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Most Native Americans Receive English-Only Instruction

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Not many Native American children have teachers who expose them to the traditional languages of Native communities in school, according to a study released today by the Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education called "National Indian Education Study 2007: Part II." For 87 percent of Native American 4th graders and 8th graders, reading and language arts are delivered entirely in English. I wrote about the study today for edweek.org.

It's well known that Native American communities in the United States have experienced tremendous loss of their traditional languages. The study indicates that not a lot is happening in schools to bring those languages back.

The study is based on a survey of American Indian and Alaska Native children who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2007. When it comes to language, some children don't get any exposure to Native languages at home either. Thirty-nine percent of 4th graders and 40 percent of 8th graders who identify themselves as Native Americans said they "never" have exposure to a Native American language at home. Three percent or less of participating 4th graders and 8th graders have teachers who "frequently" use a Native American language at school, according to teacher responses.

William G. Demmert Jr., a professor of education at Western Washington University and a member of the Oglala Sioux and Alaska Tlingit tribes, told me during my reporting that he'd like to see research on whether Native American children are learning standard English or a local dialect of English (he calls it a Creole or "village English") at home if they aren't first learning a Native American language. And he wondered: if Native languages are spoken in the home, are children first learning the Native language or English?

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There was a court case several years ago, I'd have to look up the case, but it ruled that while Speakers of Other Languages had a right to learn in a way that helped them learn English. Public schools had no obligation to help retain the learning of Heritage speakers for their native language. A Heritage speaker is a child who does not qualify as a Limited English Proficient speaker, but speaks another language in the home.

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