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The Department of Education Is Trying to Promote Native Language Learning

The DOE's new programs will also support improvement in English proficiency.
Inupiat Eskimo children play along the banks of the frozen Arctic Ocean on June 7th, 2006, in Browerville, Alaska.

Inupiat Eskimo children play along the banks of the frozen Arctic Ocean on June 7th, 2006, in Browerville, Alaska.

The Department of Education (DOE) announced this week it is accepting grants to support Native-American language learning among Native students, alongside English language instruction for students identified as English learners.

The goal of the program is to promote use of Native languages while also increasing English proficiency among Native students who may speak English as their first language, but need extra support in the academic language used in classrooms, as Education Week reported in 2016. The DOE budgeted $3 million toward grants for a similar program that year.

This latest program announcement follows a March 19th vote from the Alaska House of Representatives asking the governor to declare emergency status for Native languages on the verge of extinction. Lawmakers are requesting state resources toward programs that would help preserve Alaska's 20 indigenous languages.

Many Native American youth have expressed concern for losing ties to their indigenous languages and culture, according to a report published last year by the Aspen Institute's Center for Native American Youth. When asked about the most pressing issues facing youth in their communities, 58 percent of the Native students between the ages of 18 and 24 who were surveyed said preserving culture and language was the top priority. Education ranked second, with 43 percent of respondents naming it the top priority.

The report noted additional ways in which Native youth are disproportionately affected by issues in education and public health:

  • Although American Indian/Alaska Native students represent less than 1 percent of the total national school population, they make up 2 percent of out-of-school suspensions and 3 percent of expulsions.
  • More Native youth in the CNAY survey named mental health as a top priority compared to physical health—33 percent compared to 21 percent.
  • About one in 10 Native youth aged 12 and older used prescription painkillers for non-medical reasons in 2012, compared to one in 20 non-Hispanic whites in that age group and one in 30 African Americans.
  • The 2016 graduation rate for Native students was 70 percent, compared to a national rate of 82 percent.