Monday, June 9, 2008

Native education

My mom posed a question to me that I thought pretty interesting - "Is Native education as bad as they say it is?"

This recently got some attention in the Anchorage Daily News. Only 1 in 10 Native students who begin at UAA graduate. While I don't think education for Native people is that great, I reject the premise that everything is all bad.

There was little attention given to the fact that UAA is just bad with education period. It only graduates about a quarter of its students, compared to the national average of something like 56%. If the headline was something more like, "Bad educational institution is even worse for most at-risk students", I may have given it a little more credibility.

I would like to see the numbers of how many Native students are attempting college now, compared to 25, 50, 100 years ago. The numbers might look a little more positive. Or how many Native students graduated from college compared to five years ago? Ten? Twenty? I'm not talking the average after they began - how many actual Native students graduated? How many before?

Here are a few facts about Native education:

In just three years, the number of Native college graduates taking physics/chemistry courses in the nation doubled.

In ten years, average Native American SAT verbal scores improved ten points, math scores improved 18. The average across the nation for all races was 9 and 14. Native Americans improved at a "better than average" rate.

In six years, Native Americans in full-time educational positions doubled. Native Americans earned over twice as many degrees in science and engineering in 2002 as they did in 1991.

Mount Edgecumbe, an Alaska Native boarding school in Sitka, was the first high school in Alaska in which all of the students who took the new high school qualifying exam passed. In addition, this school's graduates enter college at a rate of 90%.

I'm not saying that Alaska Native and American Indian education is great, or even fine. It needs serious help. But report and celebrate the successes in public, as the failures are certainly displayed. Let's give it a little time. Let's keep pushing education and culture and positive encouragement. We don't have to hide the truth, or say something is great when it so obviously needs help. But to throw numbers out into the open and say, "They mean this" without the full picture is irresponsible.

I work with great professional Native men and women. This Spring alone, three of those I knew graduated with master's degrees. Four graduated with bachelor's degrees. Nearly everyone I work with is engaged in obtaining some form of degree, and I was certainly the odd one out this last semester for not going to class. Last fall, when I was taking 12 credits and working full-time, I couldn't utter one complaint - everyone around me was doing the same, but with children.



Dale said...

Working full-time and going to school full-time is very hard. I found I had no free time which shouldn't have been spent studying. And not studying during that free time really hurt. I can't imagine trying to do this while raising children. It would be like working three jobs.

Thanks for giving us positive news about Native education. I haven't heard the negative news, but now I will have a frame of reference when I do encounter it.

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