By Jonathan Butcher
American Indian students are more likely to live in poverty and face unemployment later in life. These children carry the burdens of geographic isolation and multi-generational poverty that are heavy to lift.
In my conversations with state leaders on ways to help students in chronically failing schools—ideas such as expanding eligibility for education savings accounts and allowing parents to petition to convert a failing school to a charter school—policymakers regularly cite the unique challenges presented by American Indian students.
Digital and online learning opportunities offer hope. As Goldwater Institute Senior Fellow Dan Lips explains in his new Policy Brief, Digital Learning: Improve Educational Opportunities for American Indian Students, online programs can be made available to any student and would increase educational opportunities in rural areas and on reservations.
Over 300,000 American Indians from 21 tribes call Arizona home, and American Indian students comprise 5 percent of the state’s K-12 population. These students score well below their white peers on the nation’s report card, often lagging behind other minority groups such as African American and Hispanic students. Among 4th graders, 70 percent of American Indian students score below the basic level. Only 8 percent can read at grade level.
Lips’ Policy Brief explains how policymakers can incorporate blended-learning programs into the classroom; provide a specific option for children attending Bureau of Indian Education schools to allow them to enroll in Arizona Online Instruction classes; expand private school choice programs to offer full or partial scholarships to American Indian students to enroll in virtual school courses; and create a Federal Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) Virtual School.
Reasonable people can disagree about what’s best for American Indians in the 21st century. But everyone agrees that more quality educational choices for children of any heritage are worth pursuing.
Jonathan Butcher is the Education Director for the Goldwater Institute.
Goldwater Institute: Digital Learning: Improved Educational Opportunities for American Indian Students
Arizona Department of Education: 2007 Indian Education Annual Report
Arizona Republic: Arizona’s American Indians