Looking for right kind of progress on NCLB

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WASHINGTON – Native educators in 2008 continued to make their Indian-focused education priorities under the No Child Left Behind Act known to policymakers.

NCLB, signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2001, has never been particularly popular amongst the Indian education community at large. The law focused largely on accountability and testing, and many Native education experts have felt it ignored the importance of Indian-focused teaching and learning methodologies altogether.

In March, Quinton Roman Nose, a board member of NIEA, told ICT that many tribal communities have questioned whether applying strong Euro-centric academic pressures to young children is really best for Indian students.

With talk of NCLB congressional reauthorization in the air, Roman Nose said that his organization has worked hard to get non-Indian educators to understand that the policies of NCLB may not always work best for helping Indian students succeed.

“Here’s a solution,” he said. “If the No Child Left Behind Act is reauthorized, they need to designate tribes in the same way the act currently recognizes the importance of localities and states in developing public education models.” In that way, tribes would have more control over developing standards to help Indian students.

“The problem is, we don’t have the money to develop the idea,” he said. “But I think it could happen.”

Roman Nose noted there are already some models for helping diverse groups of American Indian students feel more comfortable in their schools. He mentioned Montana’s “Indian for All” education program as one such avenue that he’d like to see tried in Oklahoma, his home state. The idea behind “Indian for All” is that uniquely Native concepts, such as tribal sovereignty, should be included in the overall public school curriculum so that both Indian and non-Indian students are aware of such policies.

Willard Sakiestewa Gilbert, president of the NIEA, told ICT in an August interview that the organization has been working on getting the importance of language and culture recognized within the reauthorization of NCLB.

“We’ve been pushing very hard in this area to get this included,” Gilbert said. “We feel that it makes an impact for our students, based on more and more research that’s coming out. …”

Gilbert also believes that a reauthorized NCLB should include a call for reporting of data in such a way that meaningful comparisons among and across subgroups can be made.

Going back to 2005, the NIEA took part in legislative hearings regarding NCLB. The process yielded legislative language and recommendations that got results at the time and still have political traction in Congress, Lillian Sparks, executive director of the organization, told ICT this fall.

At the November NIEA convention, David Gipp, president of United Tribes Technical College, called for Congress and the new administration to revamp the No Child Left Behind law to provide more support and money for Indian schools in “critical areas where we know our children have not done well.”

Indian educators have expressed some enthusiasm for President-elect Barack Obama’s take on NCLB. During his campaign for president, he proposed properly funding the law in addition to providing more specific support for early learning programs and for developing, rewarding and retaining the highest-quality teaching professionals and increasing support for early education.

Saying that “equity and access issues are intertwined,” an education advisor to Obama told the NIEA in July that the then-candidate for president has a desire to focus on teacher education programs in schools, which he believes can lead to more accountability and more professionalized preparation.

For Obama, the advisor said, the development of good educational policy involves listening carefully to different perspectives, examining the data and looking at what is working.