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.


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.

Task 5: Identify and Serve Special Needs American Indian Students

Guideline: American Indian students are sometimes misidentified as special education students and are over-represented in special education programs. This misidentification can result from a variety of factors, including not speaking Standard English, having hearing losses (especially from otitis-media), or coming from homes that lacked intellectual stimulation, such as being read to as preschoolers. Educators need to be aware of such circumstances that could impact a native student's performance in school.

*NEW* BIEDPA Special Education Monthly Technical Assistance Call

The BIEDPA Special Education is dedicated to improving results for students with Disabilities. Starting in March 2018, the Bureau of Indian Education are starting monthly TA calls and are inviting ADD staff, ERC staff, school staff, related service providers, parents of children with disabilities to join us for our monthly TA calls that will provide information on relevant special education topics and activities.

*NEW* Native American Parent's Guide to Special Education

This Native American Disability Law Center's pamphlet, 'Parent's Guide to Special Education', offers legislation and educational policies from a national perspective, as well as New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona.

*NEW* Assistance for Indian Children with Severe Disabilties

The purpose of the program is to provide special education and related services to Native American children with severe disabilities, in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  In order to qualify for this benefit program, you must be a Native American/American Indian, your child(ren) must have a disability, and you or your family member must be enrolled in a Federally recognized American Indian tribe or Alaska Native village.

*NEW* Understanding Disabilities in American Indian and Alaska Native Communities: Toolkit Guide

The four symbols on the cover of the Toolkit Guide were chosen to represent the spectrum of disabilities, whether visible or hidden, that may be experienced by individuals in the American Indian and Alaska Native community. The universal meaning of each symbol is described in the captions below along with the meaning of the symbol as it is used in this Toolkit specifically.

*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* Special Education for Indigenous Student

This Indigenous Bilingual Education article uses 2006 U.S. Census Data to explore the level of special needs educational support American Indian and Alaskan Native students receive.

Issues in the Education of American Indian and Alaska Native Students with Disabilities

This 2000 ERIC Digest presents suggestions for educating American Indian and Alaska Native students with disabilities. Issues include preparation and recruitment of special educators and related service providers, the rights and responsibilities of parents, development and use of culturally and linguistically appropriate assessments, and education in the least restrictive environment.

School Culture and American Indian Educational Outcomes

This February 2014 publication by Dr. Donna Martinez explores how American Indians have the lowest educational attainment rates of any group in the United States. Researchers have attributed this educational disparity gap that American Indians experience to the lack of cultural relevance in mainstream educational settings. American Indian students perceive a cultural bias against them in classroom curriculum as well as pedagogical practices. While some states have passed legislation to support teaching about American Indians, no funding to support culturally relevant curriculum changes or teacher training accompany these measures. Successful American Indian college students learn how to develop a strong academic identity, while retaining strong cultural ties. A continuing educational gap in access to higher education, in a knowledge-based economy affects the socio-economic status of families and tribes. Incorporating tribal values into mainstream schools would not only educational connections for American Indian students, but can also enhance the learning environment for all students.

Using Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Assessments To Ensure that American Indian and Alaska Native Students Receive the Special Education Programs and Services They Need

This 2002 ERIC Digest emphasizes the need for evaluators to develop and use culturally and linguistically appropriate assessments to ensure that American Indian and Alaska Native students receive appropriate educational services and calls for the use of multiple assessments.

*NEW Video* Restructuring Schools to Nurture Native American Students

The high school graduation rate for Native Americans is the lowest of any ethnic or racial group in the United States. How can the government assist reservation schools while respecting autonomy of tribes? In this 2014 PBS 'News Hour" television program, Judy Woodruff talks to Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, about a series of initiatives announced by President Obama on how to undo deep-seated education challenges for Native American Indians.

Urban Rez (VIDEO)

In 2013, Rocky Mountain PBS presented "Urban Rez," a nationally distributed documentary exploring the lasting legacy and modern-day effects of the Voluntary Relocation Program and policies that encouraged American Indians to leave their homelands and relocate to urban areas across the country from 1952 to 1973.  Additional videos include: the BIA, Spirituality, Language Loss, Education, Culture, Community vs Individual, and Boarding Schools.

*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.

*NEW* American Indian Kids with Disabilities

In school year 2013–14, the percentage of children and youth served under IDEA was highest for American Indians/Alaska Natives - 17 percent. Among children and youth that received services, the 10 percent of American Indians/Alaska Natives who received services for developmental delay under IDEA were higher than the 6 percent of children overall. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES 2016).

*NEW* Native Americans with Disabilities Don't Get Services

This 2003 NEA (National Education Association) article dates the National Council on Disability (NCD) has released a new report that documents that American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) with disabilities living in tribal lands are not receiving the services to which they are entitled.  The report, "People with Disabilities on Tribal Lands: Education, Health Care, Vocational Rehabilitation, and Independent Living,"  reflects the results of a project that was developed and guided to completion in collaboration with AI/AN representatives of people with disabilities, their families, and tribal leaders

*NEW* Too Many Native Kids Dumped in Special Ed

This April 2016 Indian Country Today article by Tanya Lee focuses on if you are an American Indian/Alaska Native student, you are more likely than your peers to be identified as a special needs student. If you are a special needs student, you are likely to see more of the principal than your non-disabled peers will. If you are a disabled student of color, particularly AI/AN or African American, you are likely to see a lot more of the principal.  The article also states the Federal government moves against long-standing race-based disparities in special needs and ability- and race-based inequities in school discipline.  A 2014 report, “School Discipline, Restraint, & Seclusion,” released by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, found that in the nation’s public schools, more than twice as many students with disabilities received out-of-school suspensions (13 percent) than did non-disabled students (6 percent).


How America Is Failing Native American Students

In this July 2017 article in The Nation, author Rebecca Clarren shows how punitive discipline, inadequate curriculum, and declining federal funding created an education crisis.