December 15, 2019

Charter school idea requires goal-setting - Daily Leader Extra : Editorials

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Charter school idea requires goal-setting

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Posted: Wednesday, November 20, 2019 5:02 pm

The South Dakota Education Equity Coalition has presented an idea to the State-Tribal Relations Committee, calling for legislation allowing Native Americans to create charter schools based in a Native American language.

Sarah Pierce, one of the coalition's leaders, said that the schools would be a space where students can be "unapologetically Indian." "They don't have to check their indigenousness at the door," Pierce said. "We don't want our culture, spirituality, our language to be viewed as an elective."

It's an interesting proposal that requires a lot more thought by a lot more people. In general, we think innovation in education has merit, and we certainly believe that all schools shouldn't be run by a "one size fits all" model.

For those who will make a decision about this legislation, this requires an agreement as to what the goal of this particular K-12 school is, and what the best outcome will be for students. What will high school graduates be prepared for in the next stages of their lives?

Understanding of culture, history and immersion in the Oceti Sakowin language can be good, but it may not prepare a student well for future employment. The curriculum still must teach students fundamentals in other fields, like math, science, technology and English, as well as nonacademic skills like teamwork, persistence, communication and achievement of goals.

Charter schools have the capacity to teach all these, just like public and private schools. The success of any school requires input and support from many people, including parents, teachers, community members and education experts.

It's fair to say that many tribal schools aren't working at this time. According to the 2018-19 school report cards, Native American students are faring less well on test scores in several areas, including language arts and science. Graduation rates in tribal schools are about 66 percent compared to 95 percent in nontribal schools in South Dakota.

Pierce, the former director of Indian education in the Rapid City schools, believes the new charter school can improve success rates. "Our design will hopefully have a great balance that won't lack in rigor or culture," Pierce said.

We're eager to see all stakeholders -- legislators, state education officials, tribal officials, parents and others -- study this idea. We'd love to see newfound success for Native American students. That needs to be the goal of any modified system.

-- Jon M. Hunter