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 4: Summarize Snapshot Findings

Guideline: Summarizing the data collection tasks accomplished under Activity 1 will give a measurement of a school's performance as it relates to the school's native students by comparing to juxtapose 2nd content and pedagogy. Educators should focus on:

  • assessing Native student academic achievement results with that of other student populations within the school;
  • assessing how the curriculum and instructional content and methods support the academic needs of the Native students;
  • assessing the professional development needs of the staff regarding American Indian education; and
  • identifying the school staff's awareness level about the local American Indian tribe(s).

Analyzing Program Needs and Setting Goals

This tool is useful for recording the results of data collection with the goal of identifying the school's strengths and needs, and proposing the core goals. It is suggested that a different analysis sheet be completed for each focus area studied.      Alternate format: PDF

Buried Treasure: Developing a Management Guide From Mountains of School Data

This document, Buried Treasure: Developing a Management Guide From Mountains of School Data, uses a story form to illustrate the use of a set of key indicators as a management guide for a fictional school board and superintendent. The story is provided as an illustrative example of using school data. The story is the result of work on how to structure and organize a group of key performance indicators as a management guide for local educators. It was developed by The Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington's Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs under a grant from the Wallace Foundation.

*NEW* Education of Native Americans (2018)

This April 2018 edition of 'Native Youth Magazine', explores the myriad of issues surrounding Native American Education.  Recent statistics from the Bureau of Indian Affairs have noted that between 29% and 36% of all Native American students drop out of high school. They mostly drop out between the 7th and 12th grades. These numbers are even higher in areas where parents of Native American children complain of a major lack in understanding of native culture.  In order to turn the tide on these statistics, a number of educational programs have been bolstered to provide even greater opportunities for Native American students. The federal government has created specialty internship and school scholarship programs that it hopes will help Native American youth succeed. Also, many schools have begun to take native culture more seriously

*NEW* Characteristics of American Indian and Alaska Native Education - NCES

American Indian and Alaska Native students comprise approximately 1 percent of the total student population in the United States. Consequently, these students, and the schools and staff that serve them, are rarely represented in sufficient numbers in national education studies to permit reliable and valid generalizations about their characteristics. Additionally, because of tribal and linguistic diversity, geographic dispersion, and preponderence in remote rural areas, researchers have found it too costly to add supplemental samples of Indian schools and students to other data collection programs. However, during the 1990-91 and 1993-94 school years, the (NCES) of the U.S. Department of Education added and Indian education supplement to the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) data collection program that enabled education researchers and policymakers to describe the schools, principals, and teachers serving Indian students. The data collected by SASS are both national in scope and comparable to data gathered concurrently on U.S. schools in general.

*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* Native American Students Face Ongoing Crises in Education

This September 2017 Indian Country Today article details the crisis Native American students face as racially and culturally insensitive and incompetent educators continue to be a problem.  American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) graduation rates have been on a downward trend since 2008 and analysis of the socio-economic reasons driving it is ongoing. As The Nation recently found, “Punitive discipline, inadequate curriculum, and declining federal funding created an education crisis.”  This is even more complicated when disabilities are involved. Some of the most troubling issues for misunderstood Native American students involve “Childhood and Developmental Disorders” including learning disabilities, Autism, and ADHD whether formally diagnosed or presumed on the part of educators due to entrenched ableist beliefs rooted in racist stereotypes about Native American students being “unintelligent.” The same institutional racism that sees disabilities in Natives underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed, drives Special Education being disproportionately used as a form of discipline against students of color, whether they are actually disabled or not, for “behavioral issues.”  Despite this, Native American students are still disproportionately disciplined more than most other racial groups with a dropout rate twice the national average. They represent less than 1 percent of the student population, but 2 percent of out-of-school suspensions and 3 percent of expulsions.

*NEW* The Miseducation of Native American Students

This November 2016 Education Weekly article sheds lights on the thought that Autumn, the beginning of the school year, is the cruelest season for Native American students in the United States. Between sports games where entire crowds chant about "redskins" and other school mascots and the federal holiday of the Indian-killing mercenary Christopher Columbus, there is the misguided national celebration of "Thanksgiving" to mark the arrival of the religious Europeans, who set the stage for Native American genocide.   As November's recognition of Native American Heritage Month ends, educators should resist the urge to regurgitate the usual narrative and instead discuss the reality of life, historical and current, for the more than 600,000 Native American students in our nation's K-12 public schools.  The author wants educators to be aware of how these Native American stereotypes affect all children in schools today. Internalizing harmful images most acutely damages Native children, but absorbing racist and dehumanizing ideas about fellow classmates also diminishes the understanding and compassion of non-Native children, warping their conception of a history that often erases Native Americans altogether.  While distortions and myths of Native American culture plague many schools, textbooks often fail to mention Native history after the 19th century. In a 2015 study, scholars Antonio Castro, Ryan Knowles, Sarah Shear, and Gregory Soden examined the state standards for teaching Native American history and culture in all 50 states and found that 87 percent of references to American Indians are in a pre-1900s context. (Washington is the only state in the union that uses the word "genocide" in its 5th grade U.S. history standards and teaching of Native peoples' history.) In short, existing Native nations and land bases aren't identified, and Native people are dealt with as historical figures, implying their extinction.

*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.

*NEW* Where American Indian Students Go to School: Enrollment in Seven Central Region States (2016)

This 2016 report provides descriptive information about the location and native language use of schools in the REL Central Region with high enrollment of American Indian students, whether Bureau of Indian Education schools or non–Bureau of Indian Education high-density American Indian schools (schools with 25 percent or more American Indian student enrollment). Of the 208 schools with high American Indian student enrollment (33 BIE and 173 HDAI schools), 83% are located in the region’s rural areas. The schools located in counties with the highest concentration of Native North American language speakers are in South Dakota, Wyoming, and Colorado.

*NEW video* Native Education Groups Improving the Graduation Rates

This September 2013 video states for many Native Americans, a higher education can seem an impossible goal, especially if they are struggling to overcome major obstacles like poverty or isolation. However, nonprofits like American Indian Student Support Services, at Arizona State University, help students find their way to college. The program has improved graduation rates at ASU, with nearly three-quarters of all program participants graduating and going on to successful careers. The program travels to Native American communities and encourages and supports young people with dreams of attaining a higher education.

*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* Bringing Visibility to the Needs and Interests of Indigenous Students: Implications for Research, Policy, and Practice

With support from Lumina Foundation in 2017, the Association for the Study of Higher Education and the National Institute for Transformation and Equity are excited to launch a collection of national papers on critical underserved populations in postsecondary education.  With photos from the University of Oklahoma American Indian Programs and Services, this report brings visibility to what is currently known about American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians in U.S. higher education. The authors made efforts in particular to highlight what is known that contributes to or hinders their postsecondary access and success. In the end, several recommendations for further research are provided for more equitable policy and practice.

*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* From Where the Sun Rises: Addressing the Educational Achievement of Native Americans in Washington State (2008)

This extensive 2008 Native American Achievement Gap Study and Report submitted by The People in Washington State to the Washington Legislature may someday be remembered as one of the last plans that was published before sweeping changes were fully integrated into our educational systems to support all children.  The outcomes, graduation rates, high achievement rates, truancy data and test scores: those are real outcomes too, and we do need to work to improve those outcomes for Native youth. But those outcomes literally mean nothing to the collective Native community if the child has no knowledge of Native language, culture, and history. This achievement gap is merely a symptom of an entire system that needs deep evolution. We all want this achievement gap to close. We all want to see consistencies among the variety of people and cultures in WASL scores, graduation rates and college graduations. But we will not make significant changes to these, 'concrete indicators', unless a much deeper system change occurs.

*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.

*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.

Native Youth Are More Than Statistics (Video)

In this 2016 TEDx video, Elyssa (Sierra) Concha, who is Lakota, Ojibwa, Taos Pueblo, and a Education graduate of Black Hills State University, walks us through the most commonly told statistics that often are used to define Native American communities.  She also describes her personal experiences that bring the statistics to life. Through her open and honest storytelling, Elyssa shares a message for Native Youth and shares the world that is full of hope and promise for the future generations.



*NEW* A Native American Response: Why Do Colleges and Universities Fail the Minority Challenge?

This October 2006 paper is meant to challenge colleges and universities to improve recruitment and graduation rates for Native American Indian (i.e. American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Native Hawaiian), students and to provide research and policy recommendations for state and federal programs.  These students are the least likely to attend and complete a university education. 

*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* Certificates and Degrees Conferred By Race/Ethnicity (2016)

This report compares and contrasts the degrees conferred from 2005 to 2015. During this time, the number of degrees conferred increased across all degree levels for all racial/ethnic groups, except for American Indian/Alaska Native students. The number of bachelors, masters, and doctorate degrees awarded to American Indian/Alaska Native students fluctuated between 2004-05 and 2014-15.

*NEW* PNPI Factsheets: Native American Students (2017)

This September 2017 PNPI (Postsecondary National Policy Institute) website, a non-profit funded by Bill and Melissa Gates, presents this Factsheet about Native American Students. This factsheet explores that because Native Americans (both American Indians and Alaska Natives) comprise only 1% of the U.S. undergraduate population and less than 1% of the graduate population, these students are often left out of postsecondary research and data reporting due to small sample size. What data is available indicates that only 10% of Native Americans attain bachelor’s degrees and only 17% attain associate’s degrees, making the case for a system that is more responsive to the specific needs of these students.

*NEW* Why Aren't We Talking About Native American Students? (2017)

This February 2017 Education Weekly article authored by Ahniwake Rose, who is the Executive Director of the Washington-based Native Indian Education Association (NIEA), outlines the challenges facing Native students in America today are known, although hardly ever discussed outside of Native communities. According to national statistics, Native American students are more likely to be labeled as having special needs and experience higher rates of suspension and expulsion than white students. Just 67 percent of Native students graduate from high school—a figure well below the national average.  To get there, we need committed partners who understand that traditional knowledge and culture-based education are key to producing engaged, successful learners. And we need partners who understand that tribes and Native communities must not only have a voice, they must lead the way.

Cherokee Tony Dearman Testimony on Sequoya High School (2017)

This report recounts the testimony given by Cherokee Tony Dearman, who was also the Director of the Bureau of Indian Education. Dearman states, "Today, Sequoyah High School is a first preference among Native students.  In fact, more than 60 students who attended Sequoyah High School have gone on to receive Gates Millennium Scholarships over the past 15 years." 

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.