American Indian Education KnowledgeBase

The American Indian Education KnowledgeBase is an online resource to aid education professionals in their efforts to improve the education of American Indian students and close the achievement gap American Indian students have faced in public, Bureau of Indian Education, and other schools.

Element 1: Foundations and Current Status of American Indian Education

Purpose: To ensure educators, in support of American Indian students, understand the historical principles which guides the academic journey of these students, the challenges and barriers which impacts these efforts, and current trends and research which are the basis for Indian education programs today.

Educators will:

  1. Understand the concept of tribal sovereignty and the relationship between Indian tribes, states, and the federal government's Bureau of Indian Education.
  2. Understand past efforts to assimilate Indians through English-only assimilationist schooling and the opposition Indians may show to efforts at forced assimilation.
  3. Know the lasting effects of the Indian New Deal of the 1930s on American Indian education.
  4. Understand the effects of the Red Power Movement, Indian Self-Determination, and United Nations human rights declarations on American Indians and American Indian education.

Activity 1: Understand the History of American Indian Education

American Indian tribes negotiated a multiplicity of treaties with the U.S. government, which then imposed upon them a number of laws and policies to promote the educational development of American Indian children.

Activity 2: Understand the Current Laws, Funding, and Academic Resources for American Indian Students

The federal government has responded to treaty provisions enacted between tribal governments and the United States which required educational support for American Indian children by developing and implementing educational programs in response to the federal trust responsibility of the U.S. Government.  The following Tasks will outline that response to treaty obligations.

Element 2: American Indian Cultures

Purpose: Educators will increase awareness and understanding of the breadth and scope of cultural diversity that exists among American Indian tribal communities, as well as shared values and traditions of American Indian people.

Educators will understand:

  1. What makes someone an American Indian, and what is a tribal nation today?
  2. What is an extended family?
  3. What is the significance of traditional American Indian values, such as humility, interconnectedness, and reciprocity?
  4. What should all Americans know about American Indians?

Activity 1: Understand Tribal and Family Structures

Educators will understand the process of federal recognition of tribes, tribal enrollment, and treaty making that has impacted American Indian tribal people since the founding of the United States. Educators will also learn about the structure and the importance of American Indian tribes, clans, bands, and extended families to American Indians.

Activity 2: Understand American Indian Traditional Tribal Values

Educators will understand and respect the importance of cultural values and traditional concepts which help to shape the mindset of American Indian children and their families.  Educators will understand the complex challenges faced by American Indian children in today’s classroom as a result of conflicting value systems.

Task 2: Examine Student Performance Data

Guideline: A number of studies show American Indian students with a dropout rate twice the national average, resulting in the highest dropout rate of any United States ethnic or racial group. About three out of every ten native students drop out before graduating from high school.

Academically capable native students often drop out of school because their needs are not being met. Some native students are pushed out because they protest how they are treated in school in a variety of ways. As with non-native dropouts, the most frequent reason dropouts give for leaving school is that it is "boring."

The 2005 report Status and Tends of Education of American Indians and Alaska Natives by the National Center for Education Statistics reported an American Indian dropout rate of 15% (compared to a 6% rate for "white" students), and noted dropouts were more likely to be unemployed or to earn less than high school graduates. The study noted American Indians had three times the rate of unemployment, the highest death rate for ages 15-19, the highest number of special education students, and the highest rate of absenteeism. The study also found American Indian students are the most effected by school violence and are least likely to have access to core academic programs.

Therefore, it is essential educators with native students in their schools carefully monitor their academic performance.

Using Classroom Data to Monitor Individual Student Progress

This resource, from the Maryland Department of Education, offers an online workshop on how to use classroom data to monitor student progress. The workshp is aimed at helping principles support their teachers in effectively using classroom data. While oriented towards the Maryland state assessment system the content is useful for all schools.

*NEW video* National Dropout Rural Videos (2016)

In 2016, work was completed on a Rural Dropout Prevention Project, funded by the U.S. Department of Education (US ED) through its High School Graduation Initiative (HSGI). The purpose of the Rural Dropout Prevention Project (Contract No. ED-ESE-13-C-0069) was to provide technical assistance to state education agencies and middle and high schools in designing and implementing programs and securing resources to implement effective school dropout prevention and reentry programs in rural communities. The US ED awarded the rural dropout prevention project to Manhattan Strategy Group, which executed the project with assistance from the American Institutes for Research, the National Dropout Prevention Center, and Clemson Broadcast Productions. Project deliverables included producing videos focusing on dropout prevention from each state’s perspective. The videos focus on dropout prevention strategies used or challenges faced, specific to each state or selected state districts. The project provided technical assistance to fourteen states: Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

*NEW* Civil Rights Data Collection: Native American Students Discipline

This March 2014 U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights offers a snapshot of Native American student school discipline, restraint, and seclusion highlights.

*NEW* Graduation Rates & American Indian Education (2017)

This May 2017 report states by today’s standards, about 7 in 10 of the American Indian students who start kindergarten will graduate from high school.  In other words, the average freshman graduation rate for Native students who will complete public high school within 4 years of the first time they start 9th grade is 70 percent, compared to a national average of 82 percent, according to NCES (the National Center for Education Statistics, 2012-13 data). This excludes BIE (Bureau of Indian Education) schools, which are federally underfunded and produce the lowest educational attainment levels. US News reports that the national Native high school graduation rate is 69 percent across all types of schools – but the BIE school graduation rate is only 53 percent. BIE schools serve eight percent of Native American students, or 48,000 students in 24 states.

*NEW* Public High School Graduation Rates (2015-2016)

This 2015-2016 NCES report states in the school year 2015-16, the adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) for all public high school students was 84 percent, which is the highest rate it has ever been since first measured in 2010-11.  Asian/Pacific Islander students had the greatest ACGR at 91%, followed by White students at 88%, Hispanic students at 79%, Black/African American students at 76%, and  American Indian/Alaska Native students at 72%.

*NEW* Public High School Graduation Rates - May 2018

This National Center for Education Statistics Condition of Education profile provide a map of the United States and the graduation rates by state as of May 2018.  "In school year 2015–16, the adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) for public high school students was 84 percent, the highest it has been since the rate was first measured in 2010–11. In other words, more than four out of five students graduated with a regular high school diploma within 4 years of starting 9th grade. Asian/Pacific Islander students had the highest ACGR (91 percent), followed by White (88 percent), Hispanic (79 percent), Black (76 percent), and American Indian/Alaska Native (72 percent) students."  Indicators include: family characteristics, teachers and staff, assessment, schools and finances.

*NEW* Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups 2017

This 2017 NCES/Department of Education report examines the educational progress and challenges students face in the United States by ethnicity.  The report shows that over time, students in the racial/ethnic groups of White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native Hawaiian, or other Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaskan Native, and Two or more races have completed high school and continued their education in college by increasing numbers.  Despite these gains, the rate of progress has varied among these racial/ethnic groups and differences by race/ethnicity persist in terms of increases in attainment and progress on key indicators of educational performance.

*NEW* The Dropout/Graduation Crisis Among American Indian and Alaska Native Students: Failure to Respond Places the Future of Native Peoples at Risk (2010)

This January 2010 Civil Rights Project Paper, sponsored by UCLA and Pennsylvania State University Center for the Study of Leadership in American Indian Education, examines the graduation/dropout crisis among American Indian and Alaska Native students using data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Authors Susan C. Faircloth and John W. Tippeconnic, III, used 005 data drawn from the seven states with the highest percentage of American Indian and Alaska Native students as well as five states in the Pacific and Northwestern regions of the United States. Findings indicate that the number of American Indians and Alaska Natives who graduate continues to be a matter of urgent concern. On average, less than 50% of Native students in these twelve states graduate.

*NEW* Voices of Native Youth Report

This report is part of a yearly effort to provide current feedback from Native youth regarding challenges and successes in Indian Country. The purpose of the Voices of Native Youth Report series is to summarize and share what the Center for Native American Youth (CNAY) learns on an annual basis from Native American youth, thereby creating a platform to elevate the on the ground youth voices across tribal and urban Indian communities. Inviting youth to the table for dialogue guides CNAY’s efforts and ensures that the voices of Native youth are present at the national level in discussions with policymakers, federal and tribal partners, and new stakeholders.

American Indian School Dropouts and Pushouts

This website provides the text of the 1992 dropout study done by Professor Jon Reyhner, Northern Arizona University, for the U.S. Secretary of Education's Indian Nations at Risk Task Force as well as links to journal articles focusing on American Indian dropouts

Data Sources by State

This document contains links to national and state education data sources. The content may be useful to educators when developing a school profile.

Dropout Nation

Authored by Professor Jon Reyhner, Northern Arizona University, this article explores the high school drop out problem as it relates to American Indian students.

Improving American Indian Student Achievement (2007)

This resource provides a report on a May 2007 conference on improving American Indian student achievement sponsored by the North Central Comprehensive Center. A written and audio version of the report is provided by the Minnesota Public Radio network.

National Indian Education Study (2015)

This link is to the National Center for Education Statistics' National Indian Education Study (NIES) studies describing the condition of education for American Indian and Alaska Native students in the United States.     Download 2015 PDF   Download 2019 PDF: 'A Closer Look'

Status and Trends in the Education of American Indians and Alaska Natives (2008)

From the National Center for Education Statistics, "this report examines both the current conditions and recent trends in the education of American Indians and Alaska Natives using statistical measures. This [2008] report presents a selection of indicators that illustrate the educational achievement and attainment of American Indians and Alaska Natives."

*NEW* 2018 Digest of Education Statistics (PG 51-240)

Released in February of 2018, the Digest's purpose is to provide a compilation of statistical information covering the broad field of education from prekindergarten through graduate school. The Digest contains data on a variety of topics, including the number of schools and colleges, teachers, enrollments, and graduates, in addition to educational attainment, finances, and federal funds for education, libraries, and international comparisons.   Refer to pages 51 through 240 for data on Native American Students, with multiple race/ethnicity by age table comparisons of Native American students and their peers from 1980 - 2016 on pages 67 - 240.

*NEW* The characteristics and education outcomes of American Indian students in grades 6–12 in North Carolina (2016)

The purpose of this  November 2016 study was to compare American Indian students in grades 6–12 in North Carolina to all other students in the same grades both within the same schools and statewide on student demographics, school characteristics, and education outcomes. The North Carolina State Advisory Council on Indian Education (SACIE) requested this research based on a prior report identifying achievement gaps between American Indian students and White students. The primary source of quantitative data for this study is longitudinal administrative data provided to the Education Policy Initiative at Carolina by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI). This data include student-level outcomes, which include state test scores, attendance, retention in grade, advanced course taking, graduation rates, and disciplinary referrals) are for all students in grades 6–12 in North Carolina public schools for the school years 2010/11 through 2013/14.

2014 Native Youth Report

In June 2014, President Obama embarked on his first presidential visit to Indian Country, where he and Mrs. Obama witnessed the tale of two Americas. Standing Rock Reservation, like many others, faces myriad social, economic, and educational problems. Together, those problems are coalescing into a crisis for our most vulnerable population--Native youth. The specific struggles that Native youth face often go unmentioned in our nation's discussions about America's children, and that has to change. This report proposes some broad recommendations on opportunities for tribes to engage with other governmental entities and the private and nonprofit sectors to strengthen ladders of opportunity for youth and to help rebuild more prosperous, resilient tribal nations. In doing so, this report identifies areas where promising work is already taking place and where more work is needed.

An Introduction to the National Indian Education Study (2014 VIdeo)

This 2014 NAEP video, "An Introduction to the National Indian Education Study", walks viewers through the only nationwide study that explores Native culture and academic achievement. Conducted as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress from 2005 to 2019, 'An Introduction to the National Indian Education Study' examines what academic skills are assessed and what the study means for American Indian and Alaska Native students and communities. This study also provides educators, policymakers, and the public with information about the academic performance in reading and mathematics of American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) fourth- and eighth-graders.

The State of Indian Youth (2016)

In 2016, the Center for Native American Youth (CNAY) wanted to hear from even more of their stakeholders. That is why they launched the first-ever Generation Indigenous (Gen-I) online roundtable, a new online survey for Native youth that asks them to identify the priorities that matter to them and the resources that will help them succeed. CNAY fielded this survey over the summer and heard from nearly 700 Native youth under the age of 25. Throughout this report, the CNAY will be sharing the results of this survey. This is the first in a new yearly series of reports CNAY is calling The State of Native Youth. Every year, CNAY will share what we  learn through our community meetings, surveys, and other work with Native youth throughout the country. CNAY will also analyze the latest data and indicators of Native youth opportunity and success. Finally, and most important, this report will be a platform to lift up the voice of Native youth advocates and highlight the programs across Indian Country and the rest of the United States that are working to improve their lives.

*NEW* Alaska Is Failing Its Indigenous Students (2016)

This November 2016 Education Weekly article, authored by an Alaskan Native high school dropout, focuses on the fact that Alaska Native students have a graduation rate just above 60 percent—and a majority of the dropouts are male.  The author recalled hearing the following words from a school counselor, "You are more likely to end up dead or in jail by the time you are 25 years old than you are to finish high school as an Alaska Native male." It was 1989, we were 7th graders, many of us freshly relocated from isolated villages surrounding the interior settlement town of Fairbanks, Alaska. I was one of them, having just arrived from Vashraii K'oo (Arctic Village) with a thick village accent. School staff had pulled about 13 of us out of class to meet with a counselor. Those were his words to us as Alaska Native boys, part of a "scared straight"-type program.

Element 3: Understanding Your School and Community

Purpose: Assessing American Indian students’ academic performance and developing culturally-based education approaches in collaboration with local tribes, Indian organizations and Native communities are essential for improved educational opportunities.  Educators should:

  • Examine current American Indian achievement assessments, attendance, dropout and graduation rates;
  • Collaborate with tribes and Native communities, and;
  • Collaborate with national American Indian organizations and the National Indian Education Association (NIEA).

Activity 1: Take a Snapshot of Your School and Community


Activity 2: Work with and Involve Community and Parents

Element 4: Integrate American Indian History, Language, and Culture into School Curriculum

Purpose: Research indicates that it is important to affirm students’ identity and one reason for the academic achievement gap that American Indian students face is that a one-size-fits-all national curriculum represented in textbooks fails to give positive recognition to American Indian histories and cultures. 

Activity 1: Create an American Indian Curriculum

It is important for American Indian and Alaska Native students to have the standard state and national curriculums they are exposed to in school be supplemented with curriculum that reflects their background and the community that they live in.

Activity 2: Teaching Indigenous Languages

Too often, an English-only policy in American schools has suppressed American Indian languages and cultures. The Native American Languages Act passed by U.S. Congress, and signed by President George H. W. Bush in 1990, enforces United States Policy to support, preserve, and protect American Indian languages. Esther Martinez Native American Languages Preservation Act  Act of 2006 The 2007 United Nation’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has given further support to that goal. Today, Indigenous peoples are working through Indigenous language immersion schools to revitalize their languages and cultures.


Element 5: Explore Schools Serving American Indian Students

Purpose: Charter and immersion schools are offering American Indians more flexibility in working to improve the education of their children by affording American Indian communities more power to shape the schooling their children receive.


Activity 1: The Role and impact of American Indian Charter and Magnet Schools

Learn about charter and immersion schools and how they can provide alternatives to public, Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools, and tribally controlled schools, allowing American Indian communities to provide more culturally appropriate education for their children.


Activity 2: Discover how Tribal Operated Schools and Indian Charter Schools Relate to One Another

The Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) and mainstream public schools have not been successful in bringing up the average test scores and graduation rates of American Indian students to national averages. Learn how Tribally Operated and Indian Charter Schools are providing alternatives that show promise in improving the academic and life success of American Indian students.


Element 6: Use Culturally Responsive Teaching Methodologies

Purpose: Research suggests one reason for the achievement gap faced by American Indian students is cultural conflicts between American Indian homes and schools. Accordingly, teachers should be prepared to meet the needs of American Indian and other Indigenous students, including using culturally responsive teaching methodologies that incorporate American Indian learning styles, avoiding biased teaching and stereotypes, and addressing the needs of gifted education and other special needs students.

Activity 1: Prepare Educators to Teach American Indian Students

One-size-fits-all educational reforms, despite being somewhat “evidence based”, have left behind many American Indian students. Learn how adjusting teaching methods and materials to fit American Indian students’ cultural and experiential backgrounds can make them more engaged learners and improve their academic performance.