WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Education has awarded approximately $3.8 million to 11 colleges to strengthen professional development programs that will ultimately assist American Indian students.
Department officials said the administration of President Barack Obama is strongly supportive of such programs, since research has shown them to enhance the ability of educational professionals to deliver quality teaching methods to all students.
Arne Duncan, Obama’s education secretary, said the new grants are intended to help find, train and retain the best teachers and administrators within American Indian communities.
“The grants represent opportunity, both for teachers and their students,” Duncan said.
The commitment aligns with Obama’s presidential campaign promises involving Indian education.
A full list of grantees and grant amounts
When Obama was campaigning for president last summer, his education policy advisers told members of the National Indian Education Association that their candidate was dedicated to developing, retaining and rewarding a high-quality teaching force that would serve in hard-to-staff areas, including Indian reservations and rural school districts.
The advisers highlighted planned policies that would provide full scholarships at both undergraduate and graduate levels for teachers willing to make a four-year commitment to teaching in areas including reservations.
After hearing the Obama campaign’s plans, Lillian Sparks, NIEA executive director, said the organization has long been supportive of efforts to bolster professional development programs to aid Indian students.
On top of that, Sparks said, the organization continues to push for federal support to promote language and culturally based education for Native students, as research has shown such efforts to have positive effects. The Obama administration has yet to strongly focus on that area.
Gregg Wiggins, a spokesman for the Department of Education, explained that the colleges selected were shown to already have a strong commitment to educating American Indian students.
“They tend to be in areas with high concentrations of Indian students. The grants come with the expectation that [the colleges] will strengthen and increase their ability to educate Indian students.”
The colleges are also expected to keep track of their progress, Wiggins said.
Some of the institutions that have been awarded grants are tribal colleges, including Fort Belknap College and Salish Kootenai College in Montana, as well as Oglala Lakota College and Sinte Gleska University in South Dakota. The majority are state universities in rural areas.
Officials with the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, a group that represents the nation’s tribal colleges and universities, said professional development funding has long been necessary, as most tribal colleges are located in remote regions – a situation that often makes it difficult to attract the best educators.
The grants are part of the Office of Indian Education’s Professional Development program, which trains qualified individuals to become teachers and administrators in Indian communities.
The mission of the office is to support the efforts of local educational agencies, Indian tribes and organizations, postsecondary institutions, and other entities to meet the unique educational and cultural academic needs of American Indians and Alaska Native students.
More information about Indian education is available from the Office of Indian Education.