American Indian Students Face Deep Inequities

September 18, 2017

The  plight of American Indian elementary and secondary students often gets lost in reports about broader racial and ethnic gaps in educational opportunity. Their relatively small numbers can easily disappear into much larger datasets on students of color. Where it's possible to tease out data in American Indians, the results often look grim. Take K-12 science or example:

American Indian fourth graders are least likely to have access to science equipment and supplies:

Little access to 4th-grade science supplies or equipment

Eighth-grade American Indian students are least likely to attend schools with science labs:

American Indian 8th-graders least likely to have schools with science labs

American Indian high schoolers are least likely to be in schools that offer physics classes every year:

American Indian high schoolers have least access to physics

American Indian students in every U.S. state probably suffer from similar disparities, but small sample sizes in most datasets prevent us from knowing for sure. This is a problem.

A recent piece by Rebecca Clarren in The Nation puts it this way: "Without reliable data and research [on native students], government agencies at every level don’t know how to fix problems or allocate funds." By way of example, Clarren points to "The Johnson O’Malley program, created in 1934 to fund basic educational needs of Native students," which relies on information about the size of the American Indian population:

Congress hasn’t completed the necessary population survey since 1994, while the number of Native students has grown by approximately 4 percent per year—meaning that the same pool of money authorized in 1994 must now cover far more children. In 1995, the federal government allocated $125 per student; last year, the allotment was just $63.80.

Data are important, because they can attract attention and resources. The National Center for Education Statistics helps fill the gap by releasing the invaluable National Indian Education Study every few years, yet that study does not cover access to STEM education opportunities. 

At a time when STEM education is a critical gateway to the middle class, states should do more to shine a light on American Indian students' STEM opportunities.

Tags: minorities