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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide
 

HOW WELL ARE INDIAN
CHILDREN EDUCATED?

Chapter Three
DIFFERENCES IN STUDENT BACKGROUNDS

A great many statements have been made and articles written describing the Indian student, often drawing comparisons between him and white pupils. Good or poor achievement has frequently been explained on the basis of racial or cultural differences between the two groups. Up to the time of this study, no service-wide survey has collected the data needed to draw valid conclusions in regard to:

1) the actual difference between the achievement of Indian students and white children from rural areas,

2) cultural differences between the two groups, or

3) the relation between achievement and cultural differences.

It may be said therefore that the objective of this survey is three-fold:

1) to measure the educational achievement of students in Indian schools,

2) to gather data relative to the cultural backgrounds of the Indian and non-urban white students in Indian, public and mission schools, and

3) to determine the relationships, if any, which exist between these measures of cultural background and school achievement.

Practical limitations made it necessary to collect cultural data on a relatively small number of topics, but those which were selected for study were those which seemed likely to be most important as an aid to interpreting the test data and also as indication of the other information which should ultimately be collected during the following years of the study.

Cultural Backgrounds of the Students

Table III-1 describes the degree of Indian blood of the students in the three grade levels in the different types of schools and in the different geographic areas. All of the entries in this table are in terms of percentages. It has been broken down into many categories, and therefore it must be remembered that some of the entries represent only a very small number of cases.

Table III-1

Some generalizations which can be drawn from this table are:

1) Nearly all of the students in the Navajo, Pueblo and other Southwest schools are full-blood Indians.

2) There is a larger percentage of mixed-blood students in the non-reservation schools than in any of the other types of Federal Indian schools.

3) The public schools and mission schools selected for comparison have a fairly wide range of students, extending from the full-blood Indians to all-white students.

4) In view of the fact that the some criteria were used in the selection of the fourth, eighth and twelfth grade public school students, it is significant that there is considerable difference in the percentage of non-Indians, i.e., white students at the three grade levels, the fourth grade having 37% white students, the eighth grade 51%, and the twelfth grade 70%. This would indicate that there is a dropping out of Indian students in public schools in the higher grades. Differences this great cannot be ascribed to differences in total Indian population in these age brackets, for the Bureau of the Census reports that 11.9% of the Indian population falls in the age group 10-14 years, and 10.8% in the group from 15-19 years, as compared to percentages for native whites in the same groups of 9.6% and 9.1%. The data therefore suggest the possibility that the holding power of the public schools is greater for white students than for Indian students.

In interpreting the tables and charts, it is necessary to keep in mind that these data describe three separate groups of students instead of the same students at three periods. Because of the large number of older students who withdrew, both from Indian schools and from public schools, during the war to enter the armed forces and war work, all interpretations relative to differences between students at the various grade levels are extremely tentative.

The data do not justify a conclusion that school success is limited by the degree of Indian blood. It is true that relatively low achievement is found in some of the areas where the percentage of full-blood students is relatively high. On the other hand, in Oklahoma, where 65% of the fourth grade Indian School students are full-bloods, the achievement is considerably higher on the various tests than in Dakota, where there are fewer full-blood Indian students.

Another observation which can be made from this table indicating the degree of Indian blood of the various students, is the tendency for the higher grade levels to have a lower percentage of full-blood Indian students than the lower grade levels. This would indicate that the dropout has probably been higher among full-blood Indian students.

Table III-2

The relation between the tendency to stay in school and the background of the students can also be observed in Table III-2, which describes the education of the parents of the students tested. This table indicates a greater number of years of school attendance by the parents of students in the upper grades. In other words, students coming from homes in which the parents have had the advantage of considerable education, tend to remain in school longer than those coming from homes where the parents have had little or no schooling. This is even more significant when one realizes that the parents of students eligible for the twelfth grade normally belong to an older and less literate generation than do the parents of the students eligible for the fourth or eighth grades. The report of the Bureau of the Census indicates that the Indian literacy has increased from 44% for all Indians over 20 years of age in 1910, to 74.8% for all Indians over 25 years of age in 1940.

For the mission and public schools, there is little or no difference between the educational attainment of the fathers and mothers of the children at the various grade levels, whereas in the Indian schools the difference is quite noticeable. The number of years of school attendance of the parents of the public school children is, on the whole, higher than that of any of the other parent groups. The educational level of the Indian parents in the Navajo area is considerably below the level of parents in any of the other regions, and it is also in this area that the students' achievement is considerably below that of other areas.

In those areas in which pupils in public schools show superior performance to the pupils in Federal Indian Schools, it will be found that the educational attainment of the fathers and mothers of those public school students is considerably higher than that of the parents of the students in Indian schools located in the same area. In areas in which the Indian students did as well or better, than the public school students, such as in the Great Lakes or Oklahoma areas, there is relatively little difference between the educational attainment of the parents of the two groups. Table III-2 shows that the number of years of schooling for the parents varies greatly in different regions.

Data were collected on the number of generations known to have taken advantage of educational opportunities. The data collected were based only upon that information which students were able to furnish. These data seemed to show trends similar to those already observed by studying the data relative to the number of years of schooling of the parents. Since the data concerning the education of the parents is probably more reliable than that which pertains to the education of the grandparents, nothing significant would have been added by including the statistics relative to the latter.

Table III-3 describes the language reportedly spoken in the homes of the fourth, eighth and twelfth grade students, according to the 1946 study. It should be noted that this represents the language which the student reported as that which is actually, habitually spoken in the home--not the homes in which one or both parents can talk and understand enough English to converse in that language if necessary. There is evidence that many students who, because they speak English around school and are thought of as English-speaking, actually speak only Indian when they are at home. It is also apparent that many adult Indians who speak perfectly good English when necessary, elect to converse in their Indian language at home. It will be noted that the students in day schools come from homes in which less English is spoken than do the students in any of the other types of Indian schools. As would be expected, the public school children have by far the greatest amount of English spoken in their homes. This is true for Indian students in public schools, as well as for whites in public schools. A much greater proportion of English is spoken in the homes of the twelfth grade students in Indian schools, and the proportion for the eighth grade is greater than that for the fourth grade. The language spoken in the home appears to be correlated with school achievement and also with the number of years the student remains in school.

Table III-3

The factor of home stability was studied because it has often been claimed that broken homes may contribute to poor pupil achievement. Table III-4 describes the home stability of the students by indicating the percentage living with their parents, with only their father, with only their mother, with relatives, or with non-relatives. These data do not appear to have a direct or easily interpretable relationship with any of the achievement scores, or with home factors studied, but they will probably prove of value and interest in personnel and- adjustment studies. For example, the percentage of students living with both parents is much smaller among students in non-reservation boarding schools than in any other type of school;* yet the achievement among non-reservation students was relatively high. The number of students living with both parents on the Navajo and Pueblo reservations is higher than is the case either in the Dakotas or in Oklahoma; yet the Navajo and Pueblo achievement was, in most cases, low and that in the Dakotas and in Oklahoma high. The data do not indicate, of course, that the broken home is never a factor in the poor achievement of an individual student, but they do indicate that, whatever the adverse effects of a broken home may have been among these students, they are concealed by other factors more directly affecting achievement.

* Dependency because of a broken home is one criterion for admission to a non-reservation boarding school.

Table III-4

Table III-5 shows the age distribution of the students in each of the grades and types of schools studied, and the number of years each of the students has attended school. One of the first observations one makes from the table is that those students who are retarded either from the standpoint of chronological age, or in the number of years they have attended school, tend to drop out of school before the completion of the eighth grade. At the fourth grade level 23% of all the students have been in school six or more years. Assuming no additional retardation, this group is comparable to those of the eighth grade level who have attended ten years or more, and at the twelfth grade level who hove attended fourteen years or more. Yet, at the eighth grade level only 8% of the students, and of the twelfth grade level only 4% of the students, fall into this group. This decrease in the percentage of retarded students in upper grades could also be explained by an acceleration during the interval or because more of the students now entering have difficulties that result in early retardation.

Table III-5

Many students with low achievement have had it attributed to the fact that circumstances have made it necessary for them to transfer many times from one school to another. The information in Figure III-1 was collected on the eighth grade students in 1945. In the non-reservation schools, where achievement has been found to be relatively high, most of the students have attended more than one school. There appears to be no direct relationship between poor achievement and frequent transfers from one school to another.

Figure III-1

Relationships Between Measures of Cultural Background and School Achievement

Figures Ill-2, 3, 4, and 5 summarize o segment of the cultural background information collected, showing not only a wide variation between the backgrounds of the students, but also a relationship between several of these factors and school achievement.

The first four columns in Figures III-2 and 3 show the relationship between the number of schools the student has attended and achievement in arithmetic computation. In the case of the fourth grade, pictured in Figure III-2, the achievement of the students in arithmetic computation is lowest for students who have attended only one school. While the differences are not large, the fact that achievement is higher for students who have transferred gives some assurance that the transferred student is not handicapped in his arithmetic computation achievement by the number of times he has transferred. It may be, of course, that students who transfer have certain other qualifications which, in turn, are understandably related to success in school. This may be a case in which the transfer itself is not the cause of high achievement, but is only indicative of the fact that a highly select group of students is forced to transfer. Some might wish to read into this the added possibility that increased effort on the part of both the pupil and the teacher results from school transfer, thus resulting in higher achievement.

The relation of school transfer to twelfth grade achievement in arithmetic computation is shown in Figure III-3, and to Part D of the Gates Basic Reading test in Figure III-4. At the twelfth grade level a larger percentage of students have experienced transfer, but this is to be expected because by the time students have reached the twelfth grade, most will have been forced to transfer of least once or twice. The differences between the achievement of students who have attended one school only, and that of students who have attended several schools, is so small that it may have occurred by chance. This fact bears out the observation concerning the analysis in relation to achievement in arithmetic computation at the fourth grade level, namely that there is little or no evidence that transfer is a serious handicap to achievement in school.

Columns 5, 6 and 7 of Figure III-2 compare the regularity of attendance of fourth grade students with achievement in arithmetic. As one would expect, the higher achievement is made by students with regular attendance and, with the exception of those who have been out of school more than one year, the median achievement is lower for those whose attendance has been irregular. It would appear that the maturation of students who have been out of school one or more years tends to offset low achievement in arithmetic. At the fourth grade level, the number of students who have been out of school more than one year is so small as to make this sample less reliable than for the other groups studied. Referring to Figures III-3, and III-4, it will be noted that the differences in achievement in arithmetic computation, for students who have had different patterns of regularity of school attendance, are smaller than is true for their achievement on the Gates Basic Reading Test, Type D. This would seem to indicate that a student's out-of-school experiences ore less likely to compensate for his lock of instruction in reading than in arithmetic computation. The seemingly significant and more understandable differences are those between the students who have attended school regularly and those whose attendance has been irregular. The relatively high achievement in arithmetic computation by upper grade students who have been out of school more than one year might be explained through the effect of training received in the armed forces, since a considerable number of veterans were included in this group.

Figure III-2

Figure III-3

Figure III-4

Figure III-5

Figure III-5 shows the regularity of attendance for the eighth and twelfth grade students and its relation to achievement on the General Resources test. Here again, some of the same observations can be made, and in the case of the twelfth grade pupils, it would appear that somewhat irregular attendance does not seem to hamper the students' achievement, and may even be associated with whatever factors provide a beneficial effect. In most instances the differences are not large, and may even have occurred by chance, particularly in the cases where there are few students in the group. In a subject such as General Resources, where regularity of school attendance does not appear to contribute to high achievement, it might be interpreted that the material represented by the test was not actually being taught in the school.

Figures III-2, 3, 4, and 5, also show the relationship between the language spoken in the home and school achievement in arithmetic, General Resources, and Gates Basic Reading, Part D. Quite consistently, students coming from homes where only English is spoken showed higher achievement than those students coming from homes where only Indian is spoken. Moreover there is seemingly little or no difference between the achievement of those students from homes in which only Indian is spoken and those in which both Indian and English are spoken. It will be interesting to many to observe from these figures that the fact that a student comes from a home in which only Indian is spoken apparently does not place a ceiling on his achievement, because there is a significantly large number of students coming from homes where only Indian is spoken who do better, even in the Reading test, than the average student coming from a home in which only English is spoken. Therefore, failure to use English in the home is not so great a handicap but that it may be counterbalanced by many other factors of equal or greater significance. It should not be overlooked, however, that coming from a home in which little or no English is spoken is undoubtedly a handicap to the student who receives his training in o school where the development of a meaningful English vocabulary is not given special consideration.

The last two columns of Figures III-3 and III-4 show the relation between the educational attainment of the mothers of the students and the students' achievement in arithmetic computation and reading. Distributions of scores according to school grades completed by the students' fathers show a pattern almost identical with these patterns. It is interesting that the central tendency for both tests increases with an increase in school grade completed by the parents. However, more than one-quarter of the students whose parents had completed nine or more years in school made scores below the median of the students whose parents had attended school less than five years. It is possible for other factors to counterbalance or conceal the influence of lack of educational attainment by the parents. On the other hand, it would appear that the educational attainment of the parents, or factors associated with it, has a favorable influence upon the students' achievement in both the arithmetic computation and the reading tests.

Indian Students in Public Schools

Table III-6 presents data which indicate that many of the Indian children enrolled in public schools have a cultural background more favorable to achievement in school than that of Indian children enrolled in Federal Indian Schools. At the fourth grade level, the parents of all Indian children in public schools had some formal education whereas 37% of the mothers of students enrolled in Federal boarding schools had never attended school. English is the only language spoken in the homes of approximately 65% of the Indians enrolled in public schools, as compared with 25% for students in Indian day schools, 30% for Indian boarding schools, and 58% for non-reservation boarding schools.

Because factors associated with white culture (the education of the parents, the language spoken in the home, etc.) appear to affect achievement favorably, one would predict that the achievement for Indian students in public schools enrolling mostly white students would be higher than that of Indian students in public schools where few or no white students are enrolled. The opposite appears to be the case. Table III-7 shows the median achievement of Indian and white, fourth grade, public school students in schools where the enrollment is 1) 100% Indian, 2) predominately Indian, 3) 50% Indian, and 4) predominately white. On three of the standardized tests, the achievement of the Indian students in schools which are predominately white is lower than that of Indians in any of the public schools where fifty per cent or more of the students are Indian. This unexpectedly poor achievement of Indians in predominately white public schools may result from any one of o number of conditions. It is possible, of course, that other factors, not measured in this study offset the favorable effects of those factors which have been named plus the apparently beneficial contact with white students. It may be true that bilingualism is given less attention in schools where the number of Indian students is small, and in this case these students would demonstrate low achievement. Whatever the contributing factors, there is no evidence that attendance in o school where there are fewer Indian than white students, favorably affects the school achievement of the Indian student.

Differences Between Interests of the Students

In addition to gathering data about the parents, home background, and frequency of school attendance, information was sought relative to the expressed interests of the students in the in-school and out-of-school activities. Table III-8 describes the degree to which various school subjects were preferred by the students tested in the 1946 study. The extremely high percentage of students indicating strong preferences for such academic subjects as English, mathematics and social science in 1945, raised the suspicion that perhaps the free-response type of questionnaire then used had biased the responses and caused the students to list as their first choices those subjects which they had either just been studying or those which they felt their teachers might prefer them to mention. In an effort to correct this possible bias, the 1946 study listed both academic and vocational subjects alphabetically. The preference indicated by students at the fourth, eighth and twelfth grade levels reflected the same type of preference for the academic subjects as the students showed the previous year. Also there appears to be relatively little difference between the preferences of boys and girls. Even the grade level differences are not great except in such subjects as art, where there is marked loss of interest at the higher grade levels.There is greater variety in the reading interest patterns than in the case of school subjects preferred. In general, these interest patterns showed remarkable uniformity between types of schools. There was a marked similarity between interests of both boys and girls, except in the case of cowboy stories and fiction. Public school students appear to be more interested in mystery stories than are the students in Indian schools, and less interested in current affairs than students in Indian schools. Students in all types of schools showed a high degree of interest in comic books at the fourth grade level, with this interest declining by the time the student hod reached the twelfth grade.

Table III-6

Table III-7

The tabulated results of the multiple choice leisure time interest questionnaire of the 1946 study are given in Table III-10. There is a surprisingly high percentage of students in all types of schools claiming interest in work activities. The two areas, hobbies and social activities, attracted the preference of only an extremely small number of students. It must be remembered that these were the preferences expressed by students and that there was no measure of the possible influence of responding, in a school situation, to the type of activity which the student believed was the desired response.

Table III-8

Table III-9

Table III-11 indicates the percent of students of each of the grade levels tested who expressed o desire to complete eighth grade, senior high school, trade school, or college. Less than one percent of the fourth grade students indicated the intention of withdrawing from elementary school before the completion of eighth grade. Ninety-four percent of the eighth grade students indicated their intention of completing twelve or more grades. The data concerning present enrollment suggest the probability that o much smaller per cent of the students actually complete eighth grade, twelfth grade, or continue beyond high school, than expressed the intention of doing so. More than three-fourths of the students in fourth grade indicated their intentions of continuing through the twelfth grade, or beyond high school. Present enrollments indicate that approximately one-fifth of the students actually do remain in school this long. The fact that the present study was conducted during the years of the war, when many students withdrew to enter military service or war-time employment, makes it impossible to predict the actual number of students who would otherwise carry out their plans.

Table III-10

The number of students, even at the twelfth grade level, who indicated their intention of completing college, is surprisingly large. Though it is possible, particularly at the lower grade levels, that some students may fail to differentiate between trade school training and college, the number is so large as to suggest that many do not recognize that they may not possess the capacity or the tools necessary to succeed in college. This observation is borne out by an analysis of the reading ability of the students in relation to the educational goal which each indicated. It was discovered that the range of reading ability of twelfth grade students who did not plan to continue their education was very similar to that of students who indicated their intention of going to college. Among the twelfth grade students indicating their intention of going to college, some of the students made scores on the Gates Reading Test, Part A, as low as 7 (Grade Equivalent 3.4). Though it is possible that the fact that the test was not sufficiently difficult for some of the best twelfth grade students may have lowered slightly the median scores, it would appear that the median score of 19.0 (Grade Equivalent 6.7), as compared with a median score of 16.6 (Grade Equivalent 6.0) for those who did not intend to continue beyond the twelfth grade, indicates that many intend to go to college who do not have the reading skill necessary for successful achievement in even an academic program in the senior high school. Though the test may not have measured fully the achievement of the best students, it was undoubtedly adequate to measure the reading ability of the majority of the students.

Table III-11

 

 

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