School boards: Native American kids need more support

School boards: Native American kids need more support

(Calif.) While schools have had some success in reducing chronic absenteeism, expulsion and dropout rates throughout the state, more targeted efforts will be needed to improve outcomes of Native American youth, according to a report released this month from the California School Boards Association.

Despite strides made among some subgroups, state education data shows Native American students continue to have the lowest high school graduation rate and the lowest proportion of graduates meeting A-G requirements. They also have the highest rates of dropout, chronic absenteeism and expulsions as well as the second highest suspension rates.

“While there are relatively few Native American students in California, they face significant challenges,” wrote Manuel Buenrostro, an education policy analyst for the CSBA and author of the recent brief. “A major issue among Native American students is their connectedness to school, which has a profound impact on their ability to learn, make progress, and graduate from high school.”

Part of that lack of connectedness may stem from the fact that many Native American children attend schools where few peers share the same cultural backgrounds, according to the brief.

Of the 6.2 million K-12 students currently attending California public schools, only 32,500 are Native American, state data shows. And although these students attend school in all 58 California counties, less than 1 percent of students in most counties are Native American.

In some ways, steps have been taken to make schools a more welcoming and engaging place for Native youth.

The U.S. Department of Education announced $2.3 million in grants this past spring to help revive Native American languages and expand their teaching in schools. Of the 245 indigenous languages once spoken, about 65 are extinct and 75 are considered near extinction, according to the Administration for Native Americans.

And in California last year, the governor signed legislation requiring the state’s department of education to develop a model curriculum in Native American studies that that reflects the differing cultural characteristics of tribes throughout the state.

Though districts are not required to offer such a course, those that choose to must make the course available in at least one year during high school.

The CSBA’s latest brief suggests more targeted efforts can be made, however, if school board members better understand the needs and academic outcomes these students face in California schools.

Two in every three Native American students are socioeconomically disadvantaged, based on 2017-18 school year data. They are also identified as having disabilities at considerably higher rates than most of their peers, second only to African-American students, at more than 15 percent.

Native American students have the highest dropout rate among all groups, at 5 percent–twice the state average. Additionally, they experience higher rates of homelessness than some of their peer groups and are more likely to be in foster care.

Buenrostro noted that when looking at characteristics of Native American students, there are multiple factors that impact their educational attainment.

For example, almost half of students in foster care, regardless of race or ethnicity, reportedly changed school midyear in their first year of foster care, and 34 percent of 17- and 18-year-olds in foster care had attended five or more schools.

Because so many Native youth are in foster care, for instance, ensuring that all foster youth are able to remain in their school of origin or at least transition smoothly into a new school setting could be especially beneficial to that subgroup.

“As Native American students are foundational to the Golden State’s cultural fabric, it is critical for governing boards to understand their backgrounds and needs, and the challenges educators face in providing them with the necessary supports to meet their potential,” Buenrostro concluded.

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