Back in September, Dropout Nation reported on the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s report detailing the operational and academic dysfunctions of the Bureau of Indian Education, the hybrid school operator run by the federal government that serves more than 48,000 American Indian children. Thanks to mismanagement by the U.S. Department of Interior — including six leadership changes since 2007 and a structure of managing BIE operations that defies logic — the school operator continues to subject Native children to even worse educational abuse and malpractice than that visited upon peers attending Detroit’s notoriously abysmal traditional district.
So the latest data on BIE’s performance from the math portion of the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress — especially compared to the rest of the nation — isn’t exactly shocking. But school reformers should find unacceptable the federal government’s perpetuation of the nation’s shameful legacy of educational genocide against Native children. [Dropout Nation uses data from NAEP’s math exams instead of the reading exams because Native students attending BIE schools are likely to be English Language Learners and because numeracy is one aspect of learning that cuts across Native and non-Native culures.]
Fifty-four percent of BIE fourth-graders scored Below Basic in math on NAEP 2013. That is four points higher than levels of innumeracy in 2011, but the same as levels in 2005, when the NAEP was first given to kids attending BIE schools. This is three times higher than the 17 percent national average for innumeracy among fourth-graders in the nation — and five times higher than the 11 percent for fourth-graders attending schools operated by the Department of Defense Education Authority, the other school system operated by the federal government.
It wasn’t much better for eighth-grade Native children stuck in BIE schools. Fifty-nine percent of BIE eighth-graders scored Below Basic in 2013, the same as in 2011. The good news is that this is a nine percentage point decline from levels of innumeracy in 2005. But it is still twice the 26 percent innumeracy rate for all American eighth-grades, and six times higher than the innumeracy rate of 11 percent for Department of Defense eighth-graders.
BIE schools are also struggling in providing children the comprehensive college preparatory education they will need for success both within their communities and in the nation as a whole. Just 10 percent of BIE fourth-graders scored at Proficient levels in math in 2013; none scored at advanced levels; while double the five percent of Native fourth-graders scoring at the highest levels in math back in 2005, it is a one percent increase over 2011. Just six percent of BIE eighth-graders scored at Proficient and Advanced levels in math, a one percentage point increase over 2011 and two percentage points higher than in 2005. Both percentages are half the levels of math proficiency for children attending Department of Defense schools as well as for the nation as a whole. Meanwhile the average BIE eighth-grader performs at three grade levels below a peer nationwide, and four grade levels below a peer attending a Department of Defense school.
Simply put: BIE has done little in the past eight years to improve learning for Native children. Not that this is surprising. BIE admitted three years ago in its application for a federal Schhool Improvement Grant that 115 of its 183 schools were either in “improvement, corrective action, or restructuring status”. These quality issues, along with the desire to provide Native children with schools that reinforce cultural values, develop new approaches to teaching and curricula, and allow kids to interact with peers who are succeeding academically, is also why tribes such as the Florida Seminole have begun embracing charter schools.
More importantly, BIE is doing little more than continuing a legacy of abuse, academic and otherwise, that has helped contribute to the economic woes of Native communities. Certainly BIE no longer runs boarding schools that subjected Native students forced to move away from their families and tribes to physical abuse, molestation, and substandard instruction. But the operational and academic malpractice of BIE (especially in failing to provide Native students with high-quality education that is also has achieved equally abysmal results.
Overhauling BIE must be a priority for reformers, especially centrist Democrats who hold sway over an Obama Administration seemingly bent on doing little for Native children. The latest NAEP data more than proves that point.