United Tribes News Speech Archives
David M. Gipp, President
United Tribes Technical College
P-16 Task Force
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
The mission of the P-16 Task Force states that "the P-16 Education Task Force is committed to involving all essential stakeholders in an open, honest, and respectful dialogue that will result in bold action to create the best possible, rigorous, seamless, uniform, efficient, and measurable education system for all students in North Dakota".
Into this open, honest and respectful dialogue, we would like to call to the forefront a significant population that we believe has been overlooked - American Indian students. In order to reach the ambitious goal set by the P-16 Task Force and create a superior education system in the State, it will be important to deliberately and methodically address the populations for which education systems have been problematic. While "major issues and concerns of Native people" has been listed as a potential future agenda item, the impact of the issues and concerns of the American Indian student population will require more attention.
Since the inception of formalized education for American Indians, there has been a clear and consistent tension between the educational system utilized by mainstream education and the response of American Indian students, educators, parents/caregivers and scholars to that system. This tension has played a significant role in the "success" and/or "failure" of American Indian students and schools. This tension has also become more critical given the rising number of American Indian students in the State's public school systems and the mandates provided for under the "No Child Left Behind" Act.
Issues of American Indian Stakeholders
The State of North Dakota has grappled with the issue of declining overall population, the aging of the state population and the out migration of North Dakota youth for some time. As U.S. Census statistics illustrate, however, the Tribal populations of the state have not followed the same pattern.
As the fastest growing population in North Dakota, American Indian youth represent a significant stakeholder in education in the State. According to the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, American Indian students represent nearly 10% of North Dakota's K-12 school population although the entire American Indian population is half of that number. Nearly one-third of these students (29%) are enrolled in schools located in urban, rural, non-public or parochial schools in North Dakota. In addition, statistics also show that, while the overall elementary and secondary enrollments have declined in the state, the American Indian elementary and secondary enrollments have steadily increased since 1988. Clearly, the American Indian student population must be factored into the future of the State.
American Indian students will be a critical part of the future workforce of North Dakota. Statistics support the assertion that most American Indian populations in the State of North Dakota, while migratory in some ways, will tend to remain in the State. Thus, these students will constitute a critical portion of the emerging workforce in North Dakota. It is important that the P-16 Committee address the needs and issues of this population in their important work.
In addition, while the five Tribes in North Dakota have been major employers of non-Native populations in the State for many years, they have increasingly become major employers through their individual gaming operations and other enterprises. The needs of these employers must also be taken into consideration. For Tribes, one identified critical need is for a trained workforce that can work effectively in cross-cultural and multi-cultural environments. The commitment of the P-16 Task Force should therefore extend to directly addressing specific issues related to American Indian students, graduates, schools with significant Indian populations and Tribal workforce professionals.
Issues of Driving Force
One of the major concepts this committee should define is who is the "we" to whom the committee is referring when making statements such as "what we need in our schools is.". Is there a difference in how the private sector describes workforce needs and challenges that postsecondary institutions view? Is our goal to create students who are good workers or lifelong learners? How do we ensure that these goals are not mutually exclusive?
An open, honest and respectful dialogue must occur as to how the committee might effectively address the collective perspective of "we" in the P-16 Task Force. The committee currently consists of employers and certain representatives of business and workforce. It would be beneficial to add the perspectives of parents/caregivers, students, the Tribes of North Dakota, teachers and other key stakeholders. The comprehensive changes that may occur as a result of these Task Force efforts will be either hindered or assisted based on stakeholder accord. Whoever drives the process will make a phenomenal difference in the ultimate outcomes.
Issues of Values
A globally competitive workforce is a workforce that has not only technical skills but also is prepared to interact in a highly diverse world. Thus, there must be a mechanism created for addressing some of the elements of the P-16 Task Force's stated values and current practice and goals. For example, the values state an "appreciation of diversity", "thinking in non-traditional ways" and "working together for the benefit of all", yet the issue of examining the issue of diversity ranked dead-last in the committee's priorities.
To be more specific, one of the primary skills noted for globally competitive workforce is to be bi-lingual yet there has been discussion to curtail foreign language requirements, which include the provision for traditional Native languages. The need to define the skills of a globally competitive workforce is an important first step in determining how to modify the State's education system to attain that goal.
The following are some of the issues that may need to be kept in mind when discussing issues of impact for Tribal populations:
Different standards and expectations between K-12 and Higher Education
- How do Tribal Colleges fit into this proposed seamless system?
- Are the offerings specific to Tribal schools ensured the same credit as their counterpart courses in non-Tribal schools?
- Characteristics of schools that are successfully serving American Indian students include an early focus on language development and use of culturally-based education (CBE). These strategies must be taken into consideration when addressing issues of American Indian student success. Can these findings be operationalized within the developing structure?
Recruiting and retaining quality teachers for all students
- When we speak of qualified teachers, we must be careful to include the need for teachers who are not only competent in the technical material but are also culturally competent and can work with diversity in students. We have seen instances in which teachers can teach to a diverse student but cannot affirm that diversity. This is a critical aspect of creating success in a diverse student population. What is the definition of quality teachers? Does it include the skill of cultural competency and the ability to affirm culture in the classroom?
- What are the mechanisms for small schools to attract and retain these teachers?
Education of parents and the public to support the education system, develop capacity for change, identify needs and gaps and address passivity. Involve all stakeholders.
- Many American Indian parents have had poor school experiences. It may be necessary to make further provisions for inclusion of this group of stakeholders. Their input and cooperation must be pro-actively sought.
- Technology infrastructure is a long-standing need for Indian country and for Tribes. How is this need being addressed for American Indian students who are located in school in or around Tribal homelands?
- It is important to develop resources for teachers who wish to integrate American Indian subjects into lesson plans. The dearth of information on American Indian tribal groups is less because of reluctance of individual teachers and more because of the lack of resources for teachers in accessing materials and affirming their use of them. A conscious effort to provide these materials must be undertaken.
Help students make better choices, providing better guidance and counseling
- What are the provisions for guidance counselors and other counselors to know and understand the unique issue affecting American Indian students (e.g. historical trauma and grief, community ties, issues of endemic poverty)?
- In looking at the number of American Indian students utilizing alternative school models, it is apparent that there are student needs that are not currently being met by mainstream and traditional K-12 systems. More in-depth research needs to be done in this regard in order to facilitate appropriate improvements.
- Pre-K learning opportunities are critical for American Indian youth. Many times, the demands of poverty or near-poverty situations make it difficult for parents to spend quality reading time with their children. Formal support systems must be developed and maintained in order to help parents build strong foundations for their children.
Comprehensive collection of usable data/planning information - better measurement of what is happening and why and developing new ways to address the reasons for negative changes
- American Indian populations have long been migratory in nature. This is still true today as many American Indian families follow jobs, potential employment, or educational opportunities. This impacts American Indian students to a great degree and we have heard anecdotal evidence of this phenomenon. However, there is not enough current data or connection of data systems that allows us to gain a comprehensive picture of this issue.
- Funding equity issues are long-standing and must be addressed.
- There are resource guides for learning about the Tribal Nations within North Dakota that were created under the former Office of Indian Education at the Department of Public Instruction. These guides, while tribally-approved and developed through a rigorous process, have never been fully implemented in the school systems. This is largely because of the lack of resources for follow-up activities and implementation.
- Similarly, REACH (Respecting Ethnic and Cultural Heritage) training has never been fully implemented in school systems.
Demographic changes and economies of scale
- As stated previously, the scope of American Indian student populations is on the rise. The demographic changes occurring in the State create a need to integrate the needs of this population into the future of the surrounding State. The needs and goals of the P-16 committee should reflect also the needs of the Tribes, both as employers and as governments.
- The efficient use of federally-funded programs (e.g. Title programs) should be examined more closely as the demographic changes increase the need for services.
Assuring and measuring subject mastery
- Some limited research has indicated that American Indian students, as well as other diverse student populations, find more success when afforded optional avenues for measuring subject mastery (e.g. portfolios, group learning projects, etc.). Is this option provided for in the discussions? Is their flexibility within systems to provide for these alternative processes?
Tracking/common student identifier/portfolio/links to services
- It is essential for non-Tribal and other public schools to partner with Tribes in this regard. American Indian students often have 'gaps' in their educational career because of the necessity of moving from urban area to Tribal homelands area and back again.
Need for life-long learning and addressing under-employment
- Life-long learning is an integral part of the American Indian concept of education. This factor can be effectively incorporated into processes that motivate American Indian students and facilitate success.
Grading system and valuation
- Great care must be taken in discussing issues of evaluation and testing with American Indian students. Statistics have already shown that adequate yearly progress (AYP) is not met for many, if not most, schools with large percentages of minority and low-income students. A critical issue to address is the validity of standards-based assessments that may measure socio-economic status rather than what is taught or learned in the classroom. Instead, student assessment for minority students - American Indian students included - should be classroom-based assessments that can be used for monitoring student progress, based on the curriculum and provide information on improved performance.
Potential restructuring of the entire education system and governance
- The need for an Office of Indian Education or other such position has been articulated by Tribal leaders since the elimination of this position within the Department of Public Instruction. The need for a position or positions to specifically address American Indian educational issues continues to be a critical one.
Improved retention and graduation rates at all levels
- The retention and graduation rates of American Indian students have historically been lower than those of their non-Native counterparts. Improving these rates will require special attention to this population in order to increase retention and graduation rates overall.
Examining the issues of diversity at all levels
- For many American Indian students, the issues of diversity go beyond their racial category of American Indian. There is also their political diversity in that they are Tribal citizens as well as North Dakota citizens. There may also be low-income as well as American Indian. They may also have a physical or learning disability as well as being American Indian. These states of "dual diversity" will create additional emphasis for issues of which we should be aware.
- United Tribes Technical College is currently working cooperatively with other institutions of higher education to increase the number of American Indian teachers with advanced degrees and school administration-focused degrees. The State should make a concerted effort at recruiting and retaining these teachers within the educational system workforce.
Issues of Diversity
There is some concern that using the terms accountability measures, uniform systems, alignment and others similar may stifle creativity in providing education for a diverse student population. Diversity in North Dakota extends far beyond color or race. There are also students who are immigrant, students with disabilities, students who are low-income and students who are "other". How do we specifically address the needs of these students who do not conform to the mainstream standards? What are the alternatives and are we making provisions to include them effectively in discussions? How are the P-16 education tracks coming together to address standards while maintaining flexibility to meet different factors? The term "educational ladder" has been used to describe the intent to create a mechanism for student advancement. We prefer the term "educational lattice", which acknowledges that students should have options for advancing that do not fit the traditional upward climb.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Given the information presented here, it is critical that the P-16 Task Force begin to take proactive steps to address the interests, concerns and challenges of a significant constituent population in the State. Thus, we would make the following recommendations and strongly suggest their immediate adoption:
- The P-16 Task Force should actively seek knowledgeable input from American Indian professionals and educators by dedicating at least ½ hour to discussion of these issues at every meeting of the P-16 Task Force.
- The P-16 Task Force should begin this process through the inclusion of a special panel of American Indian P-16 educators and professionals, convened by the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission, the North Dakota Indian Education Association, United Tribes Technical College and the North Dakota Association of Tribal Colleges, and the discussion of a more detailed position paper describing in more depth the specific issues and concerns of American Indian stakeholders (to follow).
- The P-16 Task Force should create a work group intended to address the issue of the role, impact and implications of diversity on all identified P-16 issues, including strengthening the standard for increasing the knowledge of teachers about North Dakota Tribes and populations.
- The P-16 Task Force should devote critical time on a future agenda to address and define the critical stakeholders ('we') in this process and identify the perspectives and ordinal value of each. The growing tribal populations and the economic and demographic impacts on North Dakota's future ought to be factors for allocating resources and creating new partnerships between State educational systems and Indian Tribes.