School Climate & Safety

School Climate for Native American Students Is Focus of Federal Tour

By Evie Blad — October 07, 2014 2 min read
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Representatives from the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights plan to visit communities in seven states to learn how schools can better address the needs of Native American students, the federal agencies announced this week. The tour, which starts Friday at the Indian Community School of Milwaukee in Franklin, Wis., will include a close look at school climate issues.

“The listening sessions will focus on school environment—bullying, student discipline and offensive imagery and symbolism,” the Education Department said.

The Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education will then “compile the feedback from the tour into a report for President Obama with recommendations on how to ensure that Native American students receive a high quality education,” the agency said.

The tour comes following efforts by the Obama administration to improve educational outcomes for Native American students and to address systemic issues that may be impeding their success. At a June visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Nation in Cannon Ball, N.D., President Obama unveiled a “blueprint for reform” to overhaul the troubled Bureau of Indian Education. As my colleague Lesli Maxwell wrote at the time, BIE schools serve nearly 50,000 American Indian children.

“The reorganization of the BIE comes after years of scathing reports from watchdog groups, including the U.S. Government Accountability Office, and chronic complaints from tribal educators about the agency’s financial and academic mismanagement and failure to advocate more effectively for the needs of schools that serve Native American students,” Maxwell wrote.

Education Week covered the issues Indian students face more thoroughly last year in a beautiful package of stories, photographs, and videos. That package included this chart, which shows how far American Indians lag behind their peers of other ethnicities in improving graduation rates.

Beyond how schools are operated, challenges for American Indian and Alaska Native students often tie into cultural issues uniquely related to them and to larger school climate issues that also affect peers from different racial and ethnic groups. Those issues include family challenges, such as higher rates of alcoholism in some communities, and discipline disparities at school. Here’s a chart from the Office for Civil Rights’ newest data collection.

And anyone who’s paid attention to the debate over the name of Washington’s NFL team realizes that tense discusssions about Native American stereotypes in sports will probably not cool any time soon. Those issues are playing out at the K-12 level as well.

The listening tour’s second stop will be Oct. 26 in Lacrosse, Wis. Additional listening sessions will be held in coming weeks in Seattle; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Tulsa, Okla.; Oklahoma City; Troy, N.Y.; Los Angeles; and Anchorage, Alaska.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.