Newly Re-established White House Initiative Office to Seek Ideas on Native American Education

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by Lydia Lum

Officials representing the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education are hosting a series of forums around the country in the coming weeks seeking ideas on how to improve educational outcomes for indigenous populations.

In hopes of gaining participation and input from tribal nations, the upcoming meetings dovetail with efforts to create a memorandum of understanding that will frame a partnership aimed at expanding educational opportunities and improving academic achievement. The Department of Education and Department of Interior, which oversee the initiative, already have held roundtables with tribal leaders, Indian educators and other federal officials.

The initiative seeks to close the achievement gap between Indian and non-Indian students, reduce the high dropout rates among Alaska natives and Indians, and help preserve and revitalize Native languages, histories and cultures.

” Education is key to the fabric of healthy communities,” says Interior Secretary and Initiative co-chairman Ken Salazar. “But we need to do better when it comes to meeting the academic and cultural needs of our American Indian and Alaska Native students across the nation. These consultations will be critical in developing the most effective framework to raise the bar for Indian Country education.”

The Interior Department houses the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education (BIE). The BIE, which directly operates or provides grants to tribes to run an extensive primary, secondary and postsecondary school system, is interested in improving school access to federal funding programs and expertise.

” The strength of tribes and our nation’s future prosperity are inextricably tied,” says Education Secretary and Initiative co-chairman Arne Duncan. “Together we can dramatically improve the lives of our Native students. These consultations will be invaluable.”

The sessions are scheduled for May 18 at Thunder Valley Casino Resort in Lincoln, Calif.; May 24 at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Ariz.; May 31 at BLN Office Park in Bloomington, Minn.; and June 5 at Renaissance Inn in Nashville, Tenn.

The initiative targets the education of all American Indians and Alaska Natives, including those attending schools operated and funded by BIE, those attending public schools in cities and rural areas, and those attending postsecondary institutions, including tribal colleges.

Among the goals called for in the initiative are the establishment of an agreement providing an avenue for both departments to work with tribal leaders as well as continued governance over the transfers of statutory education grant funds from the Education Department to the Interior Department.

The initiative addresses critical issues and challenges affecting the quality of instruction, student achievement, high dropout rates and tribal languages facing extinction. The anticipated educational outcomes would help preserve and revitalize Native languages that students could not only learn but also better equip them to explore indigenous cultures and histories, while otherwise gaining comprehensive educations better preparing them for life.

Among the strategies thus far proposed to achieve these outcomes are enhanced teacher training and recruitment, pilot demonstration projects, improved accountability, capacity building for tribal education agencies that also would strengthen tribal sovereignty and partnerships with public, private and philanthropic entities and national networks to share best practices.

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