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In Rural Michigan, More Funding, Staff, Boost Native American Performance

An elementary school in rural Michigan has increased its test scores for American Indian and low-income students by increasing its staff and expanding interventions for students who struggle, according to a story by NPR.

The story highlights the fact that Brimley Elementary in northern Michigan "hasn't reinvented the wheel," but rather has used federal money to keep class sizes small, hire teachers' aids in lower grades, and hire an intervention teacher for the upper grades. The school receives Impact Aid from the federal government because it doesn't receive property taxes from the nearby Native American reservation, where about half of the school's students live. As a result of the school's efforts, Brimley's Native students are outperforming American Indian students statewide, and the school's low-income students are performing as well as their wealthier peers on state exams.

More than 31 percent of school districts in Michigan are small and rural, and 21 percent of students in the state attend those schools. The state has the highest rural adult unemployment rate in the nation, according to the Rural School and Community Trust, and about 45 percent of rural students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Data show that Native students in Michigan lag their non-Native peers in state standardized tests and in graduation rates. In 2014, about 65 percent of Michigan's American Indian students graduated high school as part of a four-year cohort, compared to about 83 percent of white students.

Nationwide, there has been an increased focus on how to best improve education for Native students, who graduate at rates far below their non-Native peers and below the national average. Some districts have attempted to increase the percentage of Native American teachers in tribal schools to boost student performance. Earlier this month, Minnesota boosted funding for American Indian students as part of a new education funding bill. President Obama's FY 2016 budget proposal requested $20.8 billion for federal programs that serve tribes, including $53 million to expand a program for Native youth. 

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