Mandan News

Failing education of Native American youth

By Dustin White
Mandan News, editor

While graduation rates have been steadily climbing for minority groups in general, the situation for Native American children is quite different. According to a 2013 national report released by Education week, graduation rates among Native Americans have been declining in recent years.

Currently, in North Dakota, only 63 percent of Native American children are expected to graduate from high school, compared to 90 percent of their white peers. The issue is not that fewer Native American children are attending school, as 96 percent do attend school. The problem is a higher drop out rate.

The reasons for this disparity are complex. In part, poverty rates among Native Americans in North Dakota has had a profound impact. A report released by North Dakota KIDS Count, shows that half of Native American children currently live in a household with an income below the poverty line. Studies have long showed that there is a correlation between poverty and dropout rates.

RiShawn Biddle, director of communications for the National Indian Education Associations, states that part of the issue also stems from Native American students either ending up in schools that are “ dropout factories,” or there is simply a lack of recognition.

“In many ways, our students are invisible,” Biddle said in a news interview. “We’re not the largest percentage of the population, so people forget for a moment that we’re at the table.”

Along with higher dropout rates, Native American children also experience a great number of other problems in school. In documents issued last month by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, it was found that Native American students experience a disproportionate amount of expulsion and suspension. In addition, they are also held back at a higher rate.

In recent years, this issue has taken on greater significance. According to the U.S. Census, around one third of the Native American population is younger than 18 years old. The relatively young age of this population have created an increase in the importance of increasing their educational outcomes.

As these children and youth hold the keys to social, economic, and cultural survival for the Native American population, failure to relieve the problem could put an entire population at risk. As individuals without a high school diploma are less likely to find a high paying job, the chances of falling below the poverty line increases, which has the possibility of continuing the current cycle.

Decreasing the dropout rate
There have been a number of factors proposed to reduce the dropout rate among Native American children. A major focus has been to create school policies that are more inclusive.

A portion of these policies would revolve around acknowledging the wide range of both cultural and linguistic diversity that is represented among the Native American population. This would also include consulting with Native American families, and listening to their input, which is something that historically has been lacking.

Currently, in North Dakota, there is legislation introduced that would seek to preserve and protect Native American language and culture. A recent bill submitted to congress also looks to create a Commission on Native Children, which would look at the challenges that Native American students are facing, and then find ways to address them.

In Morton County, nearly 10 percent of the student population is Native American.