Prior to the 2001 Alaska Native Education Summit, First Alaskans contracted with the McDowell Group of Juneau to conduct four research projects pertaining to Native education. The research, completed over an eight-month period in 2001, consisted of a literature search of professional writings on Native American education, in-depth interviews with experts in the field, Native focus groups in urban and rural areas, and a telephone poll of 1,000 Native households throughout the state. The research was designed to elicit the perceptions of ordinary Native people regarding public education in their communities and to invite their ideas on how to improve the system.
Throughout the four projects, specific trends and themes emerged, according to the McDowell Group’s final report. They include factors and situations that form barriers to education, the powerful role that language and culture play in learning, and the influence of family and community in student success.
The report also noted that while rural schools have some advantages for Native students – parents feel more welcome and Natives are not a minority – rural schools cannot compete for teachers and staff, nor offer the range of academic opportunities found in urban schools.
Among its many findings, the research found the following:
Alaska Natives value education in the schoolroom and the traditional classroom.
In the household survey, personal and family history was the primary reason given for high dropout rates of Alaska Natives.
Children are more likely to succeed in school if their parents have high expectations and are involved in their children’s education.
Respondents in the household survey, focus groups and experts all agree that it is important to teach Native culture and language in the classroom. Pervious research confirms that inclusion of Native culture and language in the classroom promotes academic success for Native students.
Rural schools have a hard time attracting and retaining the good teachers, and lack the range of academic offerings found in urban schools.
To make education more relevant, Alaska Natives support a curriculum that embraces Alaska Native culture, language, ecology and other Native ways of knowing.
The research report was distributed to participants at the 2001 Native Education Summit and to all schools, school district headquarters, public libraries, legislators, state commissioners, Native profit and non-profit corporations, and village tribal governments in Alaska. Additional copies are available upon request.