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.

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.


Task 1: Learn About Charter Schools (Non-Profit)/State Funded/Federally Funded)

Guideline: Some supporters of American Indian education are turning to charter schools as a means to reach disaffected students who have performed poorly in other school settings or who have dropped out altogether. While reservation-based charter schools cater totally to native students, urban charter schools cater to American Indians and other students curious about American Indian culture. Such charter schools are being organized in urban communities and reservations. However, operating a charter school is not an easy task; attention must be focused on organization, funding, curriculum, and student achievement. Leaders and educators must prepare for the school's operation properly prior to opening a charter school.

A NIEA Sovereignty in Education Handbook (2018)

The National Indian Education Association (NIEA), through the generous support of the Walton foundation, has produced this handbook to promote the growth and expansion of Native charter schools throughout the United States.  Charter schools offer a creative and innovative space for educators to increase educational opportunities in their communities and allow tribes and other Native communities across the country to offer new pathways to advance Native identities through teaching and learning.  Fundamentally charters that are grounded in Native ways in knowing, believing and operating, provide an educational avenue that many Native peoples have sought for decades.

Charter Schools Program (CSP) Non-Regulatory SEA Guidance

An updated version of the CSP nonregulatory guidance handbook is available, which addresses questions the Department has received regarding various provisions of the CSP authorizing statute (Title V, Part B of the ESEA). The new guidelines do not contain all of the information needed to comply with CSP requirements and other requirements of Federal law (including civil rights obligations), but provide guidance on the CSP and examples of ways to implement it. This Department of Education website includes: Dear Colleague Letters, downloadable PDFs, updated legislation, Title I requirements, and fund allotments.

U.S. Department of Education Announces $4 Million In Grants Available to Help Native Youth

The U.S. Department of Education announced on April 29th, 2015 the availability of an estimated $4 million in grants to help Native American youth become college and career ready. Funding for the new Native Youth Community Projects is a key step toward implementing President Obama’s commitment to improving the lives of American Indian and Alaskan Native children. The new grants will support the President’s Generation Indigenous “Gen I” Initiative launched in 2014 to help Native American youth.

Welcome to ED's Charter Schools

The Charter Schools Program provides money to create new high-quality public charter schools, as well as to disseminate information about ones with a proven track record. Federal funds are also available to replicate and expand successful schools; help charter schools find suitable facilities; reward high-quality charter schools that form exemplary collaborations with the non-chartered public school sector; and invest in national activities and initiatives that support charter schools.

Finding Best Practices Among Charter Schools Serving Native Students

This August 2012 National Alliance for Public Charter Schools blog describes in states, where demographic enrollment data are available, there were 48 public charter schools in 12 states in the 2011-2012 academic year enrolling a majority of Native American and Alaska Native students. Results from the Nation’s Report card (NAEP) indicate that there is a widening achievement gap between Native American students and their non-Native American peers. Specifically, the report finds that American Indian and Alaska Native students, regardless of whether they attend traditional public schools or those under the U.S. Bureau of Indian Education, are lagging behind in reading and math.The National Indian Education Association (NIEA) released a new report conducted on its behalf by Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education on the work of public charter schools serving Native communities. The goal of the report was to find the qualities and practices of charter schools that have a demonstrated track record of successfully educating Native students. Research has shown that cultural programming can help Native students improve their achievement.  The authors choose three charter schools specifically geared toward serving American Indian and Alaska Native students for further site visits and interviews. The schools—Klamath River Early College of the Redwoods in Klamath, California; Pemayetv Emahakv in Okeechobee, Floridaa; and Waadookodaading Ojibwe Language Immersion School in Hayward, Wisconsin.

Choctaw Nation Education: Head Start & Elementary

Choctaw Nation Head Start is recognized as a Certified Healthy Head Start Early Childhood Program.  Their Head Start program focuses on Education, Literacy, Health, Parent Involvement, Family Services and Nutrition.  Educational Services also include Kindergarten - 5th Grade, Grades 6th -12th, and Post Secondary.

Details From the Dashboard Report: Public Charter Schools on Bureau of Indian Affairs Land

In this 2013 Details from the Dashboard report, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools examine public schools that serve students on Native American lands. Public charter schools provide promising opportunities for Native American tribes to create new public school options that directly meet the unique needs of children living in and around Bureau of Indian Affairs land. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) compiled data on public charter and traditional public schools for this report, and we present this data as a helpful foundation for additional research and advocacy work in the area of Native American charter schooling.

K–8 Charter Schools: Closing the Achievement Gap

This U.S. Department of Education publication "features seven schools that are making significant inroads toward closing the achievement gap in their school communities. As a group, they have created learning environments where historically underserved children are thriving. Schools featured in the guide are located in Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, New York, Ohio, and Texas."

National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

As noted at its website, "the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is the national nonprofit organization committed to advancing the charter school movement. The Alliance provides assistance to state charter school associations and resource centers, develops and advocates for improved public policies, and serves as the united voice for this large and diverse movement."

National Charter School Resource Center

As noted at its website, "The National Charter School Resource Center (Charter School Center) serves as a national center to provide on-demand resources, information, and technical assistance to support successful planning, authorizing, implementation, and sustainability of high-quality charter schools; to share evaluations on the effects of charter schools; and to disseminate information about successful practices in charter schools."

Public Charter School Enrollment

A public charter school is a publicly funded school that is typically governed by a group or organization under a legislative contract (or charter) with the state, district, or other entity. The charter exempts the school from certain state or local rules and regulations. In return for flexibility and autonomy, the charter school must meet the accountability standards outlined in its charter.  This National Center for Educational Statistics offers information on March 2017 Public Charter School Enrollment.

Public Charter Schools Growing on Native American Reservations

In this 2013 National Alliance for public charter schools article, new data from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools shows that public charter schools are growing on Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) lands across the country. Between 2005 and 2010, the number of public charter schools on reservations increased from 19 to 31, accounting for 15 percent of all public schools on reservations.  Public charter schools are on reservations located in Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. Most Native American charter schools 61 percent are on reservations geographically located in Arizona and California. Between the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 school years, there was a 100 percent increase in the number of public charter schools and charter school enrollment on Native lands geographically located in California.

State and Federal Policy Report: Native American Youth (2016)

This November 2016 Education Commission of the States Federal Policy Team Brief states many see education as the key to future opportunity and success or children of all backgrounds. However, deeply entrenched inequities can obstruct future opportunities and successes for many American Indian and Alaska Native students (hereafter referred to as Native students). These inequities are apparent in the substantial achievement gap.  This 2016 report states only 8 percent of Native Students attend federally run schools though the Bureau of Indian Education, while the remaining 92 percent attend public schools. 

What Role Can Charter Schools Play in Preserving American Indian Sovereignty?

This Nonprofit Quarterly publication introduces the National Indian Education Association (NIEA), a national nonprofit dedicated to strengthening Native education, released a handbook entitled “Sovereignty in Education: Creating Culturally-Based Charter Schools in Native Communities.” For nonprofit organizations working within Native communities and those considering starting charter schools, the handbook provides several key insights to understanding the unique landscape within Native communities in a way that respects their cultural heritage as well as their sovereignty. The background and history of Native education cannot be ignored, as the need to reexamine and change policies and practices dates back to the founding of boarding schools as early the mid-1750s.

Charter Funding: Inequity Expands

This University of Arkansas website hosts a 2014 national charter school funding inequity study that revealed the inequity of funding for charter schools in the United States. A map of the United States are colored by their Letter Grade for Charter Funding Disparity. Hovering over a state shows additional charter school information.

American Indian Academy of Denver

The American Indian Academy of Denver (AIAD) is a community-driven public school that is being developed to address the unmet needs of American Indian and Latino students in the Denver metro area.  Four essential themes have emerged: 1) Sense of belonging; 2) Cultural Identity; 3) Academic Preparation; and whole child support.  Our founding committee is committed to ensuring that every aspect of AIAD adheres to these essential themes.  The Denver school board has enthusiastically approved this charter school.

Charter Schools Serving Native American Students

Native American students have been historically underserved by our nation's public schools, but research shows an incorporation of cultural content into the curriculum can have a promising impact on student academic success. In this report, prepared for the National Indian Education Association (NIEA), case studies are presented exploring the attributes and practices of 3 charter schools serving Native youth.

NACA (Native American Community Academy) Inspired Schools Network

This fall, the NACA Inspired Schools Network will have five schools open in New Mexico, with five more on the way. The network is building these schools on NACA’s model of strong academics and college preparation that promote Native American culture, identity and community.  According to the NACA website, "This charter school and its ideas did not spring from the policymakers and think tanks fighting over how to reform the nation’s education system, though it holds lessons for them.  Instead, it came from a tight-knit network of Native American organizations in Albuquerque, who started with a simple and powerful idea: They asked tribal communities and families what they wanted. Then, together, they built a middle school, a high school, and grew a movement."


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.