PIERRE — In many aspects the 2010 Education initiative launched by Gov. Mike Rounds has fallen into disrepair since its start in January 2006 and none more so than its goal to increase educational outcomes for Native American students.
The lack of progress has become clear through annual No Child Left Behind reports and other statistical measures that show American Indian students as a group continuing to lag far behind white students as a group in South Dakota.
It’s even more evident on the Internet site for the 2010E program that is maintained by the state Department of Education. The 2010E program isn’t listed on the department’s main web page and doesn’t appear on the A-Z list of topics page.
Parts of the 2010E site appear to have gone without updates for several years.
Keith Moore, for example, is still listed as responsible for various projects. Moore was the state’s director for Indian education, but he left the department two years ago to become chief diversity officer at the University of South Dakota. He now is director for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Education in Washington, D.C.
Now top officials at the state Department of Education are back at the drawing board trying to figure out what to try next to help elevate the scholastic performances of American Indian students and to strengthen the schools they attend.
One of the 2010E plan’s original objectives was to improve the high school graduation rate for American Indian students. There’s been little change since the plan began five years ago, however.
In 2005 the graduation rates were 91.7 percent for white students and 66.3 percent for Native American students. In 2010 the rates were 92.2 percent for white students and 64.7 percent for Native American students.
The state department’s management team held a retreat Sept. 1-2 to set goals. Number one on the list that was produced is to have the department’s Indian Education Advisory Council develop a five-year plan in partnership with the department.
The specific goals for that five-year plan were to close the achievement gap between Native American and non-Native American students by five percent and increase the graduation rate for Native American students by five percent.
But members of the management team, after meeting with advisory council members earlier this week during the department’s Indian education summit at Cedar Shore, decided to step away from the five-percent goals.
State Education Secretary Tom Oster and the department’s deputy secretary, Melody Schopp, candidly discussed the situation with members of the state Board of Education on Tuesday morning.
“Guess what? It hasn’t worked,” Schopp said about the 2010E goal of improving outcomes for Native American students. “Just writing goals doesn’t make something happen.”
The 2010E plan was developed in the second year of the Rounds administration, when Rick Melmer was secretary of education. He left for USD a few years ago, and Oster inherited the 2010E plan.
“It wasn’t measureable. There weren’t specifics,” Oster said. As to the five percent targets, he added, “I don’t think that’s realistic. We need to be more aggressive.”
The 2010 NCLB numbers showed that 82 percent of white students and 48 percent of Native American students performed at the advanced or proficient levels in math. In 2005, there were 80 percent of white students and 43 percent of Native American students.
For reading the chasm remains large too. The 2010 NCLB results show 80 percent of white students and 50 percent of Native American students were advanced or proficient.
In 2005, there were 85 percent white students and 59 percent Native American students who were advanced or proficient.
The state department has seen some success in Indian education however, with the summit now in its seventh year, and the 2007 enactment by the Legislature of the law creating the Indian education office and the advisory council.
The department’s new director for Indian education, LuAnn Werdel, a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton tribe, began duties in January. She previously worked with many of the schools in Indian country.
One reflection of her efforts as director was attendance at the summit, which drew approximately 650 participants, two to three times the number in past years.
The plan now being developed by the department’s management team might need to change after the Nov. 2 election, when either Republican Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard or state Senate Democratic leader Scott Heidepriem will be selected by voters to succeed Rounds in January.
Schopp and Oster noted that a special program backed by federal funding in recent years allowed for providing mentors to school administrators at 42 sites with high numbers of Indian students. The extra aid and the availability of the mentors helped to reduce turnover of principals from approximately 50 percent to about 15 percent. However, the money is now drying up.
Oster singled out improvements at Shannon County, Smee (Wakpala) and McLaughlin schools in recent years as the result of special efforts by their administrators, school boards and parents.
State board member Stacy Phelps of Rapid City, who’s worked for two decades in tribal education efforts, said the lessons from the successful places need to be shared with other schools.
He said local school board members should be shown what they can do, especially in situations where the board members tend to be white and the populations of Indians students are growing rapidly.
Schopp said the department’s management team can’t set the new direction. “Things are not working in Indian country,” she said. “We’re open and ready for change, but it has to come from outside (the department), not from within.”