Saturday, December 25, 2004


Throughout Indian country, tribal officials are turning to charter schools as their best opportunity to reach a generation of Indian students who've dropped out or drifted through traditional public schools. Charter schools receive public money, but are free from many of the rules and restrictions that apply to other public schools. The idea is to encourage experimentation in education. The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Education Reform, which tracks charter schools, counts at least 30 Indian charter schools in the country. Arizona has the most, with 12, followed by California with six. Indian charters have also opened in Minnesota and Michigan. Some have achieved results in a short time. The San Diego-area Barona Indian Charter School, for example, posted big gains in student performance on standardized test scores in the 2003-2004 school year, besting the state average.

But a tribal charter school was recently shut down after authorities had trouble with federal special education requirements and an audit, said Onnie Shekerjian, who sits on the Arizona State Board for charter schools.

Still, more Indian charter schools are in the planning stages, including a school in Alaska. Besides the standard curriculum it would offer "hunting, harvesting, building canoes, berry-picking - all different activities to reinforce native culture," said Sharon McConnell Gillis, executive director for the Doyon Foundation, one of the groups working on the proposal.

In Oregon, the idea for Nixyaawii Charter School had floated among the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation for more than a decade before the tribe decided this year to seek charter status. Principal Annie Tester was brought on board in July and hired her three teachers in August, only a month before the start of school, housed in a community center. Forty-eight students showed up for the first day of class. In the first few months at Nixyaawii (pronounced Nick-yah-we), a group of teenagers has emerged as a linchpin, helping to hold together a school on which the hopes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation rest. "We have to learn how to govern ourselves," said the group's de facto leader, 20-year-old Jess Stone. "You guys are leading by example. You have to lead yourself before you lead others."

Some come from high poverty families and have relatives who have battled with alcoholism and drugs, Tester said. Others have been tuning school out since junior high, one reason officials are hoping to eventually add seventh and eighth grades. The school emphasizes Indian culture. Students learn traditional beadwork and basketry in art classes, discuss native fables in English and, instead of Spanish or German, are getting instruction in the almost-lost Indian languages spoken by their ancestors.

Teachers are trying to emphasize learning through group projects, rather than the more traditional method of a teacher lecturing while students take notes. But teachers say there are too many times when students doze off in class, leave to get a drink of water and don't come back, or turn in an assignment weeks late. "We are doing a lot of unlearning before we learn," said Tre Luna, who teaches social studies at Nixyaawii, his first full-time job. Even some students say classroom behavior needs more work.

But Eddie Simpson, an 18-year-old born on the Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, reservation said he's determined to get his remaining high school credits and graduate. He wants to train to be an EMT and sees Nixwaayii as his last, best chance. "If I don't do this, what's there for me?" Simpson asked. Tester and others said Nixyaawii's first year is a work-in-progress. After this year, she said, staff will know where their students stand and where they need to improve. At the start and end of each day, students and teachers gather in a circle for announcements and to talk about the day ahead or the day gone by. There's a perceptible weariness among students and teachers at the end of the day. "Even with the chaos today, it was a good day," teacher Luna told the students. "To those of you who had patience and stuck it out, thank you."

More here

Let The Market Work!

All colleges have classes where the demand for the course is greater than the available supply. Sometimes the constraint is material (no rooms big enough), other times it is related to the instructor (who doesn't want to grade more than 30 exams, or who knows from experience that a seminar of 12 people is the optimum size for a particular topic). The mechanisms that schools use to deal with these shortages vary in effectiveness and fairness, but always end up making people unhappy.

Professor Bainbridge half-jestingly suggests in these cases - open the process up to bidding, and let the high bidders into the class.

I think this is a fine idea. When I worked as a peon in the Records office at UCCS (which also handled registration), wait lists and staggered registration dates/times were a constant source of complaints and unhappiness. "But I have to get into this class!" was heard more frequently in our office than just about any other complaint. Of course, there's justification there - some people who didn't make it in really do need the class to graduate, while others are just taking it on a lark.

My suggestion was always the same: trash the wait lists and trash the staggered registration dates. Issue every student $1000 in registration scrip and let them bid for their class placement. (Give seniors $1500 instead of $1000 so that they have an edge over people who have more flexibility.) And then - this is key - sell additional scrip. Use the scrip revenue to fund scholarships, or long-deferred physical plant maintenance, or whatever problem area you currently have. If every student at UCCS bought $100 worth of scrip every semester to jockey for position, we'd pull in a million five per year.

Is such a system fair? If you really absolutely positively have to get into a class, then obviously it's worth more to you. Under the system of computer-assigned dates and random numbers, the fact that your desire or need for something is huge has no bearing on whether or not you get into the class. Under a market system, it does. The people who really didn't need the class will bid low, and not purchase extra scrip; the people who really do need it will bid high. We know that markets work; we should let them work in academia, too.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here


No comments: