Setting the Agenda: American Indian and Alaska
Native Education Research Priorities. ERIC Digest.
by Strang, William - von Glatz, Adrienne - Hammer, Patricia Cahape
This Digest briefly reviews the events that led to the development of
the "American Indian and Alaska Native Education Research Agenda" (2001),
the basic assumptions and premises underlying it, and the priority research
topics it ultimately included, organized within six topic areas. Begun
in 1998 under the Clinton administration, the Research Agenda was approved
and released during the first year of the Bush administration. Currently
it provides a touchstone, guiding a national effort to produce high-quality
research focused on effective education practices and ways to implement
them in schools and programs serving American Indian and Alaska Native
In 1997, more than 130 Indian organizations and individual tribes pressed
the federal government to develop a comprehensive Indian education policy.
In the preface of their "red book," this coalition reminded the federal
government about the difficult history of Indian education:
* The Meriam Report (1928) and the Kennedy Report (Senate Special Subcommittee
on Indian Education, 1969) documented the failure of formal education and
called for more Indian involvement, control, and relevancy in the educational
process. The Indian Nations At Risk Task Force (1991) recognized "twenty
years of progress" during the 1970-80s, but concluded that Indian communities
were "nations at risk" educationally. The White House Conference on Indian
Education (1992) reached similar conclusions and made specific recommendations
for improvement. (National Congress of American Indians and National Indian
Education Association, 1997, p. i)
The following year, President Clinton signed Executive Order 13096 (1998),
which stipulated that the federal government is committed to improving
the academic performance and reducing the dropout rate of AI/AN students
attending public schools and Bureau of Indian Affairs schools.
Section F of the Executive Order required the development and implementation
of a research agenda for AI/AN Education. The development of the Research
Agenda was assigned to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational
Research and Improvement (OERI) and Office of Indian Education (OIE). These
offices established a working group made up of federal and non-government
organizations, which set out to identify a limited set of high-priority
research topics that could serve as a framework and guide for federally
sponsored research over the following decade.
The working group solicited ideas and comments in general from Native
and non-Native educators and researchers, and the group specifically sought
suggestions for high-priority research topics. Ideas and comments were
solicited via a series of regional partnership forums; a national Research
Agenda conference attended by tribal education chairs, educators, and researchers;
a tear-off comment page on a project brochure; a visitor comment page on
a special Web site; and solicitations at national and regional meetings
of Native educators and researchers. In all, the working group gathered
well over 300 unique suggestions through these activities.
Unlike earlier projects (e.g., Cahape, 1993), however, the purpose of
the Research Agenda project was to identify research "priorities," not
to list the universe of possibilities. Consequently, the sorted and combined
list of suggestions was distributed for several review iterations by all
working group members and an expert committee to assign priorities. The
final set of topics was discussed in a series of focus groups with educators
and Native parents, and the report was released in November 2001.
BASIC ASSUMPTIONS AND PREMISES OF THE RESEARCH AGENDA
The Research Agenda proceeds from a set of basic assumptions about conducting
research in Indian country.
Research should include a focus on success. Instead of focusing on educational
and social barriers (i.e., deficits), educators and administrators are
eager for information about best practices. Programs, pedagogy, and curricula
need to be systematically studied to identify both what is and is not successful
as part of a larger school reform and improvement effort.
Studies must be conducted from a perspective that respects Native languages
and cultures. One of the primary ways cultural bias can and has colored
research is through the implementation of standards and assessments for
AI/AN students that focus on the educational goals and norms of the larger
society, without also incorporating the perspectives of Native communities
Researchers, Native or non-Native, need to respect tribal rights and
work actively with the tribes and villages to find ways to conduct research
while being responsive to local concerns and seeking to produce findings
useful to locals. When research includes Native children as a focus in
large-scale studies, researchers should seek the advice and support of
such groups as the National Advisory Committee on Indian Education, work
closely with the Office of Indian Education Programs (Bureau of Indian
Affairs, U.S. Department of Interior) and the Office of Indian Education
(U.S. Department of Education), and include experienced Native researchers
as members of study teams.
Considerable cultural, linguistic, economic, historical, social, and
status (federally recognized and unrecognized) differences exist among
the Native peoples of North America. Research proposals should take these
differences into account, especially in designs for large-scale studies
that will involve multiple tribes and villages.
Research methods and issues. Determining what to study, where, and how
is a politically and ethically charged process. In the past, educational
research involving Native students and their communities typically has
been directed by outsiders and has focused on deficits rather than strengths.
It also has tended to focus on small samples and unique populations, often
restricted to the roughly 10 percent of Native students who attend reservation
schools or the 17 percent who attend off-reservation schools where Native
students are in the majority. Consequently, the educational experiences
of the majority of Native students have seldom been studied. One of the
most important needs identified in the Research Agenda was for more resources
to be concentrated on larger and more inclusive studies than have been
possible in the past. The working group identified several other important
research methodological issues:
* Detailed national data are needed, including over sampling in national
studies and collecting tribal or village affiliation data about Native
* Definitional issues should be resolved by AI/AN tribes and include
precise methods for identifying who is Native, along with their tribal
or village affiliations.
* Research on Native students should involve researchers with demonstrated
knowledge of Native culture(s).
* Research quality should receive a high priority; one measure of methodological
quality is knowledge (on the part of researchers) of the culture and language
of the groups studied.
* Generalizable research findings are needed.
* A clearinghouse focused on Native education is needed; a Web site
created by the working group, www.IndianEduResearch.net, could be used
for this purpose.
RESEARCH PRIORITIES FOR AI/AN EDUCATION
The priority research topics fell into six general categories outlined
below. They are not listed in order of importance, and all should be considered
to have the same level of priority.
Educational outcomes of AI/AN students. We need to know much more about
the current status of Native students on a range of outcome measures and
about the individual, family, community, classroom, and school factors
that explain differences among students. Priority research topics include:
* status of AI/AN students in terms of academic achievement and status
changes in the last two decades
* status of AI/AN students in terms of educational attainment and status
changes in the last two decades
* status of AI/AN students on other education-related outcomes such
as job skills and readiness, health and fitness, substance abuse, etc.
* best practices and reform models that have been demonstrated to be
effective in enhancing academic achievement, attainment, and/or other education-related
outcomes of AI/AN students
Native language and culture. Probably no subject generates more interest
and discussion than the idea of structuring education for AI/AN students
around the concepts and language that lie at the core of tribal or village
culture. Priority research topics include:
* effects on educational outcomes for students and schools of incorporating
AI/AN language and culture into the school curriculum
* best practices demonstrated as effective for implementing a culturally
relevant learning environment and identification of factors that serve
as barriers or facilitators for implementation
Teachers, schools, and educational resources. What happens to young
people as students ultimately depends on their encounters with their schools,
individual teachers, the curriculum and materials, and how those encounters
relate to their own capabilities, interests, motivations, and experiences.
Priority topics in this category include:
* effective methods for developing, recruiting, and retaining qualified
teachers for schools with large AI/AN enrollments
* effective and replicable teaching approaches, models, etc. for enhancing
outcomes for AI/AN students
* best practices for promoting positive parent or community involvement
in schools serving AI/AN students
AI/AN students with special needs. AI/AN students appear to be over
represented in special education and compensatory/remedial classes and
underrepresented in classes for gifted or talented students. Priority topics
in this category include:
* personal, social, and educational characteristics of AI/AN children
in special, compensatory, and gifted or talented education programs, and
best practices for valid assessment of special needs
* effective practices for working with AI/AN students with special education
Early childhood education needs of Native children. AI/AN children appear
to be less prepared on average to begin their first years of school than
children in other American racial/ethnic groups. Priority topics in this
* status of infant and preschool-age AI/AN children on school readiness
* programs and services available for infants and preschool-aged AI/AN
Education standards and assessments. Throughout the country, students--Native
and non-Native--are facing an unprecedented series of high-stakes tests
to determine their levels of proficiency on academic standards established
at the national, state, or local level. Priority research topics in this
* characteristics of standards and assessment systems for schools with
large enrollments of AI/AN students that are effective in improving performance
and address the unique needs and situations of those students
* best practices for implementing standards and assessment systems for
schools with large enrollments of AI/AN students
WHERE TO GO FOR MORE INFORMATION
Details about the Executive Order, the working group's activities and
copies of most of the products resulting from them, and the full text of
the Research Agenda can be found at www.IndianEduResearch.net.
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