Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Vice Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, and Chairman Jon Tester, D-Montana, listened to testimony at the committee’s hearing on American Indian students in public schools.

Not Separate, Not Equal: Feds Look at Native Kids in Public Schools

Tanya H. Lee

The federal government recently took a look at how American Indian children are faring in public schools—and the results are disturbing.

Minority children in public schools are generally subjected to harsher, more frequent disciplinary measures than are white students, according to the report, “School Discipline, Restraint, & Seclusion,” released by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. The data collection that served as the basis of the report covered all 97,000 public schools in the U.S., which serve 49 million pre-K through grade 12 students. Between 90 percent and 95 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native children are educated in public schools.

“The issue of unlawful racial discrimination in school discipline is… a civil rights issue,” states a U.S. Department of Education spokesperson. “Title VI protects students from discrimination based on race in connection with all academic, educational, extracurricular, athletic, and other programs and activities of a school, including programs and activities a school administers to ensure and maintain school safety and student discipline.

A few examples of the government’s findings: AI/AN children, who represented 0.5 percent of enrollment of the schools included in this calculation, accounted for 2 percent of single and multiple out-of-school suspensions and 3 percent of expulsions. On the other hand, they accounted for only 0.2 percent of in-school suspensions. By contrast, white students, who accounted for 51 percent of enrollment, comprised 40 percent of in-school suspensions, 36 percent and 31 percent of single and multiple out-of-school suspensions respectively and 36 percent of expulsions. These numbers suggest that the harsher the punishment (with in-school suspension at one end of the scale and expulsion at the other), the less likely is it to be applied to white students and the more likely it is to be imposed on AI/AN children.

Thirteen percent of AI/AN boys received out-of-school suspension, compared with 6 percent of white boys. Seven percent of AI/AN girls received out-of-school suspension, compared with just 2 percent of white girls.


You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page



bullbear's picture
Submitted by bullbear on
American Indians have never received the remotest semblance of equal and fair education whether the setting was in boarding schools or public schools. The glaring truth is evident by merely looking at the funding level or lack thereof at each funding cycle. Each year, tribes provide the U.S. government officials data that reveal a broken educational system and each year the funding level becomes less and less. Is it any wonder that the students perform far below the normal standards. What has followed the under-peformance is students who receive greater disciplinary action and the simplest method is to suspend or expel them. Someone asked where are the Indians with PhDs and listed being homesick, extreme poverty, shortage of faculty role models and tribal colleges being underfunded as some reasons. What we don't know is what percentage of tribal youth see themselves investing the number of years pursuing a PhD as their life's goal. My senses tell me that therein lies a sound understanding of what the full doctorate program encompasses and its potential benefit. For that matter, how many parents on reservations can paint a clear picture to their children of a required master thesis or what a doctoral study might consist of or how it will be of great benefit to their tribal nation? Could it be that our secondary schools are so busy just trying to meet state-mandated testing levels that there is too little time to do anything else? Once again the federal government is receiving data via this "School Discipline, Restraint…" report that reveals the great disparity that Native American students are subjected to and once again the report findings will be filed away. There is great truth in the adage, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The Tohono O'odham in southern Arizona are moving away that insipid matrix and laying down its own tracks. Their achievements has taken an element that the government will never provide which is a demonstrated commitment, partnership and unity of an entire tribal nation to develop a model that effectively works for itself. Indian tribes are tired and fed up with being studied and researched like animals behind bars. We live in a world with information brimming at the touch of a mouse, but school counselors are overloaded. How can community residents help to fill the void? Baboquivari schools saw its educational system's shortcomings and have found some effective methods by unifying resources from all levels of educational backgrounds of the entire community and they all generously put them on the table. Bravo BUSD!!

choctawgirl's picture
Submitted by choctawgirl on
Is it any wonder when teachers are all brainwashed in schools that they attend to get their degrees and taught columbus discovered america and such stupid lies for their own benefit?And don't understand or care why most Natives are living in poverty and doing so poorly? Is it any wonder when white kids are practically drooling and jerking off in class over fake history because their children get off on hurting people? When I was in school I got threatened and punished by teachers on many occasions for absolutely no reason. Pulled out in the hallway and my teacher told me she "knows people" for writing a paper on reality. LOL Don't know what that threat is even supposed to mean. But I didn't have the type of parents I could tell these things to. I just handled everything on my own and it would have been pointless anyway because nothing ever gets done about anything if a white person does something wrong. I was doing really well in my classes prior to that one and I did really well on a paper I wrote before that. They can't stand to see a Native succeeding I guess.

choctawgirl's picture
Submitted by choctawgirl on
Why do you think so many white people join the military? Parents allow their kids to think they are heroic but that is just a front for them. It's not to defend their country it's to fulfill their sick greedy desires and get off on hurting people

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
I work in the public schools in one of the poorest counties in one of the poorest states (Dona Ana county, New Mexico) and our school has run away with both scholastic AND athletic accomplishments. Our school district is consistently underfunded, but our State recently granted us funds for a new school (working a library while under construction is really difficult). We're STILL not a well-off school by any means. Funding for buildings is different than funding for books, AV equipment and new technology. We're still using VHS tapes and VCRs in most of our classrooms. Our newest computers are four years old (while that may not seem like much, it's eons in the tech world) and can barely handle the requirements of our students. It is our students who have made our high school #1 in our State. Our student population is comprised primarily of middle to low income Hispanic and Native students. Our teachers and administrators are comprised of young, energetic teachers and wise, old teachers. The parents in our school district have shown a commitment to education and encourage their children scholastically. For now everything is working as it should. Our students seem to enjoy the respectful atmosphere our school provides, the teachers work to instill a sense of intellectual curiosity rather than parroting mandated lessons and our parents seem willing to become involved in their children's education. This is what education is all about. Take any of those three elements away and you'll find it much harder to succeed. Take any two away and the climb is ten times more difficult. Without any of these things it's almost impossible to offier the type of education ALL students deserve. I've heard all the excuses. There's no money, there's no interest in learning, the teachers don't care, administration is bad, there are gang problems, etc. It all boils down to passion. If parents have true passion for the success of their children they'll take part in their child's education. If teachers have a true passion for teaching they'll make it interesting to students AND (better yet) teach them how to ask questions of their own, and research the answers. If students have respect for their elders and stop to listen to what is being said, they'll develop the passion for learning. I abhor the saying, "It takes a village," but it couldn't be more true here. EVERYONE must be involved in education for it to work. As a saying I'm much more fond of points out, "Excuses are like assholes, everyone has one."

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
TO Choctawgirl: I'll have to disagree with you regarding the comment about the military. True, there are a LOT of White kids in the military, but there is a higher percentage of Natvies who serve with distinction. Of course you've heard of the WWII Code Talkers. Of course you've heard of Ira Hayes. The lower echelons of each branch in the military is staffed by the nation's poor and unemployed. They come from the cities, the farms and small towns all over America and a signignificant number of them are Native. _______________________________________________________ I can't generalize to say that there have NEVER been Native warriors who were bloodthirsty, nor can I deny that some tribes were more warlike than others, but I CAN say that most Native warriors tend to be a notch above the average soldier.

Hokala's picture
Submitted by Hokala on
You can accuse me of being bias because I am a teacher, but I would say the problem isn't necessarily reflective of teachers intentionally discriminating against American Indian or other minority students. The problem I would say is that the school culture is generally reflective of a mainstream middle class culture and if you are one of those people who do not fit into that culture, its norms and values, then you are going to struggle or fail to succeed in that environment; not because the people working in schools are not well meaning, but they simply do not understand the cultural differences and how best to assist children coming from that culture. As a Lakota who teaches in a predominately white, middle class school, I'm not going to say that discriminatory and prejudicial beliefs don't exist but I see the white kids who live in poverty and whose parents do not prescribe to the existing school culture having the same disciplinary and performance problems outlined in this article. There is just a larger portion of the population that is identified as "white" that fits into the middle class school culture where parents seem more approachable and more willing to cooperate with school officials. This probably has more to do with the fact that most educators in our society come from a white middle class background, and rather they intend to show favoritism or not, the kids who feel comfortable and like they belong in that environment fair better than the ones who don't think it relates to them or their lives. I too had to deal with stereotypical and over simplifying representations of my culture and heritage being taught at schools when I was growing up, but I used those opportunities to challenge what was being taught in my school and addressing the inaccuracies. I also grew up in a household that valued education and encouraged me to read and take responsibility for my own education, instead of viewing it as assimilation. Maybe it is just where I grew up and went to school, but my challenges to the existing curriculum's representations of my culture and heritage was generally well received by my teachers who didn't really want to perpetuate inaccurate information, they just didn't know any different and had never looked at it if from a different perspective. Never attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by stupidity or ignorance. The disarrangements in student performance and discipline addressed in this article I think can adequately be explained by teacher and administrator ignorance and inability to relate to and connect with cultures that don't fit into the mainstream. And at the same time I would say the role formal education has played in the forced assimilation of our family members makes many American Indian unwilling to use or appreciate the educational opportunities afforded to them. I would like to see an increase in American Indian educators and school administrators as a possible resolution to this problem. I would also like to see districts start to do away with the 174 day, emphasis on high stakes testing (which only measure how good your students are at taking test, not what they know), sit in an enclosed classroom, one teacher for 20-25 kids, age segregating, using classroom teachers as glorified child care services, 8am - 3:30pm format that most schools currently follow, because there so many things about how our schools are structured that do not align with how children of any race, religion or ethnicity learn. Any kid who isn't willing to sit complacently, doesn't have strong conventional English language skills, the ability to self regulate and willingness to follow their teacher's directions without question is going to struggle to be successful. This isn't generally because the teachers are highly committed to helping every child succeed, but our schools are not structured in a way that allows us to and this is not fault of educators. This is the fault of mainstream society's paradigm of what a school is and the unwillingness of school boards, stakeholders and legislatures to redefine it or allow individual communities to find what works for them and the culture of their unique and individual students. There is no doubt that our public schools need to be reformed, but I don't see individual teachers as intolerant and unwilling to address these types of problems. They are just ignorant of the cultural differences and how best to relate to and connect to students who are not from their culture.

verncox's picture
Submitted by verncox on
OK, are you sure you're reading this next to the significant control? That is "Who commits the majority of infractions". It's not about the punishment for one compared to the other but about "who has the largest number of offenders and are the penalties matching the offender numbers. The percentage of offenses should equal the percentage of corrections for each community. In other words if commit 20 % of the offenses then there should be 20% of white students receiving penalties.