Native Students Being Left Behind

Last month, The Nation’s Rebecca Clarren wrote the gripping article “How America is Failing Native American Students.” She details the vast educational inequities Native students in the U.S. continue to experience each and every day. From racially biased discipline policies to declining funding and discriminatory curriculum and textbooks, many academic experts, according to Clarren, are calling the resulting education outcomes for Native students an “education crisis.” The dismal education data on Native students certainly suggests that America is currently failing them, and makes clear we need to do a lot more to achieve education equity.

Despite these seemingly bleak statistics, there are basic steps education leaders, from the local to federal level, can take to begin to close the equity gap. As Clarren mentions, federal policymakers can complete the necessary population survey of Native students, which hasn’t been done since 1994, to ensure the appropriate amount of funding for Native students is allocated. State, district, and school leaders should be selecting curriculum, textbooks, and classroom content that accurately reflects the culture and traditions of Native students and doesn’t perpetuate racist stereotypes about Native students. Researchers should also take steps to ensure Native Americans and Native subgroups are included in national education studies, despite their small population size. Disaggregating education data by ethnic subgroups not only helps identify what is working, achievement gaps that exist, and where to allocate state and federal education funding, but it can more accurately reflect the history, culture, and traditions of the subgroups of students the data represents.

Two weeks ago, the world recognized the contributions of indigenous populations on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. In November, the U.S. celebrates National Native American Heritage month. Recognizing the contributions and achievements and celebrating the diverse cultures and traditions of American Indian, Alaskan Native, and other indigenous populations is not only important, it’s necessary. With that in mind, as Jim Larimore, chief officer for the Center for Equity in Learning at ACT, wrote “our attention to the educational needs of Native youth cannot and should not be confined to a solitary month [or day].” Native students should have the same education opportunities and equitable resources that other students throughout the U.S. receive. We are still far from achieving this goal, making it imperative that we continue to work throughout the year to advocate for the educational needs of Native students, close education gaps and achieve equity.