The CIE established in 1959, has become an interdisciplinary research and service organization now housed in the College of Education at ASU. The center promotes studies in American Indian/Alaska Native policy and administration that contribute to the quality of scholarship and effective practices in education, professional training and tribal capacity building.
Structured on the basis of existing expertise, the CIE provides scholarly leadership, utilizing American Indian faculty from various ASU colleges, schools and departments. The center fosters relations between the university and sovereign tribes and supports training and technical assistance for community programs, which bring scholars and tribal community members together.
The Center has several initiatives underway, such as the Native Apprentice Teacher Program, Research & Service, Arizona Tri-Universities for Indian Education (ATUIE), a widely acclaimed Journal of American Indian Education, archives/journal abstracts, doctoral fellowships, Native Teacher Training Program (NTTP) and several high quality selected dissertations in American Indian education.
With the recent public release of the AIMS testing performance of state public schools, Dr. Begay shared the following statistics.
Using the, AIMS testing results over a three-year period (2000-02), he noted that more than 50 percent of Native American Impact Aid schools or schools located in Native communities, which have a high concentration of language-minority students-as a “protected class,” have been labeled as underperforming.
Of the 47 reservation schools statewide that are Native American Impact Aid schools:
• 53 percent are underperforming (25/47)
• 36 percent are maintaining performance (17/47)
• 11 percent are improving (5/47)
• There are no reservation, schools categorized as excelling (0/47).
Over one-half of the schools located in Impact Aid School Districts are underperforming.
For schools with a high concentration of language minority students statewide, 80 percent of the students in Arizona’s underperforming schools are minorities, 71 percent were eligible for the federal free or reduced lunch program, 50 percent attended schools where more than 85 percent of the students were minority. About 73 percent are Hispanic or Native American. The source for Begay’s data is the Arizona School Board Association posted on Oct. 17.
Begay expressed concern that the 47 reservation schools were being lumped into an educational melting pot with all districts statewide, regardless of the unique native legal status with Congress as Native American language minority population and as dual citizens of this state.
While Dr. Begay offered no excuses for the AIMS statistics, he said he wants to highlight the legitimate and separate framework for successful educational programs in reservation communities. The conference attendees said they felt utilizing native language and culture can only strengthen and increase academic excellence by capitalizing on what is already a part of the tribal culture and history.
Begay also questioned the accountability of the AIMS statistics and related issues, which were discussed at the roundtable with the participants.
“Why is it that some schools in Native American Federally Impacted Districts, despite lagging state resources historically, arc doing exceptionally well where children are learning in two languages and are excelling academically? Why can’t all schools do that?” he asked.
Dr. Hector Tahu, TCUSD superintendent, also questioned the state’s accountability in improving schools.
“What happens when the state moves in to fix failing schools, and schools remain unchanged? Will the state de-certify their staff?”
Begay pointed out success stories.
“There am bilingual Native school children and students from the poorest of the poor, who have done and are doing exceptionally well in reservation schools (Native American Federally Impacted Districts) scoring consistently in the 60s, 70s and 90s on the SAT 9 and the old ITBS, again, in spite of deteriorating state schools or conditions and resources,” he said. “If these kids can do that, why can’t all of our students perform equally well?”
Begay said the state and local school districts need to collectively answer these questions.
“In the era of English-only backlash and school reform initiatives, what is the status and future of Native languages?” he asked. “Do we further erode native language instruction as language maintenance programs to make room for more English language and immersion and instruction? Apparently this is taking place in schools right now.”
Dr. Begay said he would also like to see the state of Arizona recognize and Congress to reaffirm the special status that is accorded Native Americans in the United States — the historic legal status with Congress that recognizes the distinct cultural and political rights,
Including the right to separate identities.
On that note, one of the critical issues raised at the conference was the fact that while most reservation schools realize the current clear federal and tribal policies on treatment of Native American languages, most federal and state officials and local schools continue to view these policies as primitive riddles which belong in the past. The consensus was that this only results in continuing efforts to suppress and exterminate Native American languages and culture.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Part two of Educational issues and voices from native communities will run in the Jan. 8 edition of the Navajo-Hopi Observer.)