High School Graduation Rates Low Where Most American Indians, Alaska Natives Live, Report Says - Higher Education
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High School Graduation Rates Low Where Most American Indians, Alaska Natives Live, Report Says

by Mary Annette Pember

A new national report has found that fewer than 50 percent of Native American Indian and Alaska Native students from the Pacific and Northwest regions of the U. S. graduate from high school. Released on Thursday, “The Dropout/Graduation Crisis Among American Indians and Alaska Native Students: Failure to Respond Places the Future of Native People at Risk” report was conducted by The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

 The report found drastic disparities in graduation rates between American Indian/Alaska Native students and others in the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming.  In addition to the most recent graduation data, the report includes discussion of challenges and possibilities specific to the education of this population.

 Dr. Susan Faircloth of the Coharie tribe, co-author of the report and associate professor of education at Penn State University, noted that the high dropout rate is an urgent issue for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

 “If we don’t pay attention to this issue, it will have dire consequences for the future of native communities,” she said.

 Faircloth pointed to data cited in the report indicating that one-third of the nation’s approximately 4.5 million American Indians are under the age of 18 compared with 26 percent of the total U.S. population. According to Faircloth and co-author Dr. John W. Tippeconnic of the Comanche Nation, who is director of the American Indian Leadership Program and the Batschelet Chair of Educational Administration at Penn State, youth hold the key to social, economic and cultural survival of American Indian and Alaska Native people.

 Overall, non-Native student graduation rates in the 12 states included in this study ranged from 54.1 percent to 79.2 percent, with an average of 71.4 percent. In contrast, graduation rates for American Indian and Alaska Native students ranged from 30.4 percent to 63.8 percent, with an average of 46.6 percent. The graduation rates for all American Indian and Alaska Native students were lower than the overall state rates, and, with the exception of Oklahoma and New Mexico, the degree of disparity was approximately 17 percentage points or more.

 On average, the report found that graduation rates for American Indians and Alaska Natives (46.6 percent) were lower than the graduation rates for all other racial/ethnic groups, including Whites (69.8 percent), Asians (77.9 percent), Blacks (54.7 percent) and Hispanics (50.8 percent).

 Unfortunately, the lack of accurate education data for American Indians and Alaska Natives compounds the problem according to the report. “Small numbers coupled with geographically dispersed student populations have resulted in native students being characterized as statistically unimportant,” the report stated. The authors characterized this conclusion as structural and institutional racism, placing native students at a further disadvantage in opportunities and outcomes.

 Factors associated with high dropout rates include lack of student engagement, perceived lack of empathy among teachers, passive teaching methods and lack of parent involvement.

 Travis Stuebing, 28, of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, recalls getting into fights at school over race in his northern Michigan community in Emmet County, where American Indians represent the largest ethnic minority. He dropped out of public high school in the town of Pellston at age 16.

 “The teachers seemed to lose interest in us (Indians) if we got into trouble,” Stuebing said.

 Faircloth describes this as a typical situation for American Indians who drop out of school. She and Tippeconnic outlined a number of strategies to reduce dropout rates. These strategies include avoiding policies that demean, embarrass, harass or alienate native students; providing opportunities for students’ involvement in their language and culture; and better preparation for educators who work with American Indians. Above all, schools need more funding to address these problems according to Faircloth.

View the report at www.civilrightsproject.ucla.edu

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