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Public Charter Schools Offer Option to Native American Students
posted by: Cindy Omlin | August 01, 2012, 05:15 PM   


According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, there are a total of 566 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and villages. The students of these communities are educated in a range of urban and rural settings and student performance is traditionally tracked as much lower than their peers. In an effort to improve academic outcomes and maintain ties to Native culture and language, the flexible environments of public charter schools are considered the key to success for these students.

The achievement gap for our Native American population is staggering. The 2011 National Indian Education Study, published in July 2012 by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), reported little progress overall and a widening gap in certain areas among Native students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exams. In order to close these gaps, researchers assert that tapping into the strengths of Native language and culture show potential as means to bolster Native students' engagement in school and improve overall learning.

The ability to customize curriculum in charter schools offers a new opportunity to realize the goals of unique Native communities, according to Arizona State University Professor John Tippeconnic. "Charter schools provide that opportunity for local communities, local tribes to focus on who they are, to make education relevant to the students," Tippeconnic said. "It's addressed rather than ignored, like we see in many public schools. It's just pushed out. There is no time for it."

Dawn M. Mackety, the National Indian Education Association (NIEA) Director of Research, Data, and Policy, concluded that charter schools offer flexibility to test new models involving Native language immersion and culture-based education. "In these charter settings, there is often a much greater ability to integrate Native language and culture throughout the school culture and curriculum," she said. "We want to understand how that's working."

Mackety indicated that the NIEA wants to identify high-performing charter schools serving Native students, develop a forum for exchanging information, and share best practices in all public schools serving Native students. "Our Native students move back and forth between these charter schools and [Bureau of Indian Education] schools and the public school system," Mackety said. "We also want to understand the risks and challenges of charters serving Native students so we can identify support resources and technical assistance that they need, and help leverage partners to help provide it."

While challenges exist and creating a successful school environment is complex, experts are in agreement that by connecting to a student's unique culture, language, and heritage, schools can achieve results. Students are more likely to take an interest in school and their overall performance will improve significantly.

What do you think about these Native American charter schools? Do you think that flexibility is a critical component of student achievement?
Comment below.

Originally posted by Alix at AAE.

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