This is for every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality, and refuses to accept assessments, tests and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and learning.
Standardized education for Native youth: Carlisle Indian
Industrial School, Pennsylvania (c. 1900) one of many "Indian Boarding
Schools" where children were stripped of their Native language and culture
during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Earlier this month I posted a letter written to Senator
Patty Murray by Robey Clark, a fellow member of Oregon Save Our Schools
regarding reauthorization of ESEA. Today I am posting a letter he shared with
me that was sent to Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy
Dorn by the governing tribes of the Washington State Tribal Compact Schools on
June 5th, 2015. Mr. Dorn has yet to respond to the tribes.
The sentiment in this letter can be broadly applied not only
to Native students but to all students.Our public schools are diverse. Students deserve to have their cultures
recognized and respected. They deserve lessons that engage and speak to them,
and they deserve to be evaluated in an authentic way. We must bring the
humanity back to our schools.
Big thanks to Robey Clark for sharing this with me and for
fighting for the schools our children deserve.
WASHINGTON TRIBAL COMPACT SCHOOL POSITION STATEMENT:
We, the governing tribes of the Washington State Tribal
compact schools, hope to break the chronic cycle of failure among schools
serving American Indian reservations. We intend to capitalize upon the
opportunity presented by this new Tribal Compact School law by promoting the
adoption of teaching practices which we believe to be more congruent with
tribal cultures. In support of this effort, we intend to foster some important
reforms in educational accountability methods that will encourage and reward a
change in practice.
In recent decades, state and federal educational policy has
focused on raising test scores for poor and minority students up to the general
population average by the third grade (or soon after) in an effort to minimize
the dropout rate. This policy has been a particular disaster for most public
schools serving Indian reservations. The result has been a system that labels
Indian children early; subjects them to continued remedial instruction; and
fails to keep them engaged after the 4th grade. The over-emphasis on early
grade test scores has evolved into a self-fulfilling (and self-perpetuating)
prophecy of failure for Indian students. We believe it is this labeling effect,
coupled with limited instructional methods that cause many if not most
The Iroquois Sachem Canasatego once said to the English
colonists of his time, “...you who are so wise must know that different Nations
have different Conceptions of things and you will, therefore, not take it amiss
if our Ideas of this kind of Education happen not to be the same as yours. We
have had some Experience of it...”.
Our experience has been that our schools have diligently
tried to adopt “research based” models and “data based decision making” as
primary methods for school improvement for years now. For the past 15 years,
federal policy has placed more and higher stakes on test results. So much
weight has been placed upon them that, standardized tests have become an end
unto themselves. Something must change. We do not accept that standardized
testing defines the potential or truly measures the growth of our children in
any meaningful way. Therefore, as sovereign tribal governments, shouldering the
new responsibilities under the state compact, we feel it is our duty to make a
change toward authentic assessment and accountability. If Indian students are
motivated, they will succeed. It is our goal to create places where our
children and young adults wish to be and where there is an inherent expectation
and tradition of success.
In recent years, the state has commissioned and adopted
assessments, such as the High School Proficiency Test (HSPE) and End of Course
(EOC) exams, which have only served to make the student disengagement and
dropout problem worse. Now, with the coming adoption of the Smarter Balanced
Assessments (SBA) testing will take a quantum leap toward becoming much longer,
more difficult, and demanding even greater attention. We believe that we cannot
test our way to success. We have walked far enough down this path and are
determined to change direction. Therefore, we are proposing a five-year
moratorium from standardized testing in Tribal compact schools. During this
time, we propose to develop a new evaluation paradigm based on applied learning
and public demonstration. During this development period, we will use formative
tests and/or other tools chosen by our staff to monitor progress and assist in
teaching. We will develop a viable alternative evaluation system equaling or
surpassing the rigor of state adopted testing. In addition, we will demonstrate
American Indian student attendance and graduation rates that match or exceed
state averages. Although intended for reservation-based districts, we hope such
a system might be used by any district experiencing this chronic syndrome of
We will call upon our schools to develop ways to teach
content and to hone student academic skills through authentic work for real
life purposes rather than to depend mainly upon passive and abstract classroom
instruction. These methods may further enhance Indian student learning as they
more closely resemble historical tribal teaching practices. Traditionally, our
children learned specific skills within the context of an immediate and
worthwhile task. As students’ progress toward later grades, authentic
instruction should increase and passive classroom instruction decrease. To
support these proposed reforms, we intend to provide our schools an evaluation
model based upon public demonstration to the community. We will give our
professional educational staff the flexibility to re-organize as necessary and
to experiment in developing more deeply engaging educational experiences. In
addition, we will find new ways to evaluate and award credit for the work
completed outside the classroom. The teachers will work in teams to share the
burden and include high school students in yearly planning.
We will require our schools to initiate formal public
demonstrations of student work that meet the highest level of state standards,
so that the tribe and community may appreciate the quality and value of the
school. The demonstrations may include but are not limited to: individual or
group projects in science and applied math; performance in music and dance;
displays of art and literary work; student enterprises and worthy deeds for the
school, tribe or community. The demonstrations will be challenging enough to
show high skills and/or thorough understanding by students. Such demonstrations
will also serve to help WOSPI to evaluate student accomplishments in terms of
the state standards. We anticipate that the institution of such events will not
only serve as a new method to evaluate student work but will also help rally
our communities to support their schools.
To us, making sure all students graduate “on time” is not as
important as making sure that all do indeed graduate as mature capable
individuals with knowledge and skills to go forth in their chosen path. Our
students will receive a diploma when each is ready to present herself or
himself before the community with a portfolio that shows she or he is ready for
college, skilled career training or the everyday work world. By the same token,
this also means a student may graduate early by petition if they demonstrate
extraordinary ability or talent and can meet the standards. As the vision
stated in: From Where the Sun Rises: Addressing the Educational Achievement of
Native Americans in Washington State--Delivered to the Washington Legislature,
December 30, 2008--"Indian education dates back to a time when all
children were identified as gifted and talented. Each child had a skill and ability
that would contribute to the health and vitality of the community. Everyone in
the community helped to identify and cultivate these skills and abilities. The
elders were entrusted to oversee this sacred act of knowledge being shared.
That is our vision for Indian education today."
*This blog post is dedicated to Ada May Smith McCormack, my
beloved sister-friend who I know would be fighting with me if she still walked
in this world.
Respect for cultural heritage and diversity enriches us all.
Dan Akee, WWII Veteran, Navajo Code Talker, Diné Nation, talks with members of
the Dishchii' Bikoh' Apache Group from Cibecue, Arizona.