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Get Smart: Bring World-Class Teaching to Native Schools

Charles M. Roessel and Ronald Thorpe
7/28/14

In his recent visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, President Obama announced an ambitious plan to fulfill the promise of a brighter future for children who grow up in often remote and impoverished Native communities. He set high expectations for success, calling the lack of opportunity available to Native American students “a moral call to action.”

Unlike other groups, Native students have yet to benefit from education reforms over the past decade. Their achievement results have remained stagnant and the gaps separating them from their peers of other races and ethnicities have actually widened. While the U.S. Department of Education recently hailed the news that the nation’s high school graduation rate has surpassed 80 percent, the rate for students in schools run by the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) is an alarming 59 percent and the dropout rate for Native students stands at twice the national average.

Charles M. RoesselAfter numerous listening sessions and tribal consultations, today, the Obama administration released a “Blueprint for Reform,” a comprehensive plan to redesign the BIE to achieve one overarching, mutual goal for the BIE and tribes: for tribes to deliver a world-class education to all students attending BIE schools.

Native Americans can have confidence in the administration’s plan because it has as its cornerstone an effort to elevate the factor that contributes most to student success in school—teaching. The BIE is partnering with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to support more BIE teachers in achieving Board certification through a rigorous, performance-based, peer-reviewed process similar to certification in fields such as medicine.

It’s important to be clear about one point in particular: This initiative is not about parachuting teachers into the BIE schools; it’s about getting resources and support to the teachers who have chosen to work in these schools for their careers. There are many logistical, pedagogical and cultural reasons that students should be learning from members of their own community, but like many rural schools, BIE schools face a challenge in recruiting and retaining qualified teachers. Teachers often lack access to professional development resources as well exposure to best practice and innovative approaches in education. It is imperative that we invest in these teachers to secure the future of Native communities.

National Board Certification, in its emphasis on self-reflection, cultural competency and student learning gains, has been a transformative experience for more than 100,000 teachers across the country. Research has shown that students of Board-certified teachers outperform students in other classrooms. For this reason alone, developing a pipeline of accomplished, Board-certified teachers in BIE schools will go a long way toward changing the odds for Native students.

Ronald ThorpeThe initiative has set a goal of developing 1,000 Board-certified teachers in BIE schools by 2020, representing a quarter of the existing teaching workforce. But the gains will be much greater. Every teacher in BIE schools will benefit from resources connected to the National Board process. Through mentoring and teacher leadership roles, teachers who achieve Board certification will continue to have an impact on their students and colleagues well into the future.

By connecting BIE educators with their Board-certified colleagues around the nation, the initiative will build a powerful network to improve education and outcomes for Native children and ensure that all BIE students receive a world-class education that honors their cultures, languages and identities as Indian people.

President Obama often talks about rectifying broken promises when he mentions the history of the United States and tribal nations. This new partnership is a significant step in finally fulfilling the dream for Native children and rewriting that tired narrative.

About the Authors: Dr. Charles M. “Monty” Roessel is the director of the Bureau of Indian Education within the U.S. Department of the Interior and is a member of the Navajo Nation. Dr. Ronald Thorpe is the president and CEO of the nonprofit National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

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100IndigenousAmerican's picture
Monty came from our area; he is definitely no "Dr. Roessel" (father of “new Monty”) from the old Rough Rock School, he carried a meaningful education torch. The "new Monty" is about blaming teachers and abusive roughshod enforcement that will never work; the blame is squarely on non-accountable administrators that are mostly relics like me. His idea of success is typical from people that do not speak the mother tongue, fractional in blood, and he ignores ideas of "real Indians". Numeracy, literacy, science, and technology proficiency is elusive because the BIE is using leadership that has never proven success in schools and this includes the "new Monty". The assessments performance is derive primarily from rote memorization and children come out of our schools without training in difficult to measure critical thinking skills that lead to success. The fat called education committee added Navajo culture and language to all BIE schools. The standing assessments do not cover culture and language. Chastising teachers on statistics without any form of meaningful professional development is the norm at BIE schools. Now the “new Monty" is purposing NBC for “select” teachers, it means another wasteful experience at the expense of native children and teachers. It comes from the top to bottom. The abused teachers have the real answers; all they need is intelligent qualified leadership and a new USBIE director. NBC is about commitment and moral purpose. Start with new leadership by hiring people with NBC in teaching and not administration. Today, the leadership defends their status quo as a special interest group because of worthless leadership assessments; it is all politics for jobs. If they understood the classroom, they would see some very effective teachers. Reining good teachers by local confused controlling BIE principals is cause by fear and it affects the classrooms. Kaibeto School is a good example, who work through the summer? Why hire a non-Indian when a Dine’ went after and got her highly qualified? Why did a principal from Hunters point rise to the highest level in education without any record of classroom success. “Introspect” needs to take place before wasting any more taxpayer monies. Hire young new leadership with "NBC teaching credentials" and leadership certification. Someone that ignores politics and put "kids first". Otherwise, same old patterns, the BIE leadership gain more titles, become NBC certified....
100IndigenousAm...
100IndigenousAmerican's picture
The idea of grasping at success with a new idea every 2-3 years is typical from BIE. Numeracy, literacy, science, and technology proficiency is elusive because the BIE is using leadership that has never proven success in schools. The benchmark assessments performance is derive primarily from rote memorization and children come out of our schools without skills in difficult to measure critical thinking skills that lead to success. On Navajo, the education committee added Navajo culture and language onto all schools within limited classroom time periods, making it more difficult to reach the elusive goals. The standing assessments do not cover culture and language. Targeting teaching as a root cause problem without any form of meaningful professional development seems to be the norm. Now, the BIE is purposing NBC for “select” teachers; as a grandparent I irrevocably say it is another wasteful experiment at the expense of my children and proficient teachers. The ideas coming from top to bottom and no lateral or “in the trench” input is incomplete. In reality, the teachers have the real answers; all they need is intelligent qualified leadership. NBC is about commitment and MORAL PURPOSE. Start with new leadership by hiring people with NBC in teaching and not administration. Today, the leadership defends their status quo as a special interest group because of valueless leadership assessments; it is all politics for jobs. If leaders understood the classroom, they would see some very effective teachers. Reining in good teachers by confusing and controlling BIE policy is cause by fear in losing the top to bottom control and is detrimental to learning. “Introspect” needs to take place before wasting any more taxpayer monies. Hire young new leadership with "NBC TEACHER credentials" and secondly the leadership certification. We need people that ignore politics and put "kids first". Otherwise, same old patterns, the BIE leadership will gain more titles, become NBC certified, etc....I stand solid on my comment as a grandparent, and a Vietnam veteran that is a product of the old BIA system of education. It was good system, not broken, all Navajo teachers with unique accents and someone got the bright idea to fix something that was never broken. Now, I will await for the bravery of ICT to publish my objective comment which I made with respect to all writers.
100IndigenousAm...