Immersion Schools May Help Students

Carolyn Hepburn Carolyn.Hepburn at SAULTCOLLEGE.CA
Mon Jun 12 14:23:59 UTC 2006

Posted: June 05, 2006 by: Jerry Reynolds <author.cfm?id=331>  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

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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