GAO cites problems facing BIA schools
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Low test scores, difficulties in securing qualified staff and crumbling facilities are among the problems facing Bureau of Indian Affairs schools, according to a congressional report released on Friday.

Academic achievement of students at BIA schools is "far below the performance of students in public schools," the General Accounting Office report states. BIA students perform "considerably below national averages" when it comes to admissions tests required to enter college, the GAO added.

One in five BIA students is enrolled in special education, the report also states. Nearly 60 percent have limited proficiency in English, investigators found.

Adding to the problem are high rates of poverty, high unemployment and lack of education for many Indian parents. Success is often tied to these factors, and Indian students suffer as a result, said the report.

Having received nearly $1 billion in fiscal year 2001 from various federal sources, the need for BIA schools has often been questioned. But with the Bush administration and members of Congress continually pushing to ensure that no Indian child be left behind, BIA schools are here to stay.

With that in mind, Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) -- all members of the Indian Affairs Committee -- asked the GAO to evaluate the BIA school system. Currently, 185 BIA schools educate about 50,000 Indian children throughout the nation.

What the GAO encountered during a one-year review, which included site visits, were dramatic differences between the BIA schools their public counterparts. For example, in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Arizona —- states with large numbers of BIA schools -- the GAO found that Indian students ranked lower on statewide assement tests.

The GAO also found BIA schools suffered from a 10 percent drop out rate. The national average, in comparison, is 5 percent.

Social problems contribute to the low achievement, the report sakd. Familial poverty, unemployment, substance abuse rates were high for Indian students -- "conditions that are beyond a school system’s control," according to the GAO.

Despite the problems, the report notes improvements, albeit qualified ones. Even though recruiting and retaining teachers is difficult, staffing levels are comparable to public schools, said the report.

BIA schools even surpassed public ones in terms of Internet access. But the GAO found support for the technology -- deemed essential by Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb when he hooked up the last BIA school to the Internet recently -- is limited, with students not always benefiting from the advantages of the Internet.

BIA schools also spent more money on students than public ones: $9,647 in 1997-98 compared to $6,189. The GAO noted, however, that spending varied widely among schools and that the increased amounts don't always correspond with better education and services but instead with higher administrative costs and other special circumstances of the BIA system.

Not surprisingly, the report notes the persistent problem of inadequate school facilities. The BIA has nearly a $1 billion backlog in repairs and construction, with about $293 million being provided in fiscal year 2002.

The GAO noted significantly higher percentages of crumbling roofs, poor plumbing and ventilation and lack of basic safety equipment such as sprinklers, fire alarms and smoke detectors at BIA schools.

In an 11-page response, Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb makes a number of recommendations and suggestions to the report. Culturally-biased testing could explain for the lower test scores, he said.

Get the Report:
BIA and DOD Schools: Student Achievement and Other Characteristics Often Differ from Public Schools' GAO-01-934

Relevant Links:
Office of Indian Education Programs, BIA -
Indian School Report Cards, BIA -

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