State Leaders Share Challenges and Promising Practices in Indian Education

February 2014

Native American students have the lowest graduation rate among all racial and ethnic groups in the Northwest, a dire fact that fueled the conversation at a recent meeting convened by the Northwest Comprehensive Center (NWCC). Concerned Indian education coordinators from Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington met to share information and lessons learned about American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) education, as well as to identify ways they can collaborate to help these students succeed.

State coordinators Robin Butterfield (WA), April Campbell (OR), Johanna Jones (ID), Chris Simon (AK), and Mandy Smoker-Broaddus (MT) discussed challenges and strategies to improve the educational experience for AI/AN students. One practice that shows promise across the region is the integration of Native language and culture into the curriculum. The Guide to Implementing the Alaska Cultural Standards for Educators, Montana’s Indian Education for All, and Washington’s Since Time Immemorial are prime examples of this movement.

Participants discussed a range of factors that impede student success, including gaps between tribally enrolled students and other Native students; high teacher turnover in remote areas; poor attendance and truancy; low family and community involvement; schools’ lack of knowledge about AI/AN culture and history; and fragmentation of services among state, tribal, and local agencies.

Potential strategies to address these factors include:

  • Integrate AI/AN education into a cohesive plan in which everyone takes responsibility for improving the system for Native students
  • Create AI/AN-specific culturally responsive curriculum that is implemented with fidelity and supported by professional development
  • Establish Indian education as a “trust responsibility” that is distinct from other ethnic/cultural groups

A major priority of the NWCC is to build state education agencies’ (SEAs) capacity to support their schools and districts in meeting the unique needs of AI/AN students. The group talked about the formation of an NWCC Regional AI/AN Education Advisory Board and delved into ways the NWCC can provide technical assistance to SEAs in their efforts to address the AI/AN dropout epidemic. “We will offer support around common needs that emerged in the meeting, such as Native language revitalization and dropout prevention, including early warning system implementation,” said the NWCC’s Matthew Eide.

Eide added that NWCC is facilitating cross-SEA collaboration “so states will have a platform to share information about projects that are making an impact, as well as obstacles to success.” He added that taking time to focus on the implications of these lessons will inform states’ efforts to improve educational opportunities for AI/AN students.