CHAPTER ONE
INTRODUCTION

The issue of what type of high school education should be provided for village children has been for many years perhaps the most critical and controversial problem in cross-cultural education. At the heart of all the conflicting proposals for "urban, integrated schools" or "regional high schools" or "village high schools" are two opposing theories on what form of secondary school education yields the greatest benefits for village children.

According to the first theory, village adolescents should attend large high schools away from home, because only large schools can provide a wide choice of subjects, specialized teachers, and vocational training facilities. The theory holds that schools away from home provide important out-of-school learning experiences that will enable students to make informed choices between village and western culture. While this type of high school does cause some social and emotional adjustment problems, the educational benefits outweigh these costs.

The second theory argues that village adolescents should receive their high school education at home. Separation from parents and an abrupt transition to an unfamiliar western high school environment creates severe social and emotional problems. While a small village high school may offer a limited curriculum, the psychological benefits far outweigh these costs.

The present secondary school programs established for village children are primarily large high schools away from home. While a few village students in 1973 attended village schools under a new ninth and tenth grade program, most students were divided between urban boarding home programs, rural boarding home programs, and boarding school programs (see Table 1-1).

The high drop-out rate and the high incidence of drinking, violence, and suicide attempts that have occurred in these large high schools away from home have caused tremendous outcry and have forced a re-evaluation of the direction of rural secondary education. Policy is moving in the direction of smaller high schools closer to home or even village high schools. However, many Native leaders, educators, and village students believe that such schools will provide an inferior education that will not enable Native students to succeed in college. At a time when the Land Claims Settlement1 has generated tremendous demand for highly educated Natives, it is of critical importance to provide secondary education which will lead to college success. Could small village high schools be structured in innovative ways to provide excellent education?

Table 1-1. Enrollment of Village Native Students in Public High Schools 1972-73

Boarding Home Program

Number Enrolled

Urban Boarding Home Program
  (Anchorage, Fairbanks)

554

Rural Boarding Home Program (OtheróBethel, Dillingham, etc.)

556

Total

1,110

Boarding Schools

 

Nome-Beltz Regional High School

173

Kodiak Aleutian Regional High School

73

Bethel Regional High School

205

Wildwood

158

Mt. Edgecumbe

360

Chemawa

348

Total

1,317

Village Ninth and Tenth Grade Programs

158

Total

158

GRAND TOTAL

2,585

 

Purpose

This study examines the costs and benefits of alternative high school programs for village children. It attempts to determine what actually happens to village adolescents in different high school programs, why it happens, and what, if anything, can be done about it. Is it indeed the case, for example, that village students really benefit from the wide variety of courses available in large high schools, or do most students enroll in basic courses for slow learners? Are the severe social and emotional problems of village students in high schools away from home actually the fault of the schools program or would similar problems occur if the students attended high school at home?

Methods

We examined these questions by selecting three existing high school alternatives. We then followed the progress of Native village students through these three programs during their freshman and sophomore years. While we originally planned to follow these students through 4 years of high school, we were compelled to shorten our study because so many students had dropped out or transferred from the programs. In addition, the incidence and severity of school-related social and emotional problems among the students was so high that we felt these issues should be brought to the attention of policymakers without further delay. To obtain some information on longer-term effects of these programs, however, we also studied the success of students who graduated from the high school programs over the last 3 years (1970-1972), especially their success in college. A detailed description of the methodology, together with the statistical data to which this report will refer, may be found in the appendices. (Following is a summary of the main procedures and the limitations of this study.)

We selected the following three high school programs as representative of a secondary school alternative:

1. Rural Boarding Home ProgramóBethel Boarding Home Program 1971-72/Bethel Dormitory and Regional High School 1972-73.

Bethel was selected because in 1971-72 it was the largest boarding home program located in a rural Native town close to students' homes. The opening of the dormitory the following year provided a good opportunity to contrast the effects of the two different residence environments in the same town on the same students.

2. Boarding SchoolóBeltz Boarding School 1971-72/Nome-Beltz Regional High School 1972-73.

Beltz was selected because in 1971-72 it was a boarding school enrolling only village students and because it was operated by the state of Alaska. We did not wish to choose a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school because many of these schools were being phased out. In 1972-73, Beltz was consolidated with the Nome High School and became a large comprehensive school. Again, observing what happened to the same group of village students when the school environment changed was useful in studying effects of different school situations.

3. Urban Boarding Home ProgramóAnchorage Boarding Home Program.

Anchorage was selected because it was the largest boarding home program in the largest Alaskan city. Since we examined a high school type through an intensive study of only one school, it is possible that our conclusions are in error because this school is not really representative. However, we do not think this is the case because we also observed many other high school programs while serving for 3 years as consultants to the Division of Regional Schools and Boarding Home Program. Similar problems existed at most other schools of the same type.

Selection and Sample Size

In each high school program, we selected as our student sample all freshmen Eskimo students who had not previously been away to high school. We selected only Eskimo students because they are by far the largest group of students who leave home to attend high school. While again our observation suggests that Aleut and Athabascan students have similar problems in similar programs, caution should be used in generalizing the results of this study to other groups. Our graduate follow-up study, however, includes Aleut and Athabascan students.

Included in our sample is the entire 1971-72 entering class of students at Beltz (42 students) and at Bethel (23 students). Due to the large numbers of students entering Anchorage and our limited research funds, we selected a random sample of 40 students in Anchorage. The very high rates of withdrawal from most of these programs left us with only 82 of the original 105 students at the end of the first year and only 48 students at the end of the second year. This small number of remaining students, while in itself pointing to a serious problem, means that our discussion of effects of the schools is confined to a very small group. While we have no reason to believe that these students are unrepresentative (indeed they are probably stronger students since they managed to remain), nonetheless this small sample size should be kept in mind.

Evaluating Effects of Schools

In evaluating effects of schools on students, we examined:

Social and Emotional Problems: A psychiatrist experienced in cross-cultural problems rated the severity of each student's social and emotional problems in high school and also rated the extent to which these problems resulted from the high school experience. His ratings were based on several sources of information:

Achievement and Courses Taken: California Achievement Tests were given to students when they entered high school and at the end of their freshman and sophomore years. Courses taken as well as grades received were obtained for all students.

Attitude Change: Through questionnaires and interviews, we examined changes in self-concept, beliefs about prejudice, and educational and occupational goals.

Each of these measures has many limitations. For example, our evaluations of students' social and emotional problems were hampered simply because in so many programs, no adult (teacher or counselor) knew students very well. Questionnaire measures of attitudes are often misleading, especially in a culturally different population. While we pretested our measures and used Eskimo consultants, nonetheless many students probably interpreted the questions differently from the way they were intended.

Each school is presented as a descriptive case study. For this reason we did not make statistical comparisons between schools.

While we have confidence in the findings of this report, this confidence results from the harmony of all the different measures taken together rather than to our faith in any one specific measure. No attempt is made to argue that any single source of data is free from error. Rather, it is all the information taken together that suggests the conclusions.



Endnote

1 See J. S. Kleinfeld, P. Jones, and R. Evans. Land Claims and Native Manpower. Alaska Native Foundation; Institute of Social, Economic and Government Research, 1973.

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