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.


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.


Task 1: Discover how Tribal Operated Schools and Indian Charter Schools are relational

Guideline: Many American Indians are seeking more control over the schools serving their children but lack the financial resources to build and operate schools. To get around this challenge they use federal funding available from the Bureau of Indian Education and states through charter school funding to operate schools with more local control.



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.

*IN PROGRESS* American Indian Education Programs by State

ESSA requires each state with Native American students to have a program in place. The standards describe the proficiency level descriptors and student expectations for Native American students. School districts are required to implement ELPS Native American programs as an integral part of each subject in the required curriculum.

Barriers to Tribally Controlled Schools

This October NIEA Factsheet states despite the flexibility provided within the law, the Tribally Controlled Schools Act of 1988, development and success of tribally controlled schools has become hampered by regulations and continuing resolutions that limit federal funding. As a result, tribally controlled schools struggle to fully serve Native students. This NIEA Factsheet explores professional development, funding, BIE School data, and how the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides states greater flexibility to create policies that meet the needs of Native American students.

Charter Schools for American Indians

This Chapter 11 "Charter Schools for American Indians", (pp. 132-151) of Learn in Beauty: Indigenous Education for a New Century by Brian Bielenberg, edited by Jon Reyhner, Joseph Martin, Louise Lockard, and W. Sakiestewa Gilbert. Copyright © 2000 by Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Arizona explores how charter schools are beneficial to American Indian students.

Tribal College: Journal of American Indian Higher Education

This website is the Summer 2018 edition of the Tribal College Journal of American Indian Higher Education.   There is a map of tribal colleges.  Dine College celebrates 50 years!

Tribal Colleges and Universities

This White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education website offers a map and full listing of existing Tribal Colleges and Universities in the United States and Canada. There is also a goal projection of Tribal Colleges and Universities in 2020.

*NEW* Forgotten Students: American Indian Students' Narrative on College Going

This 2004 UCLA Graduate Studies report by Amy Fann, prepared for the University of California Berkley Center for the Study of Higher Education, states there is an articulated need for higher education in Native American nations.  American Indian students have the highest dropout rates, the lowest academic performance rates, and the lowest college mission and retention rates in the nation.  As Tribal Nations cautiously look to colleges and universities to prepare tribal citizens for participating in nation building efforts that preserve the political and cultural integrity of their people, the college pipeline for American Indians has largely been unaddressed.

*New Video* How A Struggling School for Native Americans Doubled Its Graduation Rate (2017)

This 2017 video shares schools that serve Native American students have a history of failure. Fewer than a third of students scored above average on math and reading tests compared to peers nationwide, according to a study commissioned by the Bureau of Indian Education. In 2006, the Native American Community Academy (NACA) launched as a charter school in Albuquerque with the aim of increasing college enrollment in tribal communities, partly by incorporating Native culture into the curriculum. In 2016, over 90 percent of the graduating class was accepted into college. Now NACA founders are teaching others how to start charters with native leaders and curricula that reflect tribal cultures. The NACA-Inspired Schools Network (NISN) has opened six charters in New Mexico, including Kha'p'o Community School on the Santa Clara Reservation, a native community with failing schools and high crime rates.

First Nation Languages: Why We Need Them

This Manitoba First Nations Resource booklet for students and families explains why language based education requires support.

Investing in the Future: Native American Youth and Education

This Department of Education Homeroom 2013 blog describes the White House Tribal Nations Conference, whereas the United States was honored to co-host a session for tribal leaders from federally-recognized Indian tribes with my colleagues from eight federal agencies. The purpose was to listen, learn and share pathways to federal resources with the distinguished representatives of a wide range of tribal governments.  The context was improving education for the children of Indian Country.

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."

Native Students Do Better When Tribes Run Schools

In this 2018 opinion piece for BRIGHT magazine, NIEA Executive Director Ahniwake Rose highlights the innovative work being done by tribes to provide culturally-responsive classrooms and schools.

Public and Charter School Enrollments Remain Steady at 180,000 Students Statewide (Hawaii)

This Hawaii State Department of Education website offers an enrollment counting of public schools versus charters schools for the 2015-2016 school year.  Hawaii's public schools continued to enroll just over 180,000 students this year. The total enrollment for school year 2015-16 is 180,409 for the Hawaii State Department of Education's (HIDOE) 256 schools and 34 charter schools, compared with 180,895 in school year 2014-15, and 185,273 the year before that.?This year, HIDOE schools enrolled 169,987 students (down 495 from last year), and charter schools enrolled 10,422 (up 9 from last year); charter schools represent 5.8 percent of public school enrollment. 


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.