How to best provide a proper secondary education for Alaska's rural youth has long been an unsolved problem in Alaska education. It has also long been the target of a great variety of efforts on the part of state and federal agencies. Most of the efforts have been in the form of needs assessments, investigations of ongoing problems, and reviews of past efforts. None of these, however, have noticeably improved the educational programs; to the contrary, some of the efforts have even aggravated an already awkward situation.
The inadequacies of existing programs as well as inadequate efforts to improve them are not widely enough known. Increasingly, however, Native leaders are calling public attention to the situation; they are consistently objecting to secondary educational programs and are publicly voicing their concern over the effects that the system has had and is having on their children.
This report complements and reinforces the intuitive expressions of concern by members of the Native community on the negative effects of Alaska secondary education. It looks at the problems, inadequacies, and defects of the educational programs with a directness and candor found wanting in the sterile and stereotyped "needs assessments" of the past.
Dr. Judith Kleinfeld and her psychiatric consultant in the study, Dr. Joseph Bloom, have brought their skills in educational and psychiatric research to bear on the problems of educating Native children away from home. In doing so, they have managed to get at the heart of the situation: the pupils, their environment, and the circumstances surrounding their education. Dr. Kleinfeld's findings are stark and dramatic and may even leave the reader with feelings of despair. However, the conclusions and policy recommendations of the study should provide a basis for moving in a new and more constructive direction.
Where a serious problem exists that adversely affects the lives of human beings, the first step toward a solution must be recognition that the problem is real. We feel that this report constitutes that first step. Further, we hope that consequences of this work may lead to policy changes that will, in turn, lead to positive alternatives and thus correct the shortcomings in Alaska's system of public education. It is to this end that this report is addressed.
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This report is the third in a series resulting from a long-term examination of the problems in Alaska's secondary school programs for rural children. The project, begun at the University of Alaska in 1970, was initially directed by Dr. Charles K. Ray, Dean, College of Behavioral Sciences and Education. The project's principal investigator, Dr. Judith S. Kleinfeld, has already produced Alaska's Urban Boarding Home Program and Effective Teachers of Indian and Eskimo High School Students.
We would like to extend our special appreciation to the Alaska Department of Education for their initial support and their foresight in recognizing the need to better understand the problems in the Regional School and Boarding Home Program. Appreciation is also due to the Bureau of Indian Affairs which, as coordinator for the Johnson O'Malley Act sources, made funds available to help in this research. Following expiration of funds from Johnson O'Malley Act sources on June 30, 1973, this work has been supported by the Center for Northern Educational Research and the Institute of Social, Economic and Government Research. Special acknowledgment is made to the Ford Foundation, whose grant to CNER for Alaskan educational policy analysis has made the actual publication possible.
Ronald Crowe had responsibility for editing and preparing this report for publication, with production assistance by Lavonia Wiele. The cover design is by Nancy Van Veenen.
Frank Darnell, Director
Center for Northern Educational Research
Victor Fischer, Director
Institute of Social, Economic and Government Research
When I began this study 3 years ago, it was not my intention to show that boarding home programs and regional high schools were helping to destroy a generation of village children. Quite the contrary, I believed that the serious problems of rural secondary education were due in large part to bad matches between particular types of village students and particular types of high schools. Originally, I designed this study to explore ways of placing village students with different educational needs in the most appropriate type of secondary school environment. I was highly skeptical of the village high school alternative because I questioned whether village high schools could provide an excellent education.
But as I saw what actually happened to the 1971-72 class of village students who entered the three representative high school programs studied, I was compelled to give up these initial views. In all of these programs, the majority of village children were developing serious social and emotional problems as a result of their high school experiences. Our follow-up study of graduates from these school programs suggested that, in many cases, the school experience had left these students with a set of self-defeating ways for dealing with the world.
The problems of rural secondary education cannot be blamed on particular individuals or on particular inadequacies such as irrelevant curriculum or insufficient staff. The staff of the state's Division of Regional Schools and Boarding Home Program were in almost every case exceptionally concerned and hardworking people. The problems of rural secondary education are caused by the structure of the educational system as a whole. Certainly, some improvements can be made through such changes as increased local control and more school staff. But these types of changes will not end the damage done to village children, because the damage is done primarily through a total system which separates children from their families at a critical developmental period and places them in unhealthy environments for growing up.
Nothing said in this report should be taken as characteristic of all Bethel or all Beltz or all Anchorage school staff members or village students. In every school, there were always a number of exceptional individuals who managed to resist the disintegrating pressures of the environment and emerged strong and competent. This study attempts to show just why the negative pressures of these secondary school environments are so strong that it requires an exceptional individual to resist them.
This study examines the costs and benefits of the present system of rural secondary education, which requires most village children to attend high school away from home.
Research methods consisted of studying the effects of three representative types of high school programs on the 105 village freshmen who entered the programs over their freshmen and sophomore high school years. A follow-up study was also done on the 175 students who graduated from these three high school programs from 1970-1972. The high school programs studied were:
This report's conclusions are limited by such problems as the small number of village students who both entered and remained in the programs, the difficulties of locating the high school graduates, and the difficulties of determining to what extent the school experience was responsible for what happened to the students.
Costs of High School Programs Away from Home
These programs created serious social and emotional problems among village students without teaching them the skills they needed to succeed in adult life.
Social and Emotional Costs: Of the students studied, the high school experience led to school-related social and emotional problems in:
In village ninth- and tenth-grade programs, only about 10 percent of the 158 students were reported by teachers to suffer from social and emotional problems, and these problems were rarely school-related.
Withdrawal from School: The majority of the students studied either dropped out of school and received no further education or else transferred from school to school in a nomadic pattern that can create identity problems:
Other Costs: The high school programs created other severe costs such as:
The Dollar Cost: Approximately $12,280,000 was spent in FY-73 for the school and residential program operating costs of high school education for 2,427 village students. Average program operating costs totaled over $5,000 per student. This cost does not include such additional expenses as debt retirement on school and dormitory plant construction.
Benefits of High School Program Away from Home
The supposed educational benefits of a large high school with a wide variety of courses and specialized teachers did not materialize for most village students.
Progress in Basic Academic Skills: Of the students studied who remained in the program over 2 high school years, gains in reading achievement were:
Variety of Courses: Most village students as freshmen received a high school program which could easily have been provided in the village—a basic skills curriculum with such electives as art and typing. On the sophomore level, they took a wider variety of courses. However, in the boarding school and rural boarding home program, most students insisted that they weren't learning anything. In the urban boarding home program, a few academically talented students benefited from specialized courses; the majority, however, did not.
Success in Adult Life: High school programs away from home failed for the most part to prepare village students for adult life, whether or not the students entered college, occupational training programs, or employment. The only exception to such program failures took place in the urban boarding home program in those few instances where academically inclined village students chanced to be placed with excellent boarding home parents.
1. High School Programs Should Be Established in Home Villages.
Village high schools are likely to reduce serious social and emotional problems caused in large part by high schools away from home. Equally important, village high school programs could be designed to provide educational experiences critical to the particular developmental needs of village adolescents. Such programs might include:
Other alternatives, such as establishing area high schools closer to home or a junior high program in each village would provide some improvement. However, these alternatives are not as desirable as a high school program in each village. An area high school which placed a large number of teenagers in a small village could easily disrupt the village and create severe social problems for both villages and adolescents. In addition, a junior high school program would do little to reduce students' social and emotional problems arising during their senior high school years away from home, because these problems result much more from the negative influence of the school environment than from immaturity on the part of the students. This study showed that students who were older when they left home for high school were as likely to develop school-related mental health problems as younger ones.
2. Boarding Home and Dormitory Programs Should Be Closed in Those Towns Which Have High Levels of Social Problems.
The problems of village students in these high school programs are caused primarily by negative influences of the town. Even if substantial improvements in the school programs occurred, these changes would not solve the major problems resulting from students' out-of-school experiences. The problems of dormitories in these towns are more visible, but students in boarding homes suffer equally serious difficulties.
3. Public Boarding Schools Should Be Closed.
Public boarding schools serve as incubators for social problems both because the impersonal boarding school environment creates negative attitudes and styles of behavior and because disturbed students infect others. Students have little meaningful contact with adults who could provide guidance, and they are influenced primarily by equally confused peers. To provide the additional staff and program necessary to develop a good educational program would be difficult and expensive. Boarding schools are already the most costly educational program, and yet provide the lowest educational benefits.
4. The Urban Boarding Home Program Should Remain Open to Those Village Students (about 250) Whose Educational Needs Cannot Be Met in a Village High School.
Some academically inclined village students require extensive specialized course work which is not available in small village high schools. A few urban boarding home program students, for example, take advanced science and mathematics courses in urban high schools in order to enter a premedical program in college. There is a limited supply of excellent urban boarding homes available which could be used for this small group of village students who require advanced specialized courses to fulfill their potential.
5. The Department of Education Should Establish a Village High School Development Program.
The inexcusable lack of careful evaluation and planning of the past is in large part responsible for the creation and continuation of a destructive high school system. The state Department of Education should establish an adequately funded and staffed village high school development project. If this is not done, village high schools may be established which offer a limited academic program which will not prepare rural students for adult roles at a time when highly educated Native leadership is critically needed.