This blog on Texas education contains posts on accountability, testing, college readiness, dropouts, bilingual education, immigration, school finance, race, class, and gender issues with additional focus at the national level.
Native American Education: What Will It Take To Fix The 'Epitome Of Broken'? NPR
This is an encouraging story about the status of Native American Indian education, albeit quite abbreviated. Greater autonomy and self-determination together with resources should help this particular community make progress with an asset-based, pedagogy. I hope that the Navaho language and Navaho cultural and linguistic revitalization, generally, are an integral part of the curriculum.
Navajo students at Crystal Boarding School in New Mexico sing traditional songs in class.
High up in the mountains of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico,
Delphine Gatewood teaches special education at the Crystal Boarding
School. She's dreading this winter, like she dreads every winter,
because temperatures can slip into the negative digits which the school
building just can't handle.
"You have a boiler system that
regulates heat at one certain temperature so you can't turn it down,"
she says. "It gets so hot in the classroom and you have to open the
windows in the dead of winter."
The Crystal Boarding School
isn't part of any local school district in New Mexico. It's overseen at
the federal level by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Education. As are nearly
200 other Native American schools nationwide.
In 2015, Arne
Duncan, the secretary of education at the time, called the bureau "the
epitome of broken." The federal school system has been around for more
than 150 years, marred by a past of forcefully assimilating students,
rock-bottom academic performance and a crumbling infrastructure.
That's why the Obama administration has been pouring resources into leading an effort with the bureau to change the way it serves the 50,000 students attending its schools nationwide.
bureau has said it hopes to shift into a role that provides more
support, rather than issue directives. In other words, shift away from
being a direct overseer of schools and give local control to tribal
at the Bureau of Indian Education estimate that roughly one-third of
their school buildings are in poor condition. To fix them, they say
it'll take more than $1.3 billion. That's why a big part of the reform
effort is to build new schools and repair old ones.
Gatewood is a both a teacher at Crystal and the grandmother of a
kindergartner, first- and fifth-grader here. She says it's hard for her
grandchildren to learn at such a run-down, neglected campus. Crystal is
one of 10 bureau schools in line to get a brand new facility.
new school should also free up time for the principal and other
administrative staff to focus on student education, and less time trying
to repair this 85-year-old facility. Academics
"We needed to change the way we were doing business," says Tony Dearman, the new director of the Bureau of Indian Education.
this: Right now fourth graders are scoring 22 points lower in reading
and 14 points lower in math than Native American students in public
"The system that we used to have at [the bureau was]
one size fits all," he says, "and one size fits all in the tribal
nations, that's not realistic. That doesn't work."
they've got to do better — because when kids go through school without
learning what they need to, it limits economic opportunity throughout
He says the bureau is encouraging more tribes to
take control of their schools because he acknowledges local officials
know more about the needs and cultural traditions of students than
bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. Cultural education
Crystal Boarding School offers something state-run public schools on
the reservation don't: immersive Navajo cultural education. Students
learn the Navajo language and traditional songs and dances on a daily
It wasn't always this way, though, points out Donald
Fixico. He's a historian at Arizona State University. He says bureau
boarding schools, like Crystal, were once a place where Native American
children were sent to assimilate.
"It was really — save the Indian child but forego all the tribal culture and old ways and languages by the kids," he says.
was the 19th and early 20th centuries. Back in the 1970s tribes were
given more control over cultural education, and new changes take it even
Today Fixico says the bureau is a very different
place, "because native people are in control of the schools. They're in
control of the curriculum, how it develops, what needs to be taught,
supplying the instructors. It's a whole different ballgame altogether."
many tribal members across the country say they're skeptical the reform
efforts, and all of the resources put into them, will make any real
difference in student performance. And, the transition hasn't been
One of those skeptics is Delphine Gatewood. She says she's hoping for the best, if only for the future of her grandchildren.