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Governor Approves Bill to Bridge Native American Achievement Gaps

Hans Westerink via Creative Commons

Utah lawmakers and educators have set out on a path to improve education for Native American Students across the state. Governor Gary Herbert signed a bill into law Monday that brings state and tribal leaders together to hash out a plan over the next year. 

Native American students represent the worst achievement gap of any minority group in Utah. They score 20 percent lower than the rest of the state in language arts, 23 percent lower in math and 29 percent in science. House Bill 33 establishes a commission comprised of education officials, representatives from the eight tribes in Utah and members of the legislature to identify solutions.

Republican Representative Jack Draxler sponsored the bill.

“We’re not trying to stand up here in Salt Lake City and tell them what they should do,” Draxler says. “We’re asking them to come and help us understand what they feel can be done.”

Chuck Foster is the American Indian Education Specialist at the Utah State Office of Education.  He was born and raised on the Navajo reservation. Foster says there are many reasons for the gap, but one is the curriculum isn’t culturally relevant. 

“You know, I’ve gone to a few of these schools where I go and visit the library and their classrooms and I see that the materials, books and supplies are not geared toward American Indian kids,” Foster says.

Foster says success in learning has a lot to do with self-esteem.

“They can relate to an American Indian figure or a poem or a story or a scenario or a story,” he says.

Representative Draxler says funding may be part of that recommendation. He says the commission will make a recommendation to the legislature at the end of the year before disbanding.  

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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