School & District Management

Federal Group Proposes Improvements to Indian Education

By Jackie Mader — June 17, 2014 2 min read
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A federal group responsible for studying systemic issues in Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools has recommended five areas of reform for the BIE, including teacher and principal recruitment, partnerships with community organizations, and reorganizing the BIE to better support tribes and their schools.

The Bureau of Indian Education Study Group released its recommendations in a report last week, which also highlighted the many challenges facing BIE schools. The BIE currently oversees 183 schools in 23 states, and those schools are among the lowest performing schools in the nation. According to the report, in 2011, 4th grade students in BIE schools performed lower on the National Assessment of Educational Progress than American Indian students in non-BIE schools. During the 2011-12 school year, the graduation rate at BIE schools was only 53 percent, compared to the national average of 80 percent.

One of the largest areas of reform suggested in the report is a redesign of the BIE, which would move the bureau away from a “‘command and control’ culture that is often driven from Washington, DC,” to one that allows tribes more autonomy in operating schools. According to the report, many tribal educators reported that the BIE is disorganized and has restrictive policies that have prevented schools from implementing Native language and culture classes. BIE has also struggled with inconsistent leadership and strategy, which the report said is due to having 33 directors since 1979, and “an inconsistent commitment from political leadership.” Those factors, the report concluded, have “hampered” the BIE’s ability to improve schools.

In order to recruit and retain highly effective teachers and principals, which is a nationwide challenge for rural schools, the report suggests offering housing incentives for teachers, as well as incentives for teachers enrolled in the National Board Certification program. The report also suggests the use of public-private partnerships to provide resources and services to American Indian students.

As part of the BIE’s redesign, a School Operations Division will be established to focus on several of the reform areas, including teacher recruitment, school facilities, and technology. “We have a moral obligation to ensure that we are providing Indian children with the quality education that they deserve,” said Bureau of Indian Education Director Charles M. Roessel in a statement. “This redesign is a critical step in supporting each Tribe’s capacity to educate future generations of students who are prepared for college and a career and know and value their heritage.”

For more, check out Lesli A. Maxwell’s post in Politics K-12.

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