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 2: Explore the relationship between Tribal Immersion Charter Schools and Other Charter Schools

Guideline: American Indian students as a group continue to have test scores below national averages in the United States. American Indian charter and language immersion schools are providing alternative ways to educate American Indian students that show promise of improving the quality of their education.

State and Federal Policy: Native American Youth

This 2016 policy report states only 8 percent of native students attend federally run schools through the Bureau of Indian Education, while the remaining 92 percent attend public schools. The Every Student Succeeds Act, (ESSA), provides new opportunities for states to consider when enacting legislation affecting Native students. This report provides an overview of the major education issues the Native student population faces and the current policies that exist to address those issues at the State and Federal levels.

Choice Innvation in Native Education

This 2017 NIEA website states despite limited resources, tribal governments and Native communities are innovating to create Native education programs that fulfill the unique needs of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students.  This NIEA site also offers the  current landscape of Native American schools including: public, BIE-funded, Tribally-Controlled, BIE-operated, Native Charter, and Native Language Immersion schools. A 2017 map shows the location of each type of school choice in Native Communities.  Additional topics include: Funding Opportunities For School Choice, Challenges to Choice in Rural Education, and Opportunities for School Choice.

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.

Native American Language Immersion: Innovative Native Education

This report is a project of the American Indian College Fund and written by Janine Pease-Pretty On Top with the introduction by Richard Littlebear with research supported by the W.K.Kellogg  Foundation of Battle Creek, Michigan. The focus of this study is of a people’s initiative, Native American language immersion encompasses educational practices and social development that lie outside the mainstream language teaching, education, and socializing methods of American children.

Partnerships Between Tribal Education Deparments and Local Education Agencies (LEAs)

This 2012 study examines nine voluntary working relationships or partnerships between tribal education departments and local education agencies supporting American Indian students. Individual profiles describe how each partnership works, focusing primarily on collaborative activities intended to improve education outcomes for American Indian students.

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.

First Nation Languages and Improving Student Outcomes

This 2014 paper reviews current language research to examine whether being taught language immersion or Indigenous languages facilitates the development and cognitive abilities, including mental flexibility, abstract thinking, and problem solving.


This 2009 NIEA document states nationally American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) populations are in the midst of a type 2 diabetes epidemic. Once considered an adult disease, type 2 diabetes is being diagnosed more and more often among AI/AN children. Collaborative partners developed DETS Curriculum: Health Is Life in Balance for K-12 students with the goal of: (1) Increasing the understanding of health, diabetes, and maintaining life in balance among AI/AN students, (2) Increasing AI/AN parents' understanding application of scientific, traditional and community knowledge, and (3) Increase interest in science and health professions among AI/AN youth.

Native American History Is Often Overlooked In Schools. One State Is Trying To Change That

This 2017 Huffington Post article focuses Christine Ayers, a non-native American teacher in Montana who is teaches her fourth-grade class about numbers and math, she uses examples involving beadwork from the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. When she talks to her classroom about poetry and character education, she reads traditional native stories, which she says generally “teach a lesson.”

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.