Obama Pushes to Improve Native American Schools

US President Barack Obama is working with tribal nations to ensure Native Americans have educational opportunities more easily available nationwide.  The commander in chief spoke about these changes in a recent visit to Standing Rock Sioux Reservation near Yates, North Dakota, home to 850 Native Americans and an unemployment rate of nearly 63%.

“Let’s put our minds together to build more economic opportunity in Indian country. Because every American, including every Native American deserves a chance to work hard and get ahead,” Obama said.

The Bureau of Indian Education will be redesigned over a program of more than a dozen steps.  The Bureau is responsible for educating 48,000 Native Americans across 23 states.  Native Americans currently have the highest dropout rate of any minority in the US, writes Colleen McCain Nelson for The Wall Street Journal.

This rate may be influenced by a culture clash between the Native American students and their white counterparts upon arrival to the public high schools from their K-8 reservation schools.  The public schools are much larger than their reservation schools, making the children feel intimidated and overwhelmed.

Research has shown that Native American students learn better through a hands-on approach, which, having very small class sizes of sometimes 10 or fewer, is better carried out at the reservation schools.  Students also receive more one-on-one attention in the reservation schools.  Upon moving to the larger schools, they begin to fall further and further behind until they feel they cannot catch up, and so they drop out.

Principal McLeod of the Indian Island School stated:

“They [the Indian Island graduates] know four kids in this pool of 200 kids, going in different directions, and they get lost very easily. And unless they are really self-assured and feel good about themselves, it’s very easy for them to give up.”

The bullying they receive from the other children also does not help.  In one example, Native American students told a reporter for Education World that they were laughed at when demonstrating their native dances.

Obama hopes to combat this issue by assisting academic achievement through the introduction of high-speed Internet services, which will be available in schools and dormitories to promote digital learning.

Teachers on reservations will also be better trained in an effort to improve testing scores.  In South Dakota last year, only 42% of Native American students passed state math exams, according to Sam Brody for independent news website Mother Jones.  This is in comparison to 80% of white students.

Initiatives will also be launched for the economic development of reservations that promote Native American-run businesses.

Having a bachelor’s degree allows a person to earn about $1.2 million more throughout their life than a person with just a high school diploma, according to a report released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.  However, in 2010, only 37% of Native American males held a bachelor’s degree, compared to 59% of white males.

“Native Americans face poverty rates far higher than the national average—nearly 60% in some places. And the dropout rate of Native American students is nearly twice the national rate,” Obama said. “These numbers are a moral call to action.”