ERIC Identifier: ED425895
Publication Date: 1999-01-00
Author: Pavel, D. Michael
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Schools, Principals, and Teachers Serving American Indian and
Alaska Native Students. ERIC Digest.
The essence of Native involvement in school reform movements is accepting the
responsibility to fulfill our sacred trust of educating the young. This is a
trust long established among American Indians and Alaska Native people through
ancestral traditions and more recently through treaty provisions agreed upon by
sovereign Native nations and the United States of America. As we enter a new
millennium, it becomes important to create a baseline to monitor progress in
specific areas of educating Native people. To do so, this Digest draws upon the
literature and a recent National Center for Education Statistics (1997) study
using Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) data. SASS is an integrated survey of
U.S. schools, school districts, principals, teachers, and student records that
includes an oversample of schools funded or operated by the Bureau of Indian
Affairs (BIA) and public schools with high percentages of Indian student
enrollment. The Indian supplement to the ongoing SASS data collection program
represents an opportunity to describe (a) schools and school districts that
serve a significant percentage of American Indian and Alaska Native youth, (b)
the background of principals and teachers, and (c) the characteristics of
American Indian and Alaska Native students.
The SASS data reflect the characteristics of American Indian and Alaska
Native education from 1990-1991 and 1993-1994, and we hope conditions will have
improved by the year 2000 when the next SASS data collection is scheduled. In
particular we might reexamine: (a) the characteristics of schools with 25% or
more Indian student enrollment, (b) rates of high school graduation and college
application among their American Indian and Alaska Native students, and (c) the
background characteristics of these schools' Native principals and teachers who
are enrolled tribal members. Examining characteristics of schools helps us
understand the context of education in schools with high percentages of Native
students. Studying high school outcomes provides a way to monitor Native student
participation at the critical undergraduate level. Last, in light of a growing
demand to have Native people in organizational and classroom leadership
positions, studies of Native educators and other variables such as the economic
conditions of tribal communities, type and quality of services provided, and
teacher demand and supply give us data needed to monitor developments in Indian
INDIAN SCHOOL TYPE AND NATIVE STUDENT ENROLLMENT.
The findings are divided into three Indian school types for comparison: (a)
schools controlled or funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA/tribal
schools), (b) public schools with 25% or more Indian student enrollment (high
Indian enrollment [HIE] public schools), and (c) public schools with less than
25% Indian student enrollment (low Indian enrollment [LIE] public schools). In
1993-94, nearly half of all American Indian and Alaska Native students
(approximately 229,276 students) were enrolled in approximately 170 BIA/tribal
schools1 (41,911 students) and 1,244 HIE public schools (187,365 students). On
average, Native students represent a significant majority (between 57% and 98%)
of the total student body in these two school types. The remaining Native
students (262,660 students) in the public school system are scattered across
nearly 79,500 public schools with an average of 0.6% American Indian and Alaska
Native enrollment. It is interesting to note that BIA/tribal schools and HIE
schools represent approximately 1.7% of the total number of publicly funded
schools but enroll 47% of the total Native student population.
The relatively small number of schools enrolling a relatively large number of
Native students has provided fertile ground to improve Indian education.
Exemplary programs have advanced Indian education throughout the nation and,
although improvements are still warranted overall, a growing number of schools
have dramatically improved academic achievement among Native students (see for
example, Chavers, 1996; in progress). Another promising sign for tribal elders
is that ties to traditional cultures are evident in these schools, where
approximately one-third of Native students in BIA/tribal schools and 16% of the
Native students in HIE public schools speak a language other than English in
their homes. Education programs incorporating Native culture and values are
important attributes of today's Indian education programs and will continue to
be the preferred direction of Indian education (Skinner, 1999; Yazzie, 1999).
Moreover, "research, once the domain of university researchers, has been
demystified to include research partnerships with local people asking their own
questions and constructing appropriate paradigms for funding solutions" (Deyhle
& Swisher, 1997).
COURSEWORK TOWARD GRADUATION. The public is often unaware of remarkable
strides made by Native communities to ensure that students receive a proper
education. As shown in Table 1, when compared to public schools with low Indian
student enrollment, high school students in BIA/tribal schools were required to
pass more coursework in English and language arts, mathematics, social studies,
and the sciences. Graduation requirements in BIA/tribal schools were also more
strict than the requirements in HIE public schools in all core areas except
English and language arts. National initiatives to raise graduation requirements
in BIA/tribal schools were launched in 1994. It is possible these schools will
continue to be more likely to require course work in computer science and
foreign languages than will public schools with high and low Indian student
enrollment (St. Germaine, 1995a).
GRADUATION RATES AND COLLEGE APPLICATION RATES. There are approximately 45
BIA/tribal and 450 HIE public high schools. The 1989-90 high school graduation
rate at BIA/tribal was 82%, compared to 91% in HIE and 93% in LIE public
schools. College application rates at BIA/tribal schools were 33% during the
same period, compared to 43% at HIE public schools. High school graduation and
college application rates in BIA/tribal schools increased substantially by the
1992-93 school year but remained about the same in HIE public schools, while
college application rates at BIA/tribal schools were 47% and 45% at HIE public
The improvements in graduation and college application rates suggest that
tribal self-governance and national school improvement movements during the late
1980s and early 1990s are having a positive impact on Indian education (Indian
Nations at Risk, 1992; Pavel, Swisher, & Ward, 1996; Pavel, 1999; St.
Germaine, 1995b). A growing number of innovative strategies are being used to
increase high school graduation and postsecondary participation rates. For
example, the Wellpinit School District-Spokane Indian Reservation's Focus on
Excellence Program uses a "whole school success" approach combined with
computer-aided instruction. Improvement efforts focus on meeting the needs of
students and teachers to ensure that "all" students graduate and are encouraged
to further their education.
PRINCIPALS AND TEACHERS
The quality of students'
educational experiences is determined, in large part, by the learning
environment principals and teachers create. The need for Native educators who
can serve as positive role models and catalysts for improvement in
administration and teaching is ongoing. Seventy-seven (or 47%) of the 164
BIA/tribal school principals identified themselves as American Indian or Alaska
Native; of these, virtually all were enrolled members of a state or federally
recognized tribe. Of the 1,158 principals in HIE public schools, 153 (just 13%)
were either American Indian or Alaska Native, 84% of whom reported they were
tribally enrolled. Only 38% of the teachers in BIA/tribal schools were American
Indian or Alaska Native; however, 95% of these Native teachers reported they
were tribally enrolled. Only 15% of the teachers in HIE public schools were
American Indian or Alaska Native, 84% of whom were tribally enrolled.
Though important to all schools, it is vital that schools serving a high
percentage of Indian students increase the number of American Indian and Alaska
Native administrators and teachers who are tribally enrolled (Fuller, 1992;
Hawley, 1989; Quezada, et al., 1996). The presence of Native people in school
leadership positions brings much-needed positive role modeling and training in
how to design programs for Native students (McGee & Cody, 1995; Solomon,
1997; Sorensen, 1992).
Moreover, tribal enrollment is an essential element of sovereign Indian
society because it allows each Nation to determine who is a citizen. It is
especially relevant in BIA/tribal schools since these institutions were
established to serve Indian students. Tribal enrollment is equally relevant to
HIE public schools because most of these institutions are located on or near
A considerable number of American Indian and
Alaska Native students can be found concentrated in a relatively small number of
publicly funded schools. BIA/tribal schools and public schools with high Indian
student enrollment, in particular, made important strides during the early part
of this decade (1990-94) to raise standards for high school graduation while
improving graduation and college application rates. However, there was and still
remains a shortage of Native people who can serve as positive role models in
administrative and teaching positions. When we again look at the characteristics
of American Indian and Alaska Native education in the year 2000, we hope to see
continued improvement in academic outcomes. We also look forward to a greater
number of Native administrators and teachers who can provide leadership and
instruction that will prepare Native children to live productive lives well into
the 21st century.
1. These schools were identified from a list of
176 institutions contained in the 1992-93 Education Directory of the BIA Office
of Indian Education Programs. After NCES removed schools that were out-of-scope
(e.g., peripheral dormitories that did not offer instruction, kindergarten-only
schools), 170 BIA/tribal schools were eligible for sampling in the SASS.
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