Friday, October 15, 2004


Nebraska Education Commissioner Doug Christensen said at Chadron State College the other day that more than 50 percent of the state's Indian youth will drop out of school, and absentee rates approach 50 percent for some Native American youngsters (source: StatePaper.com).

That compares to a statewide dropout rate of 1.93 percent, according to State Education Department figures (statistics: http://ess.nde.state.ne.us).

Even in the Omaha Public Schools, the district with by far the most dropouts, with 1,031 reported in the 2002-03 school year, the rate was 5.17 percent.

There are far more dropouts, proportionately by race, among Indian students than among African-American and Hispanics in the Omaha Public Schools and Lincoln Public Schools. But the Indian dropout problem is most apparent in the Indian schools within the state.

Two caveats: urban schools are notorious for manipulating dropout data as much as possible to make themselves look good when that’s best for them financially, and to look bad when THAT’S best for them financially. So it’s within the realm of possibility that these figures don’t show the real story. Short of tracking down all 2,911 kids who dropped out of Nebraska schools that year and interviewing them, though, these numbers are the best we have.

The other warning is that the vast majority of Nebraska school districts are so small, with minority populations even smaller, that one decision to stay in school or drop out by one individual can greatly skew the percentages.

Now, here’s why the Native American dropout rate is instructive:

When the federal education monolith known as Goals 2000, now No Child Left Behind, was first being drafted, people who were in favor of going back to the traditional model of locally-controlled public schools pointed to the appalling state of the Native American schools on reservations in this country. The Indian schools were said to be a snapshot of where we’re headed with fed ed.

Why? Because they are essentially national schools, not local ones. The money comes almost entirely from taxes paid into, and regulated by, federal agencies.

Nobody can establish without a doubt that that’s why the Indian schools are so disappointing. But nobody can disprove it, either. Though the sociological problems are very difficult, I’m convinced that Native American kids come to kindergarten just as smart and just as eager to learn as any other kids. It’s what happens while they are in school that apparently is causing 25 times more of them to drop out than the statewide average.

Because of increased federal funding and strings attached, such as graduation requirements, benchmarks and mandated assessments, Goals 2000 and, now, NCLB were seen as another step toward nationalized schools, along with the U.S. Department of Education and other federal forays into K-12 schooling that really shouldn’t have been allowed, since they’re unconstitutional under the 10th Amendment.

But the 10th Amendment isn’t very good for business, if you’re an educrat. All kinds of federally-funded “at risk” programs are being put in place for kids thought to have special needs in schools around the country, including Indian students. Again, the traditionalists argued that what at-risk kids really need, just like all kids, are the 3 R’s and tried-and-true school management principles instead of weenie, socialistic progressivism. But the 3 R’s and simple rules don’t bring in a whole bunch of money and employ a whole bunch of educators the way the federal programs do. So the federal programs won.

The Native American schools reflect that most of all. They are essentially government schools. Other public schools in Nebraska are headed that way, but aren’t there yet. If people knew what fed ed does, they’d never want it for our kids. So maybe stats like this can keep nationalization of our schools from happening.

The bottom line: putting the money and the power in Washington, D.C., destroys local schools. The model we have for that -- the sad example -- is our Native American schools. The model for success is a school in which parents and teachers have the most say-so. So the model school program, the one we should be demanding, is one which minimizes all governmental influence, especially at the federal level.

Honest Injun . . . this is a horrible scandal. We ought to be calling for the cavalry to bring academic excellence back into all of our schools, but especially for those that are supposed to be giving our first Americans an equal chance at the American dream.

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