Immersion Schools

Andre Cramblit andrekar at NCIDC.ORG
Mon Jun 12 16:39:30 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  

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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