Teachers who work in schools with large populations of Native students would receive bonuses under a new bill that passed the Utah Senate Monday and will soon be brought up by the state’s House of Representatives, according to KUER.
The bill would provide $2 million to increase salaries for teachers who choose to teach in schools where at least 29 percent of students are Native American. Rep. Jack Draxler told KUER that a legislative commission studied Native education last year and found that schools on or near reservations have high teacher turnover rates and few Native American teachers.
“And yet Native American teachers are the ones who are most likely to come there and teach and stay and really be role models for Indian kids and make a real difference,” Draxler said. He added that the bill may encourage more Native teachers to enter the classroom as well.
A 2011 report in the Journal of Indigenous Research found that “many reservation schools continue to hire temporary and sometimes poorly-prepared teachers to fill in the gaps” because few postsecondary programs are graduating consistent numbers of American Indian teachers. Native teachers account for less than one percent of the teachers enrolled in teacher preparation programs, even though about 1.3 percent of students in K-12 identify as Native students. During the 2011-12 school year, less than one percent of teachers nationwide identified as American Indian or Alaska Native, a percentage has remained consistent for years.
Some tribal schools have found that increasing the percentage of Native teachers has been linked to improved academic performance. The Menominee Indian school district in eastern Wisconsin is working with the College of Menominee Nation to “grow its own” teachers. Over the past decade, the percentage of Native teachers has grown from 20 percent to 35 percent, and the district’s graduation rate grew from 60 percent to more than 95 percent. The district’s superintendent told WUWM Public Radio last year that students have benefited by seeing successful tribal members and also having teachers who understand their background
Nationwide, many universities have ramped up efforts to recruit and train more Native teachers, some with the help of federal grants. In 2014, Oregon’s Portland State University received $1.2 million in federal money to recruit American Indian students to its teacher-preparation program. The University of Wisconsin-Superior and Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College established a Native American teacher program in 2012.
Other states have recently proposed legislation or passed bills that aim to better train teachers to work with Native students and increase or add Native lessons to state curricula. In Wyoming, a lawmaker’s proposal would require teachers to take three hours of training on tribal studies. In Washington in 2015, legislators passed a bill that requires schools to teach students about the state’s tribes.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.