Setting Research Priorities That Support Native Students


November 3, 2013


Traditional dancer at NIEA Pow Wow
Traditional dancer at NIEA Pow Wow

Tribal representatives from across the country gathered November 3, in Rapid City, South Dakota, for a common cause: examining how our education system incorporates indigenous language and culture and what research could help increase and improve those efforts.

Convened by REL Northwest with REL Central and REL Pacific, the unprecedented event focused on an uncomfortable truth. While narrowing achievement gaps and ensuring all students are proficient in academic subjects is at the core of our educational policy and practice, strategies designed to accomplish those goals don’t work for all students. American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students often have unique needs that call for alternate approaches.

Research has shown that culturally based education (CBE) can make a difference for Native students, including improving graduation rates, college-going, and test scores. However, more information is needed about how federal policies support indigenous language and culture in education, what CBE programs are currently in use, and how to evaluate and scale up the most effective strategies. Moreover, the Office of Indian Education within the U. S. Department of Education is encouraging educators to shift the focus of their Title VII Indian Education formula grants to place a greater emphasis on “culturally responsive education.”

The time is long overdue for the educational R&D community to provide a venue for Indian educators to share their current knowledge of policy, research, and practice supporting the use of indigenous language and culture for the education of their children and create a meaningful road map for carrying out future research that will benefit Native American communities. It’s time for us to hear the research questions that the Indian communities want answered.
Steve Nelson, Education Northwest

Supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, the event attracted 31 leaders from 11 states. Participants included representatives of tribal education departments, state education agencies, school districts, higher education institutions, and private foundations.

One tribal services director said the sessions were thought provoking and would prompt him to “develop a tribal strategic education plan to share and implement with tribal leaders and the community.”

A staff member of a community-based organization appreciated “the ability to hear success stories and understand how I might apply the examples to my own context.” And, another participant from the Cherokee nation remarked that as a result of the event he was going to draft CBE standards and work with his state education agency to incorporate them into the state standards.