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Published in Print: September 9, 1998, as Presidential Order on Indian Education Calls for Comprehensive Federal Policy

Presidential Order on Indian Education Calls for Comprehensive Federal Policy

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American Indian leaders are hailing as "historic" a recent executive order by President Clinton to craft a comprehensive federal policy on Indian education within two years.

Education programs and resources for Indian and Native Alaskan students now are spread among myriad federal agencies that critics say rarely work in concert. The executive order of Aug. 6 marks a welcome departure from that trend, said Yvonne C. Novack, the president of the National Indian Education Association.

"We think this is truly historic," said Ms. Novack, who also coordinates Indian education for the state of Minnesota. "It's an affirmation of the unique educational needs of American Indian students, and it emphasizes the unique political relationship between the federal government and tribes."

Roughly 90 percent of the nation's more than 500,000 American Indian and Native Alaskan students attend regular public schools; most others go to tribal schools or schools run by the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs.

President Clinton signed last month's order in Washington during a two-day conference on building economic self-determination in Indian communities.

"Our government alone cannot solve the problems of Indian country, nor can tribal governments be left to fend alone for themselves," Mr. Clinton said in a speech. "The first and most important tool of opportunity, of course, is education."

Tight Timetable

Indian students have the highest dropout rate--39 percent--of any racial or ethnic group, and they lag near the bottom on almost every indicator of academic achievement. The executive order sets up an interagency task force to draft a long-term, comprehensive Indian education policy designed to:

  • Improve reading and mathematics;
  • Increase high-school-completion and college-attendance rates;
  • Reduce the influence of factors that impede educational performance, such as poverty and substance abuse;
  • Create safe and drug-free school environments;
  • Improve science education; and
  • Expand the use of educational technology.

While similar federal efforts to enhance Hispanic education have been criticized as ineffective, Ms. Novack said Indian leaders are reassured by the executive order's tight deadlines for action. ("Chairman's Resignation Latest Upset for Hispanic Panel ," April 24, 1996.)

For instance, the order calls for the interagency task force--led by top officials in the Education and Interior departments--to develop a plan in coming months to maximize program access for Indian and Native Alaskan students. In the next year, the panel is to issue a guide to education programs and resources across the federal government. The Department of Education also is charged with drawing up a federal research agenda on Indian education that establishes baseline data on achievement, evaluates promising practices with Indian students, and addresses Indian languages and culture.

Vol. 18, Issue 1, Page 35

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