American Indian legislators hear sobering statistics

By Matt Gouras
Helena, Montana (AP) 9-07

American Indian legislators from around the country were told September 19th that Indian students lag far behind their peers, and something must be done about it.

The National Caucus of Native American State Legislators is meeting in Helena to look at ways they can close the so-called “achievement gap.” A study on the issue headlined the conference.

The group was told that only 54 percent of American Indian students graduate from high school, compared to 70 percent of the general population. American Indian students are also more likely to think about, or commit, suicide.

And American Indian grade-school students are often performing roughly two grade levels below their peers, just one of many problems found, a researcher said.

“To be frank, the results could not be more troubling,” Christopher Lohse said.

Lohse said poverty on reservations plays a role in the underachievement.

“Breaking up concentrated poverty matters,” said Lohse.

He found many indicators pointing to the problem, such as evidence that teachers in the higher poverty areas are more likely to be teaching out of their specific area of expertise.

The American Indian students face greater challenges and enormous risks that limit their chances for success, Lohse’s report said. His report looked at states with high populations of American Indians.

Lohse said that a number of improvements can be made, such as increasing culturally relevant education that appeals more to American Indian students. He said more study of other methods being used needs to be done.

“This is one of the greatest challenges facing our K-12 schools today,” said Montana state Sen. Carol Juneau, D-Browning.

The group was scheduled on September 22nd to finalize policy recommendations that state legislatures around the country can use to deal with the issue.