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Indigenous Education NABE News Columns 2000-2009
© National Association for Bilingual Education

55. The Failures of NCLB's Reading First, 31(3), 18-20, January/February, 2009
54. Linguicism in America, 30(1), 12-15, September/October 2007
53. Place-conscious Education for American Indian Students, 27(6), 26, July/August 2004
52. Journeying Home: Creating Our Future From Our Past, 27(5), 22 & 25, May/June 2004
51. Is Anyone to Blame for the American Drop-out Rate?, 26(6), 26-27, July/August 2003
The Failures of NCLB's Reading First1
Jon Reyhner, Northern Arizona University
NABE News, 31(3), 18-20

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 through its Reading First provisions attempts to improve reading instruction in American schools and close the gap in test scores between ethnic minorities and mainstream "white" Americans. Reading First requires states to show "how the State educational agency will assist local educational agencies in identifying instructional materials, programs, strategies, and approaches, based on scientifically based reading research, including early intervention and reading remediation materials, programs, and approaches" (NCLB, 2001, p. 123). The NCLB approach to improving reading instruction is grounded in the findings of the congressionally mandated report of the National Reading Panel (NRP) issued in 2000. The NRP did not examine research that specifically addressed the challenges faced by ethnic minority students, English language learners, and students speaking non-standard dialects of English.

The NRP's review of research also ignored the influence of motivation on teaching reading. The 2006 report, The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives on High School Dropouts, notes that the lack of student interest and engagement is the major reason for dropping out of school (given by almost half of high school dropouts). Dropouts found their classes to be boring; over two-thirds said they were not motivated to work hard in school (Bridgeland, DiIulio & Morison, 2006). On the other hand studies of effective primary teachers found them to be "massively motivating" with teachers who are "exceptionally skilled at matching their teaching to the needs of individual students" (Allington, 2002, p. 78).

Peshkin (1997) and Ogbu's (2003) research demonstrates the importance of motivation and engagement. In his study of a New Mexico Indian high school, Peshkin found that both students and their families had ambivalent feelings toward schooling. Ogbu noted a similar "academic disengagement" among Black students and their families in an affluent Ohio suburb. Ethnic minorities, such as many Asian Americans, with highly positive attitudes toward schooling as a group do well in school in contrast to students with ambivalent or oppositional feelings because school is viewed as a place for cultural assimilation and "acting white" (Fordham & Ogbu, 1986). One factor advantaging Asian Americans is they tend to view academic success as a matter of studying hard rather than a result of genetically inherited intelligence.

The NRP in its research review excluded all non-experimental studies such as correlational and ethnographic studies of students actually learning to read in classrooms (Allington, 2002). Joanne Yatvin (2000), the only member of the panel who had actually taught beginning reading in a classroom, in her minority report concluded that the NRP rushed its review and that "from the beginning, the Panel chose to conceptualize and review the field narrowly, in accordance with the philosophical orientation and research interest of the majority of its members" that biased it towards an emphasis on phonics instruction (p. 1). The NRP "did not touch on early learning and home support for literacy, matters which many experts believe are the critical determinates of schools success or failure" (Yatvin, 2000, p. 2). Too often in implementation, teaching reading becomes having students pronounce word lists with little regard to whether they understand those words, leading to what has been a historical problem in American Indian education going back well into the nineteenth century when it was reported in 1869 by the Reverend S.D. Hinman after visiting Indian schools, "it is a wonder to me how readily they learn to read our language; little fellows will read correctly page after page of their school books, and be able to spell every word, and yet not comprehend the meaning of a single sentence" and he complained about the "monotony and necessary sameness of the school-room duty" (as quoted in Reyhner & Eder, 2004, p. 78).

Hopi Edmund Nequatewa who attended school in the late 1890s related that "I could read all right, but many times I really won't understand what I was reading about" and Luther Standing Bear in his 1928 book My People the Sioux complained that his students did better than the students of white teachers who got all their knowledge from books "but outside of that, they knew nothing" (as quoted in Reyhner & Eder, 2004, pp. 95 & 170). Standing Bear felt that "The Indian children should have been taught how to translate the Sioux tongue into English properly; but the English teachers only taught them the English language, like a bunch of parrots. While they could read all the words placed before them, they did not know the proper use of them; their meaning was a puzzle" (as quote in Reyhner & Eder, p. 95).

Despite a phonics predisposition, the NRP concluded that "phonics instruction produces the biggest impact on growth in reading when it begins in kindergarten or 1st grade before children have learned to read independently" and it "failed to exert a significant impact on the reading performance of low-achieving readers in 2nd through 6th grades" (NRP, 2000, pp. 2-93-94). The NRP report notes, "it is important to emphasize that systematic phonics instruction should be integrated with other reading instruction to create a balanced reading program. Phonics instruction is never a total reading program.... Phonics should not become the dominant component in a reading program, neither in amount of time devoted to it nor in the significance attached" (p. 2-97). The NRP found that researchers had not paid attention to motivational factors for both students and teachers and that there was "common agreement that fluency develops from reading practice" (p. 3-1). Thus, despite the final reports phonics emphasis, the report had embedded in it some support for a whole language approach to teaching reading. However, the NPR's support for a "balanced approach" in its full report was lost in both the official published report summary and in the funding by the U.S. Department of Education of Reading First grants to school districts (Garan, 2002).

Educational psychologist Gerald Coles in his point-by-point rebuttal to the NPR report notes that the work of the NPR has been,

harmful because it falsely holds out the promise of a simple, "magic bullet" solution to the literacy failure of millions of children, especially those who are poor, while at the same time discouraging social policy attention to forces both in and out of schools that influence literacy outcomes. (2000, p. xvii)
Allington (2002) further notes the glaring lack of scientific evidence to show that students who do well with phonics in the primary grades transition to become fluent readers in the in the upper elementary grades with good reading comprehension. NCLB has provided a billion dollars a year for Reading First programs to implement "scientifically-based" reading instruction in schools, but Washington Post reporter Michael Grunwald noted five years after the passage of NCLB "an accumulating mound of evidence from reports, interviews and program documents suggest that Reading First has had little to do with science or rigor. Instead, the billions have gone to what is effectively a pilot project for untested programs with friends in high places" (Grunwald, 2006, p. B1).

The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Inspector General found that the application package for Reading First grants "obscured the requirements of the [NCLB] statute: and that Reading First proposal reviewers were not adequately screened for conflicts of interest (U.S. Department of Education, 2006, p. 2). After a five-hour investigative hearing on conflicts of interest in the funding of Reading First grants, Representative George Miller, chairman of the House Education Committee, declared that the administration of the program "sounds like a criminal enterprise to me" (quoted in Paley, 2007).

The research-backed Success for All and Reading Recovery programs were systematically excluded from Reading First funding in favor of programs with less research backing from large commercial publishers (Grunwald, 2006). However, even Success for All, with all its research backing, has been tried and dropped by schools after it did not live up to its promises (Pogrow, 2000; Reyhner, 2001). When the U.S. Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse released its 2007 report on beginning reading intervention programs, of 24 programs with some research backing, only Reading Recovery was found to have positive or potentially positive effects in all areas reviewed: alphabetics, fluency, comprehension, and general reading achievement (What Works Clearinghouse, 2007) and "none of the most popular commercial reading programs on the market had sufficiently rigorous studies to be included in the review by the clearinghouse" (Manzo, 2007). The Clearinghouse listed 129 programs that lacked scientific evidence to support their efficacy, including Direct Instruction/DISTAR, Direct Instruction/SRA, Hooked on Phonics, and Saxon Phonics. Of the six programs that the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affair's Office of Indian Education Programs listed on their web site2 as meeting Reading First Grant criteria, only Success for All was listed as meeting any of the Clearinghouse's criteria.

The 2008 study by the Department of Education's National Center for Education Evaluation on Reading First, which was generally hailed by phonics advocates, found that even though more time was being spent teaching reading in Reading First classrooms, "Reading First did not have statistically significant impacts on student reading comprehension test scores in grades 1-3" (National Center, 2008).

1This column is adapted from Jon Reyhner and Denny Hurtado's 2008 article "Reading First, Literacy, and American Indian/Alaska Native Students" (Journal of American Indian Education, 47(1), 82-95) and Reyhner's on-line essay on "The Reading Wars" at
2Downloaded August 31, 2007 from

Allington, R.L. (2002). Big brother and the national reading curriculum: How ideology trumped evidence. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Bridgeland , J.M., DiIulio, Jr., J.J., & Morison, K.B. (2006). The silent epidemic: Perspectives on high school dropouts. Washington, DC: Civic Enterprises (a report of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation).

Coles, G. (2000). Misreading reading: The bad science that hurts children. . Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Fordham, S., & Ogbu, J.U. (1986). Black students' school success: Coping with the "Burden of 'Acting White.'"Urban Review, 18. (3), 176-206.

Garan, E.M. (2002). Beyond the smoke and mirrors: A critique of the National Reading Panel report on phonics. In R.L. Allington (Ed.), Big brother and the national reading curriculum: How ideology trumped evidence. (pp. 90-111). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Grunwald, M. (2006, October 1). Billions for an inside game on reading. Washington Post, B1. Retrieved August 31, 2007 at

Manzo, K.K. (2007, August 15). Reading curricula don't make cut for federal review. Education Week online.

National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. (2008). Reading First Impact Study: Interim Report. Retrieved January 13, 2009 at

National Reading Panel. (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction, reports of the subgroups. . Rockville, MD: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Retrieved January 13, 2009 at

No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Title I: Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged. (2001). Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education, George Washington University.

Ogbu, J. U. (2003). Black American students in an affluent suburb: A study of academic disengagement. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Paley, A.R. (2007, April 21). Key initiative of "No Child" under federal investigation. Washington Post, A1.

Peshkin, Alan. (1997). Places of memory: Whiteman's schools and Native American communities. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Pogrow, S. (2000). Success for All does not produce success for students. Phi Delta Kappan, 82(1), 67-80.

Reyhner, J. (2001, October 30). Does "Success for All" mean success for Indian students? Presentation at the 32nd Annual National Indian Education Association Annual Convention, Billings, MT.

Reyhner, J., & Eder, J. (2004). American Indian education: A history. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General. (2006). The Reading First program's grant application process: Final inspection report. Washington, DC: Author.

What Works Clearinghouse. (2007, August 13). WWC topic report: Beginning reading. Washington DC: Institute for Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

Yatvin, L. (2000). Minority view. In National Reading Panel, Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction, reports of the subgroups. Rockville, MD: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Retrieved January 13, 2009 at

Place-conscious Education for American Indian Students
Volume 27, No.6, p. 26, July/August 2004
Jon Reyhner, Northern Arizona University

The testing requirements mandated by the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act are pushing schools towards placeless, one-size-fits-all, national standards, test-prep curriculums. These curriculums are often textbook driven and at the secondary level involve assigning students to read a chapter and answer the questions at the end of the chapter. This is a boring task for just about any student, and for students who don't read well, it is an invitation for them to drop out of school.

In contrast to these nation- or state-wide curriculums is the "place-conscious" education movement that in the words of Robert Brooke (2003) "asks us to think of context--to think of the interdependence of individual, classroom, community, region, history, ecology" (p. 10). The idea is to link students lives to their home communities whether that community be an Indian reservation, a barrio, or a rural Nebraskan town. Place-conscious education "teaches how to live well, actively, and fully in a given place" (p. ix).

Place-conscious education teaches intradependence rather than independence. It emphasizes that fact that we can't change one thing without having many other linked changes (often damaging unintended consequences). The idea is to have students study their communit--where it has been and where it should be going. It calls for active students "engaging with local issues" (Brooke, 2003, p. 13). It is an education for democratic citizenship starting with local issues and local government that helps students discover the connection between their classrooms and their futures.

In regard to teaching writing, place-conscious education gets students to write about what they know, about where each one is. They can interview veterans, tribal officials, and elders for their writing assignments. A good older example of place-conscious curriculum material is the book Between Sacred Mountains: Navajo Stories and Lessons from the Land (Arthur, Bingham, & Bingham, 1982/1995) produced at Rock Point Community School on the Arizona portion of the Navajo Reservation. The Foxfire books (See Wigginton, 1986) produced in Appalachia are another example for place-conscious writing instruction.

Phips Ross notes that students researching and writing their "family stories keep the past alive in the present" (in Brooke, 2003, p. 57). This keeping the past alive helps keep students rooted to their heritage so that they have a strong sense of who they are. This sense of identity is an important stabilizing factor in an increasingly materialistic and hedonistic world. Too often today, American Indian children only see jobs and opportunities outside of their tribal communities, which means the best and brightest often leave to contribute to the growth of other communities at the expense of their home community.

While place conscious education is not a cure-all to educational or community problems, it can focus students attention on finding solutions to these challenges. Too often students don't see the relevance of algebra, chemistry and other school subjects to their lives. Place-conscious education can provide practical application of schooling to students' lives and set them on the path to using their education to improve their communities.


A previous column on "Place- and Community-Based Curriculum for High School English Language Learners" from the January/February 2002 of NABE News can be read at


Arthur, C. Bingham, J. & Bingham, S. (Eds.), (1995). Between Sacred Mountains: Navajo Stories and Lessons from the Land (Sun Tracks, Vol.11). Tucson: University of Arizona Press (Reprint edition, First published in 1982).

Brooke, R. E. (Ed.). (2003). Rural Voices: Place-Conscious Education and the Teaching of Writing. New York: Teachers College Press.

Wigginton, E. (1986). Sometimes a Shining Moment. New York: Anchor.

Journeying Home: Creating Our Future From Our Past
Volume 27, No.5, pp. 22&25, May/June 2004
Jon Reyhner, Northern Arizona University

On March 8-10, 2004, the Bureau of Indian Affair's Office of Indian Education Programs (OIEP) held its third Language and Culture Preservation Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. OIEP director Ed Parisian welcomed the large gathering of Bureau educators to this meeting, emphasizing the BIA's goal that "students will demonstrate knowledge of language and culure to improve academic achievement." He went on to say that "we know from research and experience that individuals who are strongly rooted in their past who know where they come from are often best equipped to face the future."

Dr. Parisian's words are in sharp contrast to the ideas of the English-only advocates and the anti-multiculturalists such as put forward by Arthur Schlesinger Jr's Disuniting of America (1991) where he wrote that:

Bilingualism shuts doors. It nourishes self-ghettoization, and ghettoization nourishes racial antagonism. Using some language other than English dooms people to second-class citizenship in American society . Monolingual education opens doors to the larger world. Institutionalized bilingualism remains another source of the fragmentation of America, another threat to the dream of one people. (pp. 108-109).
The Conference's opening keynote speaker, former actor and Menominee Tribal Chairperson Apesanahkwat, noted that "we have tasted cherry pie and we like it" and that some assimilation cannot be stopped. However, he also said: "Let's give our people back their voice. He noted that language involves our relationship with life and that "we need to journey home to who we are." That home includes listening to traditional stories that leave it to the listener to draw conclusions. The assimilationist policies that Schlesinger advocates continue the dominant theme of the past four hundred years (Reyhner & Eder, 2004). In effect, Apesanahkwat said the mission school nuns told him to "throw stones at the elders," but "we don't have to hurt anyone to be successful in this new world of no buffalo." In contrast to Schlesinger's intolerance, Apesanahkwat noted that everything and everybody is related, and that "non-Indians are relatives as well."

I could only attend a few of the many concurrent sessions. One the sessions I chose to attend was on the Acoma Language Retention Program. The session leader Christine Sims noted that "it is easy to shut off language learning" by correcting students' efforts right away and over and over, pronunciation should not be made the main thing right away, and students should not get drill, drill, drill on their mistakes. She suggested using nursery rhymes that used to be taught in the home. Dr. Sims felt that it was important to have two speakers in the classroom so students could observe two fluent speakers in a conversation. She concluded that language learners need to be "bathed" in a rich language environment and that students need at the very least one hour a day of language class for any chance of success at getting students to be fluent speakers.

Another session I was able to attend was put on by Namaka Rawlins, the director of the Hawaiian Aha Punana Leo program. She was making her third appearance at the OIEP language conferences. She noted that in Hawaii they are working now to get a Hawaiian Ph.D. degree program approved. While they started with preschool language nests, they have moved on to elementary, secondary, and now university Hawaiian language medium (immersion) classes. The Hawaiian language medium school movement has been parent driven. Rather than ghettoization, she noted that "our traditions are relevant for all students' education," and some non-Hawaiians are in the immersion programs.

Students in the Hawaiian immersion classes are doing equal to or better than English students, but it takes about two years to fully transition to an all-English program if they drop out of the Hawaiian program. The success of the program is tied to the commitment of parents and teachers. For teachers, "this is a way of life; it's not just a job."

It was not till 1986 that the 1896 law against using the Hawaiian language in schools was repealed. There are now 22 immersion or Hawaiian medium schools with about 2,000 children enrolled. Only four schools can teach algebra and biology in Hawaiian because of the lack of qualified teachers. As Hawaiian medium instruction matures, teachers are moving from translating curriculum from English to Hawianizing it.

The second day keynote speaker Jack Jackson spent nineteen and a half years in the Arizona state legislature. He now works at Diné College where they are "in a search to create our future based on our past." Jackson emphasized the importance of teaching Navajos the Navajo philosophy of "Ké," being a balanced person. This involves examining "beauty before me [where am I going?], beauty behind me [where did I come from?], beauty underneath [my relation to mother earth.], beauty above, and beauty around; with beauty I speak" in the pursuit of becoming a "balanced person."

Another speaker emphasized how today, with assimilation, kids go from the baby bottle to the coke bottle to the beer bottle, but "if we bring resentment, we learn how to hate." This reminded me of a quote Metis historian David T. McNab recalls hearing at the Toronto International Pow-wow in 2000: "The Elders tell us that it is alright to feel angry about stuff like this [e.g., the Sand Creek Massacre] and it is good. However, in the end you must go down to the river, offer a gift of tobacco to the Creator and simply let the anger go .... Otherwise the anger will poison your spirit..." Living with anger either bottled up or expressed is unhealthy, and a process of healing needs to take place. This does not mean that as part of the educational process students do not need to remember the past and learn how to fight for their rights and learn their responsibilities.

The final session I attended before having to leave early to teach my classes at Northern Arizona University was sponsored by the Indigenous Languages Institute (ILI) headquartered in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is in the process of publishing a series of Awakening Our Languages "How-to" booklets. They also sponsor an annual youth language fair. The ILI has been doing a field research project where they have visited Indigenous language programs across the United States and Canada. Some preliminary results are published in Indigenous Languages Across the Community (see Linn, et al., 2002) and Nurturing Native Languages (see Peters, 2003), which are available on-line at


Linn, M.S., et al. (2002). Awakening the languages: Challenges of enduring language programs; field reports from fifteen programs from Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma. In B. Burnaby & J. Reyhner (Eds.), Indigenous languages across the community. Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University.

Reyhner, J., & Eder, J. (2004). American Indian education: A history. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

Peter, L. (2004). Assessing the impact of total immersion on Cherokee language revitalization: A culturally responsive, participatory approach. In J. Reyhner, O. Trujillo, R. Carrasco & L. Lockard (Eds.), Nurturing Native languages. Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University.

Schlesinger Jr., A. (1991). Disuniting of America. New York, W.W. Norton.

Is Anyone to Blame for the American Drop-out Rate?
Volume 26, No.6, pp. 26-27, July/August 2003
Jon Reyhner, Northern Arizona University

A decade ago I reviewed research on dropouts for the U.S. Secretary of Education's Indian Nations at Risk Task Force. In that review (see Reyhner, 1992a, 1992b) I focused on mostly "school-based" reasons for students dropping out of school. My review indicated that large impersonal schools, the perception teachers didn't care, passive teaching methods, culturally irrelevant curriculum, inappropriate testing, tracked classes, and schools not involving parents contributed to the relatively high dropout rate for American Indian and other minority students. I chose to focus on school-based reasons because I thought that those were the ones that policy makers and school officials could have some control over in contrast to home-based reasons that were out of reach of the schools, and I didn't want to "blame the victim."

However, it turns out I was too optimistic about making changes in schools to improve the chances of success for American Indian and other minority students as can be seen by the ongoing attacks on bilingual education and the increasing use of high stakes testing. I am thinking more and more that those of us who want minorities to achieve greater academic success are going to have to follow the lead of John U. Ogbu and focus more on what minority students, their parents, and their communities can do to promote academic success in spite of the negative aspects of many schools.

Ogbu (2003) has studied for three decades why some minorities do well in American schools and others do not. His most recent study is titled Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb. Here he focuses on trying to understand why middle-class Black students in a very well funded school district are not as academically successful as their middle-class White peers, including being underrepresented in Honors and Advance Placement (AP) classes. An anthropologist, Ogbu used interviews and classroom observations to examine the dynamics influencing students' academic performance.

Ogbu has found in his research that some minority groups are much more academically successful than others in American schools. He differentiates between voluntary (immigrant) minorities, including many Asian immigrants, who do well and involuntary minorities, including Blacks and American Indians, who don't do as well. Voluntary minorities see schooling as a path to economic advancement, while doing well in school was equated by some Black students with "acting White," and "once individuals exceeded the level expected of them, other Blacks in the community would begin to criticize them" (p. 209). Students with oppositional identities to White culture and schools tended to suffer academically while students with home cultures that were viewed as just different from the culture of the school could do quite well.

While Ogbu found some school-based reasons for black students below average performance, such as counselors having too many students to deal with to provide much individual attention, much of the challenge he finds is in the students themselves and their families. Some Black students did not know why they needed to learn math, and they "did not view their present schooling as a preparation for their future participation in the adult opportunity structure" (p. 167). Some students "naively assumed that regardless of how they did in school they would end up in or inherit the socioeconomic status as their parents" (p. 169).

Teachers could be found with low expectations for Black students, but the role of students in creating teacher expectations, high or low, can be overlooked. Ogbu found that "the attitudes and behaviors of some Black students were partly responsible for the teachers' low expectations" (p. 129). Black students did not raise their hands as much as White students and were more likely to come to class without having done their homework. Blacks students were more likely to be distracted from classroom academics than White students, and Ogbu found a "norm of minimal effort" among some middle and high school Blacks. "It was not cool to work hard in school or to be academically engaged" (p. 213). Other things were more important, including "consumerism" and sports. Consumerism led students from middle-class families to take part-time jobs so they could have cell phones, computer games, and stylish clothes, and athletics distracted students from academics. Ogbu's research confirmed other studies that found that "some Black students invested so much time in sports that they had little time for their academic schoolwork" and "for some students, playing sports was all that mattered" (p. 157). The media aggravates student_s consumerism and obsession with sports, making "athletes, entertainers, drug dealers and their success, wealth, or reputations more visible than Black doctors, lawyers, and other professionals" (p. 164).

Ogbu found that some Black parents "did not perceive themselves as active agents in the education process.... The role of parents is apparently limited to putting pressure on teachers to do their job of teaching well; that is, limited to pushing teachers and other school personnel to educate their children" (p. 236). Ogbu found "dismal" Black parent involvement both at school and at home. While there is a history of "collective mistreatment" shared by involuntary minorities, including American Indians, Hispanics, and Blacks, that influences their view of White people and White institutions, including schools, the mistrust engendered by this history can hurt students chances for doing well in school. The emphasis on discrimination, "on breaking the barriers in education and in the opportunity structure," led to ignoring "the behavior and attitudes that are conducive to school success" (148).

Ogbu does not recommend minority students assimilate in order to be academically successful. He finds that minorities can accommodate to "White" schools without assimilating and that students can successfully learn and use Standard English, which is needed for school success, while continuing to speak their home and community language, whether it be a tribal language, Spanish, or Ebonics. The home and community language is an important part of the community's collective identity.

In a series of studies of American Indian college students, Terry Huffman (2002) found that students' collective identity is critical to their academic success. Indian students going to college often find little there with which to relate and suffer feelings of alienation. Some of these students quickly become disillusioned, seeing schooling as assimilation to White culture and dropping out. Others persist, drawing personal strength from their Native heritage and learning to relate to White culture, using their traditional culture as an anchor.

While it is a mistake to believe that schools today have no problems, it is also a mistake to believe that they are the total problem and that minority students are victims that can't individually fight and overcome the educational odds against them. In fact, when parents and community members hold teachers and schools, rather than themselves and their children, entirely responsible for their children's academic performance they play into hands of conservatives seeking to destroy public schools (Bracey, 2002).

Among other things, Ogbu recommends that minority communities take advantage of and promote organizations that support students' academic success. These include the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) and the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). For example, as an antidote for all the sports and entertainment role models students see on television, the SACNAS Biography Project teaches students about Chicano/Latino and Native American scientists and includes profiles of scientists, mathematicians, and engineers written at the middle and high school levels. It is online at


Bracey, Gerald W. (2002). The war against America's public schools: Privatizing schools, commercializing education. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Huffman, Terry. (2001). Resistance theory and the transculturation hypothesis as explanations of college attrition and persistence among culturally traditional American Indian students. Journal of American Indian Education, 40(3), 1-23.

Ogbu, John U. (2003). Black American students in an affluent suburb: A study of academic disengagement. Mawah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Reyhner, Jon. (1992a). Plans for dropout prevention and special school support services for American Indian and Alaska Native students. Retrieved June 9, 2003 at

Reyhner, J. (1992). American Indians out of school: A review of school-based causes and solutions. Journal of American Indian Education, 31(3), 37-56. Retrieved June 9, 2003 at

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