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NCLB Outrages

Problems Outweigh Goals of No Child Left Behind

Native American needs are at one end of a continuum, and NCLB exists at another,'' Starns said, adding that the law emphasizes the opposite of what is known about Native learning styles - that is, it rewards part-to-whole instead of whole-to-part learning, abstract thought instead of hands-on experience, and linguistic instead of visual teaching strategies.

WASHINGTON - The National Indian Education Association delivered a preliminary verdict on No Child Left Behind at its February summit in Washington, but not until March 28 in Arizona did the primary NIEA complaint strike home with force.

The Arizona State Board of Education voted unanimously to take over operations at 11 schools deemed ''failing'' under President Bush's NCLB initiative, which measures school performance on numerous indicators, including teacher credentials, student scores on standardized tests and ''adequate yearly progress'' benchmarks.

Under NCLB, all districts and schools receiving federal Title I funds must meet state adequate yearly progress goals for their total student populations and for specified student groups. A school failing to meet AYP goals is classified ''in need of improvement'' and faces consequences. Students in these schools may be eligible for school choice or supplemental services such as tutoring. Continuing problems may bring about more drastic measures, depending on the state.

The first schools to fail in Arizona fell short because of faltering student scores on standardized tests. The state ranked the schools as failing, and state officials subsequently worked with teachers and parents to develop plans for change.

Following the March 28 board vote, the state's options include ''kicking out five principals, mentoring those allowed to stay, replacing teachers and even combining campuses,'' according to the Arizona Republic newspaper, which reported the board vote.

These were not Indian schools. But one board member, Cecilia Owen, ''worried that rural schools, which struggle to hire and keep principals and teachers, would be able to sustain improvements after the state's intervention.''

As the Arizona Republic reported, ''Owen said improving schools is only a piece of developing economic stability in many remote communities that suffer from poverty and lack of jobs.''

Add to her concerns a near-visceral fear that Native culture will not be fully accounted for as K - 12 Indian schools come under the NCLB performance measures, and NIEA's early verdict on the sweeping reform program emerges.

Dave Beaulieu, NIEA president and director of the Center for Indian Education at Arizona State University, offered testimony to Congress that underscored many of the remarks made by NIEA members at the summit:

''Although the National Indian Education Association supports the broad-based principals of No Child Left Behind, there is widespread concern about the many obstacles that the NCLB presents to Indian communities, who often live in remote, isolated and economically- disadvantaged communities.

''There is no one more concerned about the accountability and documenting results than the membership of our organization, but the challenges many of our students and educators face on a daily basis make it difficult to show adequate yearly progress or to ensure teachers are the most highly qualified.

''The requirements of the statute and its time frame for results do not recognize that schools educating Native students have an inadequate level of resources to allow for the effective development of programs known to work with Native students.''

In effect if not intent, then, ''NCLB emphasizes failure'' for Indian schools, in the words of Bobby Ann Starns, an educator at Rocky Boys in Montana.

''Native American needs are at one end of a continuum, and NCLB exists at another,'' Starns said, adding that the law emphasizes the opposite of what is known about Native learning styles - that is, it rewards part-to-whole instead of whole-to-part learning, abstract thought instead of hands-on experience, and linguistic instead of visual teaching strategies.

Starns characterized NCLB as ineffective and disrespectful of Native culture, a product of putative ''scientific research'' that is no more than the established opinion of a small group of influential non-Indians.

Carol Lee Gho, an assistant professor of Mathematics at the University of Alaska, said the problems with NCLB for all Indian schools are concentrated in Alaska. Teachers often take a job in the state as an adventure, find it more adventurous than they bargained for and leave early, contributing to high turnover in the state's teaching ranks.

Under the circumstances, years of teaching experience should equate to a credential that satisfies NCLB criteria, she added. For many Alaska Native students in a school that is found to be failing, ''Choice is silly when the nearest school is 100 miles downriver.''

And adequate yearly progress is problematic in small rural schools, where a few dropouts can undermine a class's chances of achieving AYP goals. Gho said students should be assessed individually rather than as a class, and schools should be assessed by progress.

Deborah Bordeaux, of Loneman School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, said the school believes in the philosophy of NCLB. But in practice, the law leaves children behind: ''Alaska children, children at the bottom of the canyon, FAS [fetal alcohol syndrome] children.''

Verlie Ann-Malina Wright, NIEA board member and vice principal of a Hawaiian native language immersion school in Honolulu, said her first priority in Washington was to get a Native Hawaiian provision in the NCLB law. She said she was looking for support of ''the right to be educated in a Native way,'' and judging from the applause, she found it.

Joyce Silverthorn, director of education for the Salish and Kootenai in Montana, said the teacher credentials mandated by NCLB are especially difficult to come by for Indian schools, which typically value experience within the tribal culture - experience that isn't recognized adequately outside the culture.

''It's been difficult to get through the barriers that [mainstream] teacher education sets up for us ... We face strong challenges in creating a better teacher force.''

Silverthorn also mentioned a historical track record that prevents some Indian parents from engaging with education in their communities. Problems associated with the boarding school era, when mission schools sought to separate Indian children from their families, communities and cultures, ''live on in our communities,'' Silverthorn explained.

— Jerry Reynolds
Indian Country Today


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