[EDLING:1664] Immersion schools may help students

Cynthia Groff cgroff at DOLPHIN.UPENN.EDU
Sat Jun 17 12:24:05 UTC 2006


Posted: June 05, 2006 by: Jerry Reynolds 
WASHINGTON - A Senate Committee on Indian Affairs oversight hearing on 
education May 25 raised the idea that Native-language immersion schools 
deserve emphasis alongside the national No Child Left Behind program.

Educators throughout the nation are required to cope with the quantitative 
Adequate Yearly Progress scores in reading and math that assess a school's 
competence under No Child Left Behind. As a result, said Ryan Wilson, 
president of the National Indian Education Association, ''There's a huge push 
to advance only scientific education.''

In the meantime, Wilson and other witnesses said, evidence mounts that Native-
language immersion programs are associated with stronger student interest in 
learning and higher academic achievement. Kevin Skenandore, acting director of 
the Interior Department's Office of Indian Education Programs, said a survey 
of Interior's five best-performing Indian schools, its five worst-performing 
schools and all Hopi schools (they have all passed the AYP benchmarks) yielded 
support for that position.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, drew from the educational experience of her own 
sons to note that dual-language schooling can be a concern to parents in the 
early school years. But later in the educational process, she said, it becomes 
clear that immersion learning of a second language early on pays off in better 
academic performance across the board. As Wilson expressed it in his written 
testimony, ''National studies on language learning and educational experience 
indicate the more language learning, the higher the academic achievement. 
Solid data from the immersion school experience indicates that language 
immersion students experience greater success in school measured by consistent 
improvement on local and national measures of achievement.''

Some of the May 25 testimony, as well as several examples Murkowski marshaled 
from Alaska, suggested that tribal students in the usually rural, often 
isolated environs of Indian country have a hard time finding relevance in the 
conventional, Western-inflected pedagogy. Though data on Native language 
immersion schools is still being compiled, the theme of several witnesses was 
that learning a Native language along with English may resolve the problem of 
educational relevance for many students.

But Wilson added that while Native cultures and communities are losing 
immersion-program resources, including many speakers, ''at lightning speed,'' 
they are recovering their languages ''at horse-and-buggy speed.'' He offered 
NIEA's support for several bills before Congress that would encourage Native 
language immersion programs. Senate Bill 2674, the Native American Languages 
Act Amendments of 2006, has been sponsored by Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel K. 
Inouye, of Hawaii; Sen. Max Baucus, of Montana; and Sen. Tim Johnson, of South 
Dakota, all Democrats. In the House, Republican Reps. Heather Wilson, of New 
Mexico, and Rick Renzi, of Arizona, have offered House Bill 4766, the Native 
American Languages Preservation Act of 2006. Also in the House, Rep. Ed Case, 
D-Hawaii, has introduced H.R. 5222, the Native American Languages Amendments 
Act of 2006.

S. 2674 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and Ryan 
Wilson urged quick action. He added that it can bring about ''a new day'' in 
Indian education.

But much remains of the old days, including Indian test scores that trail 
national averages and faltering marks on the AYP standard of the No Child Left 
Behind initiative of President George W. Bush.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., vice chairman of the committee, pronounced 
himself ''a little perplexed'' at Interior's response: a ''reorganization'' to 
increase the ratio of senior executives to staff personnel. The reorganization 
is the target of a tribal lawsuit announced one day before the hearing

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