American Indian and Alaska Native fourth-grader attending a U.S. Bureau of Indian Education school is in reading compared to a peer attending traditional public schools. If BIE was a traditional big-city district, the average score of 182 points for a Native fourth-grader would rank the agency a worse performer than Detroit or Cleveland.
The only one of 12 states with significant numbers of American Indian and Alaska Native students surveyed by NAEP in which the average Native student reading scores were above the national average for his peers. Still, the average score of 212 is eight points lower than the average for all students nationwide, meaning that a Native student in Oklahoma reads nearly a grade level behind the average American student.
When it comes to Native students, American public education’s general malpractice and neglect has long-verged on genocidal. And some would say that is an understatement. From the boarding schools formed during the 19th and 20th centuries for what the notorious Richard Henry Pratt called “Kill the Indian in him and save the man”, through educational and even physical abuse, to the woeful conditions of most of BIE’s 172 schools, the consequences of low-quality instruction, shoddy curricula,culture of low expectations in which the geniuses of Native children have been disdained, and the condescension of the families and tribes who love these children are among the reasons why Native communities are among the poorest in the nation. In an age in which what one does with their mind is more-important than what they can do with their hands, it is critical to advance systemic reform — including overhauling BIE schools, and traditional district schools that serve most Native children — so that another generation doesn’t go the way of the Cahuenga language.
When we help all Native children get high-quality education, we are advancing the reforms needed to help all of our children, regardless of who they are or where they live.