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Education system fails Native American children

There’s a reason that Native American students consistently rank at the nation’s lowest level of student achievement – and it has nothing to do with the students themselves and everything to do with the failure of the education system, according to education consultant Meesha Brown.

“The reinforcement of a negative, sub-narrative regarding the history, culture, and practices of Native American peoples” plays out in the curriculum and the teaching of Native American students with devastating effects, Brown said during the session, "Partnering for Educational Equity for Native American Students" on Monday during the NSBA Annual Conference in Philadelphia. The session was sponsored by the National Council of American Indian/Alaska Native School Board Members.

Brown pointed to statistics showing that Native American students are two times as likely to receive services under IDEA; half as likely to graduate high school; and consistently score lower on standardized tests.

“The system is doing exactly what it was designed to do,” said Brown, a former director of literacy for the New York City Department of Education. Pick up any text book and the Native American community is marginalized and presented as “weak and lesser than. We believe the stories we are told and play it out.”

To start correcting this problem, Brown encouraged school leaders to demand more of textbook vendors and engage them as partners committed to more complex, diverse, accurate representation of Native communities.

Also, “curriculum is not a textbook,” Brown said. “It’s everything that makes up student learning,” including various forms of written materials, visual and creative art forms, and access to activities and experiences that help students “develop a story that makes sense about their place in world.”

Narrative framing that honors students' “home culture,” encourages critical analysis, and deepens cultural pride is essential, she added. Teachers, of course, must play a key role in this effort, but the challenge there is that many are “increasingly foreign to the students they teach.”

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