Nine Tribal Education Depts., Local Ed. Agencies Profiled In Study

By Diette Courrégé Casey — March 02, 2012 3 min read
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Native American students account for only 1.2 percent of public school enrollment, but their achievement often is low while their dropout rates and discipline problems are high.

A handful of school leaders wanted to better understand how tribal education departments, which are the groups that oversee American Indian education, work with local education agencies for those students’ benefit, so the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences took a closer look at nine communities where where that’s happening.

The resulting report, “Profiles of Partnerships Between Tribal Education Departments and Local Education Agencies,” examines those efforts and describes how they were created, what their goals and activities are, and how they are funded; it also shares the perspectives of insiders involved in those partnerships.

Native American communities often are rural, and seven of the nine partnerships profiled are based in rural areas.

The rural partnerships included:
• The tribal education department of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon and Willamina School District 4,
• The Hoopa Valley tribal education department and the Klamath-Trinity Joint Unified School District in California,
• The tribal education department of the Oglala Sioux and Shannon County School District in South Dakota,
•The Rosebud Sioux tribal education department and the Todd County School District in South Dakota,
• The Chickasaw Nation Division of Education Services and Byng Public Schools in Oklahoma,
•The Eastern Shoshone Department of Education/Education Office of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe and the Fremont County School District in Wyoming, and
• The Standing Rock tribal education department and the Solen Public School District in North Dakota.

The February report was co-authored by Dawn Mackety, who is the National Indian Education Association’s director of research, data and policy, and five others who work for the Regional Educational Laboratory Central at Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning, an education research organization. The report is part of an ongoing series of papers compiled by the regional labs on current education issues facing local districts, regions and states.

Researchers interviewed at least one person from each partnership’s tribal education department and local education agency, and they analyzed documents establishing each partnership.

Some of the key trends they found included:
• All of the tribal education departments received tribal funds for their partnership activities, and all but one received federal or state funding;.
• Face-to-face meetings were cited in every partnership as important for building and sustaining the relationship;.
• Every partnership offered students a cultural or tribal language program;.
• Five partnerships focused on discipline or social and behavioral issues, such as truancy and student safety and behavior;
• Three partnerships focused on parent involvement or support; and .
• Four of the partnerships discussed overcoming issues of discrimination, mistrust, or rivalry.

One of the partnerships, the Hoopa Valley Tribal Education Department and Klamath-Trinity Joint Unified School District, serves a remote, rural area and enrolls 1,054 students in nine schools. American Indian or Alaska Native students make up 866 of those students.

The partnership began in 1980 when the Hoopa Valley TED was chartered, but the two groups have worked together since the 1930s. The tribal staff meets five to 10 times a month with the superintendent, school board, or key district personnel, and the school district ensures that a tribal member participates in all new employee-hiring panels.
Their joint activities are numerous, ranging from teaching the Hupa language in schools to creating a cultural after-school program.

“The Klamath-Trinity superintendent noted that, because the district is committed to supporting Native students, the partnership has led to a sense of trust within the community,” according to the report. “The Hoopa Valley TED director said that some challenges to the partnership have included administrator turnover and a focus on meeting academic standards that the tribe feels discourage students and foster conformity.”

Researchers cautioned these profiles might not be representative of the kinds of partnerships that exist nationwide, and the interviews might not be comprehensive in reflecting the feeling or views of all staff members.

The study made me wonder how common (or uncommon) these types of partnerships are, whether that issue had been looked at in a national context, and if so, whether the findings would be similar. Like many partnerships, it seems as if these could be beneficial but challenging.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.