The No Child Left Behind law fails to recognize native cultures and languages, American Indian officials and educators told a U.S. Senate committee.
The law also restricts the ways schools can use native cultures and languages in their curriculums, the committee was told Friday.
“I’ve come across nothing that would enable me to be a proponent of the act,” said San Ildefonso Pueblo Gov. James Mountain.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee held the hearing to seek public input on renewal of the law and how it affects American Indian students.
The law requires annual math and reading tests in grades three through eight and once in high school. Schools that miss progress goals face consequences, such as having to offer tutoring or fire their principals.
Mountain said he has heard from teachers in the Pojoaque school district that the act does not take into account cultural differences and has forced schools to focus on English, leaving no room for native languages.
“Once we lose our language, we lose our culture,” Mountain said.
Maggie Benally, principal of the Navajo Immersion School in Fort Defiance, Ariz., said her school is an example of what can happen when schools use native language as a tool.
Students in grades K-2 there learn only in the Navajo language and gradually switch to an English-language curriculum after that.
The school has made adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind for the past three years, Benally said. “Language and culture have a positive effect on student achievement,” she said.
If lawmakers reauthorize the act, they need to leave room for schools to incorporate language and culture, Benally said.
The government also should encourage and fund ways to ensure American Indian schools have enough high-quality teachers, she said.
State Secretary of Education Veronica Garcia said schools in isolated rural areas, where many tribal and pueblo schools are located, often have difficulty recruiting teachers.
The government needs to support ways to encourage American Indians to become teachers so they can return to teach in their tribes and pueblos, Garcia said.
The law also disregards tribal sovereignty by forcing schools to adhere to state academic standards, said Samantha Pasena, a recent graduate of the Santa Fe Indian School.
The legislation is a priority for President Bush, who pushed for its initial passage in 2001.
The law has been widely scorned by teachers who argue it does not provide schools the money needed to meet federal standards.
A majority of Americans want the law to be renewed as it is or with minor changes, according to a poll released July 30 by Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and Education Next, a publication of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, http://www.sfnewmexican.com
– Associated Press
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