ERIC Identifier: ED372898 Publication Date: 1994-06-00
Author: Butterfield, Robin A. Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Blueprints for Indian Education: Improving Mainstream
Schooling. ERIC Digest.
THERE ARE BETWEEN 300,000 and 400,000 American Indian and Alaska Native
(AI/AN) children of school age. Of these children, between 85 and 90 percent are
educated in public schools (Indian Nations At Risk Task Force, 1991). This
Digest focuses on findings of the U.S. Department of Education's Indian Nations
At Risk (INAR) Task Force (1991) and the White House Conference on Indian
Education (1992) related to Native students who attend public schools. Task
Force and Conference findings--produced in early 1991 and 1992,
respectively--suggest systemic reforms that would (a) foster intercultural
harmony in schools, (b) improve teacher preparation, (c) develop instructional
curricula and strategies that support diverse cultural needs and learning
styles, (d) include AI/AN parents in the educational process, and (e) adopt a
new paradigm for evaluation of AI/AN student progress and success. The needs of
AI/AN children with special needs or those who are talented and gifted will not
be addressed here.
FOSTERING INTERCULTURAL HARMONY
The growth in numbers of
AI/AN people in urban areas is nearly double the rate of population growth in
rural areas. In urban settings, desegregation requirements have hurt Native
students by scattering them across large districts into many school buildings,
increasing their isolation from their peers, and making it costly and difficult
to provide effective cultural programs and support services. Because Native
students learn best when there is a "critical mass" together in one site, they
should be brought together in schools of choice, such as Native magnet schools
(Charleston & King, 1991).
In addition to experiencing isolation, AI/AN students experience racism on
both personal and institutional levels. The INAR hearings, held across the U.S.,
captured Native concerns about many interracial, interethnic, and intercultural
impediments (Charleston & King, 1991):
students frequently get categorized and treated as remedial students, thus
lowering teacher expectations and increasing the risk of failure.
who identify themselves as Natives often are subjected to taunts and racial
slurs that make them feel threatened and ashamed. When they defend themselves
against harassment, they often are suspended or expelled. Alienation is a key
contributing factor in the high dropout rates.
resist integrating Native language and culture into the curriculum, even when
excellent materials and resources are available.
and districts (especially small and rural) often constitute power bases in which
there is active resistance to shared decision making with Native parents and
use of Native people as mascots, official symbols, emblems, and namesakes for
schools is offensive and demeaning, and perpetuates negative racial stereotypes.
Research has revealed a number of practices that have proven effective in
establishing intercultural harmony in schools (Cotton, 1994):
positive self-regard, which in turn encourages positive regard for those who are
culturally different. Self-esteem-building activities referenced in the research
include (a) receiving teacher warmth and encouragement, (b) experiencing
academic success, (c) working closely with people who have physical or mental
handicaps, (d) participating in positive activities portraying people of one's
cultural group or gender, and (e) having teachers and administrators of one's
cultural group in one's school.
intergroup contact under conditions in which students (a) have equal status, (b)
get to know one another as individuals, (c) have common interests and similar
characteristics, (d) associate with one another according to equitable social
norms set by leaders, (e) have an interest in cooperation, and (f) can advance
individual or group goals through crosscultural interaction. In addition,
intercultural contact among students is beneficial (a) when it is
extracurricular and social as well as academic, and (b) when it is frequent and
students into culturally heterogeneous cooperative learning teams, giving them
tasks requiring group cooperation and interdependence, and structuring
activities so that teams can experience success.
all children early to in-depth, long-term, and high-quality multicultural
activities infused across the curriculum to build intercultural understanding.
inaccurate information, negative attitudes, and discriminatory behavior by (a)
dramatizing the unfairness of prejudice and the harm it causes, (b) using
materials that portray cultural groups in a positive light, (c) focusing
initially on one's own culture, (d) participating in role-plays and simulation
games, and (e) counterstereotyping.
critical thinking skills to help students address common fallacies in reasoning
such as overgeneralization and failure to follow a line of reasoning through to
its logical conclusion.
IMPROVING TEACHER PREPARATION
The recruitment and retention
of AI/AN administrators and teachers is difficult for mainstream schools, but
role models for students are desperately needed. Since the number of Native
educators remains inadequate, non-Native personnel need training to work more
effectively with increasingly diverse student populations. Research on preparing
teachers to teach culturally diverse student populations successfully shows a
high correlation between educators' sensitivity, knowledge, and application of
cultural awareness information and students' successful academic performance.
Brief and superficial training may increase teacher knowledge, but has little or
no effect on attitudes or behavior (Sleeter, 1990). In-depth, sustained
multicultural training leads to the development of attitudes and skills needed
to work with culturally diverse groups in general and AI/AN students in
Teacher preparation programs should help non-Native teachers become aware of
the lifeways and world views of AI/AN people by developing appreciation of
Native history, language, culture, and spiritual values. Repeated practice, peer
coaching, and continuing administrative support help sustain change efforts
DEVELOPING INSTRUCTIONAL CURRICULA AND STRATEGIES
considerable evidence that the learning styles of some AI/AN students differ
from non-Native students. Many AI/AN students show strengths in visual,
perceptual, or spatial information as opposed to information presented verbally
and frequently use mental images rather than word associations. AI/AN students
need to engage in learning relevant to their interests and changing needs that
will help them understand what it means to live in a contemporary world.
Practices most consistent with how Native students learn mathematics and
science best include (a) simultaneous processing (seeing the whole picture)
instead of successive processing (analyzing information sequentially), (b)
instruction that builds on AI/AN strengths as learners, (c) using hands-on
materials or manipulatives, and (d) structuring classrooms to support
cooperative learning (Preston, 1991).
Models have been developed to help teachers improve in many of these areas:
(a) REACH (Respecting Ethnic and Cultural Heritage) or the Portland Public
Schools' American Indian Baseline Essays help teachers integrate culture
throughout the curriculum (Webb, 1990), and (b) Teacher Expectations and Student
Achievement (TESA) (Kerman, Kimball, & Martin, 1980) and Gender/Ethnic
Expectations and Student Achievement (GESA) (Graysol & Martin, 1990) help
teachers become more aware of how their interactions with students determine
students' levels of participation.
INCLUDING AI/AN PARENTS
The inclusion of AI/AN parents in
mainstream schools improves parental attitudes and behaviors as well as student
achievement, motivation, self-esteem, and behavior (Butterfield & Pepper,
1991). Overcoming historical barriers for AI/AN parents requires the commitment
of all district and school staff. Special efforts should be targeted at parents
of middle-school-age students since this is a critical and vulnerable time when
students are making key life decisions.
To do this, schools need to provide (a) ongoing staff development to improve
communication patterns with AI/AN parents; (b) a variety of parent education
opportunities that address changing needs as students progress through the
grades, including, when possible, instruction in traditional values and
child-rearing practices; and (c) ongoing outreach to AI/AN parents that focuses
on positive contacts with homes, rather than crisis intervention.
ADOPTING A NEW PARADIGM FOR EVALUATION
The public education
system's reliance on standardized achievement tests may hinder AI/AN students
because (a) students whose language background is non- or substandard English
may read or interpret tests incorrectly and (b) AI/AN students' cultural values
may discourage competitive behaviors, which can put these students at a
disadvantage. Many current assessment methods are unresponsive to both Native
and non-Native students (Nichols, 1991).
More authentic indicators of learning are needed to measure AI/AN educational
progress. The term "authentic work" describes tasks that students consider
meaningful, valuable, significant, and worthy of one's efforts. By this
standard, students master essential tasks instead of recalling basic facts. This
style of learning is well suited to many tribal groups that respect an
individual's ability to learn from experience, without constant supervision and
correction (Nichols, 1991).
The Bureau of Indian Affairs' (1988) Effective Schools Team (BEST) initiative
has developed measures that could serve as systemic indicators in the evaluation
of Native education in mainstream schools: (a) criterion-referenced tests
(teacher-made tests); (b) portfolios of student progress, such as writing
samples; (c) extracurricular participation rates and increases in the variety of
such activities; (d) increased attendance and graduation rates; (e) decreased
vandalism rates; (f) increased ability of a school to keep students and staff;
(g) implementation of new curriculum initiatives; (h) increased participation by
parents and community members; and (i) staff development and facilities
The recommendations identified here require
schoolwide reform in many cases, yet reform should not be viewed as the end
product of any particular approach. Rather, reform should be viewed as the
constant enabling of change, development, or enhancement. In school districts
with Native learners, broad-based change, though initiated in the interests of
Native learners, should have positive effects on the ability of these systems to
define and respond to the needs of all local constituents (Beaulieu, 1991).
Beaulieu, D. (1991). A concluding prospectus
on change and development for Native education. Washington, DC: U.S. Department
of Education, Indian Nations At Risk Task Force. (ED 343 774)
Bureau of Indian Affairs. (1988). Report on BIA education: Excellence in
Indian education through the effective school process. Washington, DC: U. S.
Department of the Interior.
Butterfield, R., & Pepper, F. (1991). Improving parental participation in
elementary and secondary education for American Indian and Alaska Native
students. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Indian Nations At Risk
Task Force. (ED 343 763)
Charleston, G. M., & King, G. L. (1991). Indian Nations At Risk Task
Force: Listen to the People. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education,
Indian Nations At Risk Task Force. (ED 343 754)
Cotton, K. (1994). Fostering intercultural harmony in schools: Research
findings (Topical Synthesis No. 7). Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational
Graysol, D. A., & Martin, M. D. (1990). Gender/ethnic expectations and
student achievement (GESA): Teacher handbook. Earlham, IA: Graymill
Indian Nations At Risk Task Force. (1991). Indian nations at risk: An
educational strategy for action. Final report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department
of Education. (ED 339 587)
Kerman, S., Kimball, T., & Martin, M. (1980). Teacher expectations and
student achievement: Coordinator manual. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa.
Nichols, R. (1991). Continuous evaluation of Native education programs for
American Indian and Alaska Native students. Washington, DC: U. S. Department of
Education, Indian Nations At Risk Task Force. (ED 343 760)
Preston, V. (1991). Mathematics and science curricula in elementary and
secondary education for American Indian and Alaska Native students. Washington,
DC: U. S. Department of Education, Indian Nations At Risk Task Force. (ED 343
Sleeter, C. E. (1990). Staff development for desegregated schooling. Phi
Delta Kappan, 72(1), 133-140.
Webb, M. (1990). Multicultural education in elementary and secondary schools
(ERIC Digest No. 67). New York: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education. (ED 327
White House Conference on Indian Education. (1992). White House Conference on
Indian Education. Final report. Executive summary. Washington, DC: Author. (ED
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