American Indian Demographics

As we continue our series on American Indian education, this post provides demographic information on American Indians, including where American Indian children attend school. There currently are 565 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives.[1] While the Cherokee and Navajo nations contain the majority of American Indian citizens, each tribe holds its own distinct traditional, cultural, and educational markers. American Indian students attend public schools, private schools, schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), and tribal schools.  In the 2005–06 school year, 644,000 public elementary and secondary school students, or about 1 percent of all public school students, were American Indian or Alaska Native.  Similarly, about 1 percent of all private school students were American Indian or Alaska Native.[2] About 8 percent of American Indian students attend schools funded by the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), which is with the Department of the Interior.  In academic year 2007-08, the BIE funded 183 elementary and secondary schools, located on 64 reservations in 23 states, serving approximately 42,000 Indian students.  “The Bureau also funds or operates off-reservation boarding schools and peripheral dormitories near reservations for students attending public schools.”[3] Approximately 28 percent of the students in BIE schools are in secondary schools.[4] Fifty-nine of the BIE schools are operated directly by the BIE, while 124 are tribally operated under BIE contracts or grants. This represents a significant shift in the federal approach to American Indian schooling over time.  The U.S. Department of the Interior website provides a useful history of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the establishment of the BIE:
There have been three major legislative actions that restructured the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) with regard to educating American Indians since the Snyder Act of 1921. First, the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 introduced the teaching of Indian history and culture in BIA schools (until then it had been Federal policy to acculturate and assimilate Indian people by eradicating their tribal cultures through a boarding school system). Second, the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 (P.L. 93-638) gave authority to federally recognized tribes to contract with the BIA for the operation of Bureau-funded schools and to determine education programs suitable for their children. The Education Amendments Act of 1978 (P.L. 95-561) and further technical amendments (P.L. 98-511, 99-99, and 100-297) provided funds directly to tribally operated schools, empowered Indian school boards, permitted local hiring of teachers and staff, and established a direct line of authority between the Education Director and the AS-IA. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (P.L. 107-110) brought additional requirements to the schools by holding them accountable for improving their students’ academic performance with the U.S. Department of Education supplemental program funds they receive through the Bureau. As stated in Title 25 CFR Part 32.3, BIE’s mission is to provide quality education opportunities from early childhood through life in accordance with a tribe’s needs for cultural and economic well-being, in keeping with the wide diversity of Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages as distinct cultural and governmental entities. Further, the BIE is to manifest consideration of the whole person by taking into account the spiritual, mental, physical, and cultural aspects of the individual within his or her family and tribal or village context. The BIE school system employs thousands of teachers, administrators and support personnel, while many more work in tribal school systems.
Strengthening tribal control of education is a major policy priority for the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and the National Indian Education Association (NIEA).  This priority stems from concerns about tribal sovereignty, but also about concerns for student outcomes.  In 2003, 15 percent of Native youths 16- to 24-years old had not completed high school or earned a GED credential. This rate was more than twice the rate for white youths (6 percent), four times that of Asian American/Pacific Islanders (4 percent), and about the same as Black youths. Only Hispanic students dropped out at rates higher than American Indian/Alaska Native students. In a joint statement on National Priorities for Indian Education, the NCAI and NIEA explain why the education of their youth is such a critical policy priority.  “We must prepare them for active and equal participation in the global market. We must prepare them to be citizens in the 21st century. We must prepare them to be positive, involved members of our communities. And, most importantly, we must prepare them to be the future leaders of our governments. There is no more vital resource to the continued existence and integrity of Indian tribes than their children.”[5]   Circe Stumbo is president of West Wind Education Policy Inc., where much of her work is focused on racial equity.  Circe serves on the editorial team for this blog. Alyssa Rodriguez is a project assistant at West Wind Education Policy Inc., where she supports West Wind’s work on educator effectiveness; research, design, and development; and racial equity. Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.  

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