National Indian Education Association Names Cherokee Executive Director

The National Indian Education Association (NIEA) has selected Ahniwake Rose, Cherokee, as its new executive director. She will replace Dr. Gerald Gipp, who has served as NIEA’s Interim executive director since June.

Rose comes to NIEA with an array of experience in helping shape state and federal policy to meet the needs of Native American students and an ambitious agenda of continuing and expanding that work at the NIEA.

Raised in Owassa, Oklahoma, Rose and her family moved to Arizona where she earned her bachelor’s at Arizona State University, going on to receive a master’s from Ohio's Bowling Green State University. Her first post-graduate job was at the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona, where she helped the state coordinate its tobacco prevention efforts with the tribes.

Rose made her first foray into federal Indian education policy in 2003. The U.S. Department of Education hired her as a consultant to study "the intricacies of what No Child Left Behind Act was going to do to help or hinder Indian education." Her efforts created a national conference and a now-defunct-for-lack-of-funding website that offered resources to educators.

The job was complicated by the fact that "seeing differences in Indian country regarding educational efforts is difficult because most of the evidence is qualitative and most institutions are interested only in quantitative evidence," says Rose. Resolving that issue, which occurs repeatedly in creating educational policy for Native American students, is on her to-do list at NIEA. "We know Native American kids exposed to their own language and culture do better academically, but there is almost no quantitative data to support that. We need a five-year funding stream to show the link more sustainably over a longer period of time."

At the National Congress of American Indians, Rose led the organization's legislative and policymaking efforts on education and health, advocating tribal control and choice in education.

Rose's most pressing endeavor as she takes the helm at NIEA is to see that tribes have a meaningful say in writing Common Core state standards. The standards, a part of President Barack Obama's signature educational program, Race to the Top (RTTT), is a set of comprehensive benchmarks for K-12 students developed by states under the auspices of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers and released in 2010. States have the option of adopting the standards or not. States that do adopt the standards (and so far 45 states and three U.S. territories have) must revise their curricula to conform with the Common Core standards.

"Each state has 15 percent leeway (wiggle room) in writing its curriculum (the other 85 percent is taken up with the Common Core curriculum). NIEA's goal is that tribes have the opportunity to collaborate in writing that curriculum so that culturally appropriate teaching about reservations and [Native American] history is included," says Rose.

Tribes were not invited to participate in the writing of the Common Core standards. Nor were they eligible for any part of the first rounds of funding for Race to the Top or Early Learning. "Tribes were not included as constituents; nor were the Bureau of Indian Education or tribally-run schools. The states were not required to reach out to tribes and the state is not talking to the tribes, it doesn't facilitate a great relationship.

"Tribes should have been at the table from the very beginning. The last round of RTTT funding included tribes as consultants in the curriculum-development process. It's the first time we've even been talked to." It is a critical point for tribes, since some 90 percent of Native American students attend public schools.

Nonetheless, says Rose, some states are doing a good job of creating culturally-relevant curriculum for Native American students and of introducing all students to Native American history. Notable state efforts include Montana's Indian Education for All initiative, a K-12 initiative to close the achievement gap between Native American and other students by "integrating quality Indian Education for All content with rigorous, standards-based instruction in all curriculum areas," according to the state's website.

Another is Arizona, says Rose. Arizona's Mandatory Native American History Instruction requires that instruction on Native American history be incorporated into appropriate existing curricula. The Arizona Indian Education Act mandates consultations with the tribes on education, a yearly Native American education status report to the tribes, and technical assistance to schools and Indian nations to meet the educational needs of Native American pupils, including the development of culturally-appropriate resources. The Indian Education Exemption from Ethnic Studies Law specifically allows courses or classes for Native American pupils that are required to comply with federal law. "Tribes in Arizona did such a good job of working with the state," says Rose.

And Oklahoma is yet another. "Oklahoma's governor [Mary Fallin] has just appointed her tribal liaison," says Rose. Efforts in Alaska and Hawaii have also been exemplary. "Hawaii has some of the strongest programs for culturally-based education. They have developed best practices we can share."

Rose says NIEA will focus it Common Core curriculum efforts on "the 11 or 12 states with the largest number of Native American students in their public schools." Other goals include "working closely with tribes to make the link between the reservation, urban Indians and long-term growth in jobs to bring our future leaders back" to the reservation. NIEA will also offer more technical assistance to states to help them develop relationships with the tribes, again with the goal of fostering economic growth on reservations.

On federal legislation, Rose says that while there are bills in the House and Senate to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, "we're not likely to see any action on ESEA until after the election." President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney have both said education was one of their top five priorities, but "no one wants to make big changes in education until after elections because we don't know who the Secretary of Education will be. Besides, the House and Senate are focused on the budget and sequestration," the $1.2 trillion in mandatory budget cuts that will automatically go into effect January 2 unless Republicans and Democrats in Congress can come up with a budget compromise.

The Native CLASS Act (Native Culture, Language, and Access for Success in Schools Act) now before Congress, says Rose, was "written by and for Indian people. It's very important to get that passed."

NIEA is working with Indian Head Start on Head Start Act budget and appropriations for Indian students. "It's easier to get the language written," says Rose, "but getting the funding appropriated is very hard."

Rose has her work cut out for her as she works to improve education for Native American students in an environment of budgetary constraints on both the state and federal levels, but on a lighter note, she says she is looking forward to the NIEA 2012 43rd Annual Convention and Trade Show: Native Education: Maintaining Traditions in a Digital Age, scheduled for October 18-21 in Oklahoma City.