Tribal Leaders Leery of Obama’s New Common Core Plan for Native American Children

PolitiChicks.comThe Obama administration’s new plan to overhaul federal education for American Indians is being met by suspicion and skepticism by tribe members.

The current federal plan, Bureau of Indian Education, operates 57 schools for Native American students and oversees 126 others. It is riddled with reports of corruption and complaints of fiscal mismanagement.

Edweek reports:

“The reorganization of the BIE comes after years of scathing reports from watchdog groups, including the U.S. Government Accountability Office, and chronic complaints from tribal educators about the agency’s financial and academic mismanagement and failure to advocate more effectively for the needs of schools that serve Native American students.”

The Department of Education under the Obama Administration is offering to fix this failed Federal Program plan by switching it out for another Federal Program called “A Blueprint for Reform”–that is aligned with Common Core Standards (CCS).

From The Department of Interior:

“A redesigned BIE must also make instructional improvement a top priority. High performing school systems have focused on multiple instructional improvement strategies, including: improving the curriculum through the adoption of the Common Core State Standards and aligned high quality assessments; implementing job-embedded professional development (e.g., using technology to deliver support) with coaches (essential for the remote and geographical dispersion of its schools); and supporting/enhancing the skills of principals and other school leaders to effectively evaluate teacher performance.”

Ah yes, because the solution for federal failure is a more encompassing federal program that creates lock-step education, lowers standards, profiles children from the stage of gestation, and assesses effective learning through government controlled online multiple choice testing.

“That could not go wrong,” said no sane person ever.

From page 1 in the report from the Department of Interior:

“The Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) – housed in the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) – is the legacy of the Indian boarding schools established by the Department of War in the mid-19th Century. The Federal Government created the boarding schools as part of a larger assimilation policy that sought to eradicate Native cultures and languages through Western education. Many of the children who attended Government-run boarding schools were taken forcibly from their homes and sent to schools hundreds or thousands of miles away in an attempt to separate them from their families and cultures. Over time, the schools evolved, many becoming day schools for the children in nearby tribal communities. Slowly, educators and the Government began to recognize that assimilation was not the answer, and that tribes possess vast cultural resources that might be completely lost if not fostered both in tribal communities and in schools. The Government ended the devastating policy of assimilation, but sought to fulfill its treaty obligations and trust responsibility to tribes by continuing to provide and fund education to Native students.”

Now, there have been hot debates regarding the constitutionality of Common Core Standards since the Federal government is not to have anything to do with education, but leave this up to the states. Similarly, the Bureau of Indian affairs, let alone the existence of the Bureau of Indian Education, has been contested by many; including Native Americans.

The argument here is not whether Native American children deserve a good education or not. We, of course, wish all children received a solid academic foundation. The question is: Who should be the provider of such? And can American Indians trust the federal government as good stewards of their children’s knowledge? Or perhaps the real question is can any of us trust the federal government as good stewards with anything?

The reform of Federal Agencies will undoubtedly raise some familiar questions, such as:

  • Under which jurisdiction should education for American Indians fall?
  • Should Native American’s be considered U.S. citizens like the rest of us; or do they need their affairs separated and managed by the feds?
  • If they are a sovereign nation should 20% ($200 million) of the funding be coming from the United States Department of Education?
  • Should the Federal government handle education of a state’s minorities? How about another nation?
  • Why should Native American’s recognize U.S. Federal authority including the Department of Education or Bureau of any sort, if they are a sovereign nation?

The tribal leaders are wise in questioning the government’s intentions, ability to deliver, and if it can be held accountable to itself.  A name change by a failed federal organization is unlikely to solve problems and comfort tribal counsel.

With Common Core for Native Americans, empty promises might be the least of their concerns because today’s United States government is more associated with scandals of mismanagement, spying on ordinary citizens, and losing classified emails than a household name of quality education for children.

Karin Piper

Colorado PolitiChick Karin Piper is an award winning author and transparency expert specializing in education and union transparency. She provides policy tools necessary for parents, union memberis, teachers and decision makers to become informed consumers in the educational marketplace. She also serves as executive director of, an organization she helped found, and works with various other non-partisan likeminded organizations. Karin was a finalist for OGI's 2012 Burke-Carr Public Interest Awards and nominated as candidate for Charter School Friend of the Year in 2009. Her knowledge of state and federal open records laws and tireless advocacy for open union negotiations has been featured by major media outlets across the nation. Her debut book, CHARTER SCHOOLS: The Ultimate Handbook for Parents, was awarded a 2009 finalist in best books for parenting and education, by USA Book News and appeared in bookstores around the world. Born and raised in Sweden, she lives in Douglas County, Colorado, the epicenter of education reform. Karin is a frequently sought as a parental voice and expert opinion in response to much of today's political edu-rhetoric and legislation proposals. She has been interviewed by many news outlets, including CBS, NBC, KNUS, EdNews, Denver Post, Los Angeles Times, and many others.

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