Equity & Diversity

Most American Indians Receive English-Only Instruction

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 30, 2010 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Most Native American and Alaska Native students receive their instruction entirely in English, says a report released today by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. The study found that at least 87 percent of such students in grades 4 and 8 received instruction in core subjects only in English.

But at Bureau of Indian Education schools, run by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Native American students are less likely to be taught only in English. At those schools, attended by about 10 percent of the country’s Native American students, 46 percent of Native American 4th graders and 49 percent of 8th graders reported receiving instruction only in English.

Although not much teaching in Native American languages is going on in the schools in Indian country, some children may still hear their native languages spoken by teachers, a principal, or other staff in the school. But the federal study found that’s not the case with many Native American or Alaska Native students. Seventy-seven percent of 4th graders and 82 percent of 8th graders said that people at their school “never” or “hardly ever” speak their native languages.

I wrote about the study, which looked at academic achievement of Native American students and cultural aspects of their education, in a story published this morning.

The study found that Native American students’ scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress remained flat from 2005 to 2009. In my reporting for that article, I interviewed Charlie Rose, the Education Department’s general counsel, who has been participating in consultations with tribes across the country on how to improve education for Native American children.

He said that many tribe members are pushing for the next reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to give a higher priority to the preservation of Native American languages and culture than has been true with the No Child Left Behind Act.

The report had a chart that contained some interesting information about what percentage of Native Americans or Alaska Natives who take the NAEP reading test are English-language learners (on page 23 of Part I of the report). The proportions of Native Americans taking the test who are ELLs vary greatly between states.

For example, on average, 8 percent of Native American 4th graders who took the reading test in 2009 were ELLs. In Washington state, only 1 percent of Native Americans who took that test were ELLs while in New Mexico, 34 percent were. I’m not sure what’s behind the wide variance in those statistics between states, but I think it’s worth noting.

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Reported Essay What the Indian Caste System Taught Me About Racism in American Schools
Born and raised in India, reporter Eesha Pendharkar isn’t convinced that America’s anti-racist efforts are enough to make students of color feel like they belong.
7 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Reported Essay Our Student Homeless Numbers Are Staggering. Schools Can Be a Bridge to a Solution
The pandemic has only made the student homelessness situation more volatile. Schools don’t have to go it alone.
5 min read
Conceptual illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
Equity & Diversity How Have the Debates Over Critical Race Theory Affected You? Share Your Story
We want to hear how new constraints on teaching about racism have affected your schools.
1 min read
Mary Hassdyk for Education Week
Equity & Diversity Opinion When Educational Equity Descends Into Educational Nihilism
Schools need to buckle down to engage and educate kids—not lower (or eliminate) expectations in the name of “equity.”
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty