Back to School Series, Part 5: Academic Achievement in Indian Country

Today’s final installment on our back-to-school series will take a closer look at how state policies can support academic achievement in Indian Country. As you may already know, Montana is seen as a leader when it comes to progressive educational policy for American Indian students. According to Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory there are thirteen key policies needed to appropriately address achievement gaps in Indian Country. Based on report findings, Montana is the only state in the northwest region that has established education policies in all thirteen recommended areas. These policies have been in place for several years, and it shows. The Office of Public Instruction has demonstrated that the achievement gap in Indian Country is indeed shrinking. Between 2009 and 2013, American Indian student graduation rates increased by 5%.

There are many things that states can do to promote academic achievement in Indian Country. This includes establishing community advisory committees, increasing Indian parent involvement, providing professional development for teachers who have Indian students in their classrooms, and producing curriculum that includes Indian culture and history in all academic subjects. Montana has done all of these things and more.

Want to know more about the Montana’s efforts to promote academic achievement in Indian Country? Here are some examples of current state policies that help provide the educational environment these students need to be successful:

  • The Montana Indian Language Preservation (MILP) program provides each of Montana’s tribes with support to revitalize their tribal languages through preservation efforts and curriculum development associated with the Indian Education for All statute.
  • Tribal Language Immersion Program provides funding to the Office of Public Instruction to distribute to a select number of schools that implement a tribal language immersion-style program. This program is intended to put to use the material and curriculums created under the MILP program.
  • Schools of Promise Initiative is a federally funded program that assists a small number of schools on reservations to provide additional support to improve student success and increase graduation rates. This program provides each district a school board coach, a wraparound service coordinator, and a graduation coach.
  • Indian Education For All (IEFA) requires integration of American Indian culture, history and contemporary issues into every classroom’s curriculum. This initiative benefits all students in many ways. However it has a particular impact on Native American students. Including culture, language, history, and contemporary issues in the classroom has been shown to contribute to higher success rates of Indian students.
  • American Indian Achievement Gap Program provides additional state funds to schools for each of their American Indian students. This ANB funding is $200 per enrolled student and gives a boost to schools to provide programs and services aimed at closing the existing achievement gap.

The Office of Public Instruction established the Montana Advisory Council on Indian Education. This group of American Indian professionals is tasked with advising anything related to education in Indian Country, such as IEFA curriculum review, promoting state-tribal consultation and partnerships, and identifying best practices for Indian students and their educators.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our back-to-school series. Clearly investing in education is good for kids, families, communities, and our economy. However, as we all learned this week, there are many other polices our state can invest in to help student achievement. Lifting families out of poverty with the EITC, providing good nutrition with SNAP and school meals, funding for pre-K through college, and providing programs to close the achievement gap are all worthy state investments and ones that will benefit our entire state.

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