Equity & Diversity

White House Rolls Out Plans to Bolster Education for Native Americans

By Corey Mitchell — December 03, 2014 3 min read
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The Obama administration will roll out plans Wednesday to bolster educational opportunities for Native American youth, seeking to use the power of the presidency to help a group of Americans whose lives are disproportionately affected by schooling disparities.

In a new report looking at the state of Native American young people, the White House lays out a blueprint to help remedy the dismal outcomes suffered disproportionately by American Indian and Alaska Native youth. The disparities extend through most American education institutions, including low high school graduation rates and overrepresentation in the school discipline system, that contribute to socioeconomic inequalities in adulthood.

The report labels Native American youth the nation’s most vulnerable population, and places part of the blame on what it says are federal education policies that have a “devastating and continuing effect on Native peoples.”

Education Week took a deep look a year ago at the state of education in Indian Country and found that over the past decade, as the high-stakes accountability era saw every other racial and ethnic subgroup of students make steady, if small, improvements, Native American youths, on the whole, stalled or lost ground.

In an attempt to reverse what it says are the failures of federal policy, the Obama administration plans to:

  • Elevate the role of tribes in education;
  • Allow Native American leaders to design schools and programs that embrace tribal values and traditions;
  • Create pipelines to recruit high-quality teachers;
  • Boost access to resources to combat the effects of systemic povert;
  • Increase suicide prevention efforts, and
  • Improve services to better ddress the behavioral health needs of Native youth.

The initiatives, spelled out in detail in the report, will bring government agencies and private and nonprofit institutions together to test a range of strategies to support Native American youth, said Cecilia Muñoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.

The report “acknowledges past failures of policy but also explores the challenges facing young people in Indian Country and a clear seat of recommendations aimed at improving conditions,” Muñoz said in a call with reporters.

Those challenges begin at the onset of the K-12 education experience and reverberate throughout: Native American kindergarten students are held back at nearly twice the rate of their white peers. American Indian and Alaska Native students had the lowest four-year high school graduation rates, 67 percent, of any racial or ethnic group for the 2011-12 school year.

During his June visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation in North Dakota, President Obama vowed to launch new projects focused on Native youth.

“We’re not serving Indian children well,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in the call with reporters. “That status quo is not acceptable.”

Jewell also discussed shifting priorities for the 183 federally-funded Bureau of Indian Education schools, which barely graduate more than 50 percent of their students. More than 90 percent of Native youth attend local and state-run schools. The administration is also pushing to revamp the BIE by reorienting it from an agency that operates schools from Washington to a “school improvement organization” that delivers resources and support services to schools that are locally controlled by tribes.

Obama and Jewell will further discuss the plans today during separate addresses at the 2014 White House Tribal Nations Conference in Washington.

Photo: A school bus heads up Tobacco Road on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota on Oct. 24, 2013.--Swikar Patel/Education Week

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.