To the Editor:
I read with great interest your recent look at American Indian education (“Education in Indian Country: Obstacles and Opportunity,” Dec. 4, 2013).
The organization where I work, the Consortium on Reaching Excellence in Education, or CORE, knows firsthand the issues involved in Indian education because we provide ongoing technical assistance to the schools on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.
The expectations are high for these schools, and the many leaders involved want desperately to transform the quality of education in them. However, the bureaucratic funding structures often hamper rather than support improvement. Many schools have limited direct access to their funds, and the time it takes to get funds released results in long delays of support.
For the Pine Ridge schools, weather is a decided factor. Even recently, our consultants could not get to the sites to provide assistance because school was closed for snow. This problem results in a loss of learning time for students and educators.
Teachers and leaders need extensive assistance and coaching, yet they do not receive it. When new materials come to them, the preparation given to teachers is limited at best; we know this directly from our work at these schools. This would not be the case at many of the nation’s more affluent sites, where teachers receive many days of coaching support and training when they implement new programs.
What makes this situation even sadder is that the teachers and administrators want this assistance, but funding and/or specific grant expectations beyond instruction may limit a school’s ability to get what it needs.
We work with the division of performance and accountability within the federal Bureau of Indian Education, the BIE’s associate directors, and tribal and building leadership guiding these schools. They are amazing and dedicated individuals who deserve more.
Action, not just intent, is what is needed. Unless these schools—teachers and administrators alike—get intensive and sustained support, the likelihood that academic achievement will improve is illusory.
Consortium on Reaching Excellence in Education
A version of this article appeared in the January 08, 2014 edition of Education Week as Sustained Support Needed to Improve Indian Schools