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The High School Journal 85.3 (2002) 38-46

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Urban American Indians "Dropping" Out of Traditional High Schools:
Barriers & Bridges to Success

Rhonda Jeffries
University of South Carolina

Mary Nix
University of Alabama Birminghan

Carson Singer
Indian Community School
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Reality just set in when I went to work full-time. This is real. When I was trying to go to [high] school I didn't care. I was running the streets and doing whatever I wanted. And then the light came on, and it was like, this is real life. Before that, it was just like a game, like a TV show, different family every year. Those foster families had no idea about my life. They just treated me like one of their kids. Well, half of them did. The other half treated me like a piece of ... don't even know why they took foster kids. I hope they didn't get paid that much.

The proceeding quote is from an 18-year-old American Indian male who dropped out and may never finish high school. He is among a high percentage of American Indian students who drop out of traditional public high schools, especially in urban areas of America. He is also among the poorest students who attempt to be educated in urban American high schools. The ironic aspect of his experience is that in spite of all the difficulties he faces, he is among the most ignored group of students in American education.


Indian Country Today (1997) publicized the dire conditions that American Indian high school students face in urban public school systems. The article cited record breaking drop out rates in Spokane, Washington, for American Indian high school students--the highest dropout rate of any ethnic group enrolled in the Spokane public school system. "American Indian and Alaska Native students regularly face obstacles during the transition to high school and have the highest dropout rate of all U.S. racial and ethnic groups" (St. Germaine, 1995, p. 3). In spite of these reports, controversy and apathy exist within the American Indian and the larger American community as to whether or not this educational dilemma is a considerable plague for American Indian youth.

The discrepancy found within American Indian communities about the severity of dropout rates could be a result of national reports that ignore American Indians due to low numbers of overall populations. The National Center for Education [End Page 38] Statistics (1998) reported dropout rates in the United States during 1996 for White, Black and Hispanic racial-ethnic groups only. The report explained that due to relatively small sample sizes, American Indian/Alaska Natives and Asian/Pacific Islanders were included in the total but not shown separately. The center's report also framed high school dropout rates without regard to the American Indian population; reporting data only for White, Black and Hispanic racial-ethnic groups. More surprising is that research on national statistics revealed that the federal agencies discontinued reporting specific data on American Indians after survey year 1994. In the 1994 U.S. Department of Education Report, American Indians had a national high school dropout rate of 25.4 percent compared to Blacks with 14.5 percent, Hispanics at 18.3 percent, Asians at 7.0 percent, and Whites at 9.4 percent.

The perception of the high school dropout dilemma among American Indians is further masked by literature on high school dropout rates for people of color which focuses on African Americans, Hispanics, and "others" (Farmer & Payne, 1992). Reports focusing on American Indian dropout rates cited higher rates for American Indians than for other ethnic groups (Swisher & Hoisch, 1992; Reyhner, 1990; Eberhard, 1989). In light of this high dropout rate, the task of identifying, validating, and reporting this phenomenon is increasingly difficult with federal efforts aimed at obscuring and ignoring it.

American Indian students' educational futures are jeopardized in part as a result of extremely high dropout rates. This is a major crisis and current national efforts...


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