Tribes, Ed Leader Debate Left Behind Act
The Associated Press
October 31, 2005


TULSA, Okla. -- American Indian leaders argued Monday that the No Child Left Behind Act is too rigid and has forced rural schools to cut tribal culture and language classes.

The leaders attending the meeting of the National Congress of American Indians also said President Bush's school reform law makes it difficult for rural districts to recruit and retain qualified teachers.

Thousands of North Dakota teachers were found to lack the schooling to be considered highly qualified under the law. The Education Department gave veteran teachers a reprieve, but it's a problem faced by rural schools nationwide where teachers do double-duty in a variety of subjects, said Tex Hall, the group's president.

"You might have a major in music and a minor in special education" and teach both, Hall said. "But now, they're saying your minor isn't good enough. It's devastating for a rural school district to say you just lost your special ed teacher."

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings defended the law, telling the meeting that it has resulted in Indian children gaining in reading and math.

"For the first time ever ... we are holding ourselves accountable as a nation for closing the achievement gap between white and minority students within a decade," she said. "It's about time."

The tribal leaders' concerns echo those contained in a preliminary report released earlier in October by the National Indian Education Association.

Lillian Sparks, the NIEA's executive director, said the group believes the intent of the law is laudable and that it has shown where achievement gaps are. But "culture and language isn't being considered," particularly in parts of the law on teacher recruitment, she said.

Spellings said she would work with tribes on improving communication on a "goverment-to-goverment basis."