Sitting on a plane on my way home from Seattle, I am sorting through reflections on the historical end of No Child Left Behind and the passing, at the end of last year, of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The turbulence makes it difficult to type but that simply adds to the symbolism of the journey our nation’s education has taken over the past two decades: bumpy and unnerving. Now, there is a new law and a plethora of provisions in it to applaud. I want to offer my accolades for a subtle but valuable win, the recognition of Native American education. I had just spent a weekend in Washington State to offer Common Core literacy training for tribal school educators. It was during this time that I realized how significant of a win the new legislation is for the 567 federally recognized tribes of Native Americans.
Around 20 of us — teachers and administrators –gathered at the Muckleshoot Tribal College in Washington State, a college on the Muckleshoot reservation, to practice blending a recently-mandated Native American curriculum into the college’s content classes using Common Core instructional practices. Despite the varied grades, content areas, and educational roles, our purpose for spending the weekend learning together was to ensure that native and non-native teachers could utilize culturally-responsive teaching practices and texts to ensure that native students had more equitable access to quality culture-based instruction. Several educators mentioned the literacy challenges their students face because of the lack of resources and support in the community. Native and non-native teachers discussed how important it is to embed the students’ culture into instructional practice but this would mean more communication between schools, tribes, and the community. There was a voice of determination for success despite the frustration.
Historically, there is a presence of a nearly silent voice, one that has been mistaken for being passive. Amidst the cacophony of political and social discourse, the Native American plight to affirm their sovereign rights and maintain a cultural identity has been a quiet under-recognized plight. Several hundred years of persevering through this plight has wreaked havoc on the native educational system as well as the academic performance and psychological well-being of Native American students. In the narrative of equity, other minority groups have taken center stage as native students fell further behind. In 2015, I traveled with the Native Indian Education Association (NIEA) across New Mexico, South Dakota, and Washington State to provide Common Core trainings like the one in Muckleshoot.
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