HELENA A new report says Montana public schools arent doing enough to keep Native American students from falling behind or to teach all students about Indian cultures, but state officials say progress is being made.
The report by the Montana Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights comes after more than four years of research. The committee found that Indian students drop out of school at twice the rate of non-Indians, receive lower test scores and are less likely than non-Indians to go to college. The committee also found that the state hasnt yet lived up to its constitutional requirement to help preserve Indian cultures through public education.
Montana Sen. Ken Toole, D-Helena, a member of the committee, called the reports findings a major problem in Montana.
There really are cultural issues that need to be addressed, and school personnel need to understand those differences, because if we fail to address those differences, Indian kids dont learn, Toole said.
But Denise Juneau, Indian education specialist for the Office of Public Instruction, said the state has made good progress since the passage of a 1999 law clarifying the constitutional man-date that public schools teach students about Indian cultures.
That law, sponsored during the 1999 legislative session by Juneaus mother, Rep. Carol Juneau, D-Browning, also addresses two of the reports recommendations: Educate teachers about Indian cultures and educate all students about Indian cultures.
I think there are some efforts that are being put forward that havent been put forward before, Denise Juneau said. The issues are very real the problems are still prevalent but at least people are discussing them.
The office has a 51-point action plan for bringing more Indian studies lessons into the classroom and has also added Indian studies to its accreditation standards, Denise Juneau said. The problem now, she said, is ensuring that teachers are pre-pared to present the material to their students.
Joe Lamson, public information officer for Superintendent of Public Instruction Linda McCulloch, said the state budget for the next two years initially included $120,000 to help implement the action plan but the money got cut sometime during the past legislative session.
Mike Jetty, another Indian education specialist for the Office of Public Instruction, said he and others are now pursuing private funding to help bring new Indian education standards to the local level.
Until you get the information in the hands of the people working with those students, it aint going to make much difference, Jetty said.
I do think a lot of progress has been made in terms of guide-lines and policies to help, but the actual implementation when the teacher goes into the classroom every day is where were going to see it happen, Carol Juneau said.
Im sure theres still schools in Montana that dont even know this exists.
Eric Feaver, president of the MEA-MFT, the statewide teachers union, said he agrees Montana teachers and students should be well-versed in Indian studies but wondered where the money would come from to pay for extra teacher training.
Were going to have to put some money behind it, he said. But, he added: The resources arent there. The Office of Public Instruction doesnt have the money. School districts dont have the money.