Kathleen McCoy, Anchorage, AK, writes about the struggles of Indigenous students in the public school system in Alaska and how UAA’s Center for Alaska Education Policy Research (CAEPR) and the Alaska Native Policy Center at First Alaskans Institute (FAI) will explore with indigenous Alaskans what an ideal education system would look like. Ms. McCoy interviewed Diane Hirshberg and discussed the Native Village of Kotzebue, which has an immersion program in the curriculum, both of which were present at TEDNA’s 2014 annual meeting and forum in Anchorage, AK.
Alaska’s budget crisis is certainly urgent and destined to affect both how schools across the state are funded and what that funding looks like. But another need predates even this dramatic budget crunch: How have Alaska public schools served their indigenous students?
Data show the report card isn’t good. Alaska Native students drop out at rates triple the national average. In 2013-14, they made up 23.3 percent of students in grades 7 to 12 but accounted for 37.8 percent of dropouts in those grades. Their dropout rate was 6.4 percent compared with 4 percent for other Alaska students.
How about successful graduations? In 2013-14, the rate for all Alaska high school students was 71.1 percent; for Alaska Native students, it was 54.9 percent — the lowest among all racial and ethnic groups in the state.
Now, two Alaska policy think tanks will work together to discover what system might be a better fit, and what steps could lead there.
UAA’s Center for Alaska Education Policy Research (CAEPR) and the Alaska Native Policy Center at First Alaskans Institute (FAI) have applied jointly to the National Science Foundation for funding to explore with indigenous Alaskans what an ideal education system would look like, and how it would best be governed. They expect a funding decision this summer, which could allow work to begin in the fall.
Wednesday, I spoke with Diane Hirshberg, a professor of education policy and CAEPR’s director, to learn more about the proposed three-year project.
Plans for the new study have emerged amidst an ongoing conversation in the state about whether Alaska needs tribal schools. In the last 40 or 50 years, mostly in the Lower 48, a tribal schools movement has caught fire under the non-profit umbrella of TEDNA, the Tribal Education Departments National Assembly.
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