Tribal-federal effort targets Indian education
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Indian leaders and federal officials this week announced plans to breathe new life into an executive order promoting Indian education.

With the order due to expire in less than a year, the coalition said they would seek the views of Indian Country immediately. The goal is to receive a commitment from President Bush and other Cabinet members in early 2003.

"We want to solicit your input and your help," Bill Mehojah, the director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Indian Education, told tribal leaders on Wednesday.

Joining the BIA in the effort are the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and the National Indian Education Association (NIEA). Victoria Vasques, the new director of the Office of Indian Education within the Department of Education, said the Bush administration would "champion" a strengthened order.

"I pledge my promise to be your advocate on Indian education," she said at the NCAI's annual session.

President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13096 in 1998. It sets out several goals to improve the quality of education for American Indian and Alaska Native children.

Not all have been fulfilled, Mehojah recounted. The BIA oversees 50,000 Indian children in 185 schools and their test scores indicate they fall behind the rest of the country.

Academic achievement of students at BIA schools is "far below the performance of students in public schools," an October 2001 General Accounting Office report found. The BIA's own report cards show proficiency in math and language to be at 50 percent.

NIEA president Robin Butterfield insisted that Indian students can do better. "I know we can do it all," she said, recalling her grandfather, a fluent Winnebago speaker who was the first Native American to graduate from Yale College in Connecticut.

Through the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, Bush has modeled himself as the education president. The BIA recently completed consultation sessions aimed at implementing the law's reforms, which call for greater accountability, improvement in test scores and high quality teaching staff.

One component that won't be part of the overhaul is privatization of BIA schools. Facing opposition from tribal leaders and Congress, the plan was dropped earlier this year. NIEA continues to oppose the effort, said Butterfield.

Bush recently signed an executive order on tribal colleges. Vasques also said he also will appoint a new National Advisory Council on Indian Education. Her office is seeking applicants for the board.

Relevant Links:
Office of Indian Education Programs, BIA -
Office of Indian Education, Department of Education -
Indian School Report Cards, BIA -
National Indian Education Association -

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