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Improving Education in American Indian/Alaska Native Communities

Educators host conference to examine critical issues and brainstorm solutions


RALEIGH, N.C. - June 07, 2008 -

How do you overcome the obstacles that impede quality education for American Indians and Alaska Natives? Educators put their heads together to discuss challenges and potential solutions during the National Education Association's American Indian/Alaska Native Issues Conference.

"There is no question that we have failed as a nation to ensure that the first Americans have an opportunity to share in the American dream," said Reg Weaver, president of NEA. "Children who live in large cities, on reservations and in isolated rural areas have just as much right to a quality education as those who live in affluent suburbs. But there is a deep divide in public education, and it is a divide that threatens our nation."

The American Indian/Alaska Native Issues Conference offered educators a chance to explore ways to improve education in the AIAN community and preserve their rich heritage and culture. The event featured experts and representatives from North Carolina's eight tribes. The group tackled topics like the importance of parental involvement, health issues and dropout rates among American Indian/Alaska Native students. The graduation rate for AIAN students is about 50 percent. NEA has developed a 12-point plan to address the dropout crisis.

Studies show that cultural disconnect is part of the reason for the achievement gap between American Indian/Alaska Native and White students. Weaver stressed the importance of ensuring that educators are culturally competent.

"We need to do a better job of helping students rediscover and reclaim their rich culture," Weaver added. "And we must find ways to weave those stories into their classroom instruction, every single day. We must help our members understand the cultural background of students, and find better ways to engage them."

"Every July, NEA members come together for the NEA Representative Assembly to decide the goals of our organization," said JoAnn Harvey, chair of NEA's American Indian/Alaska Native Caucus. "We set policies to better public education for all students. I am hopeful this conference will spark ideas that will lead to strategies members can adopt to continue to press for quality education for American Indian/Alaska Native children."

The North Carolina event marked the sixth year for the annual American Indian/Alaska Native Issues Conference.

For more information on NEA's dropout prevention initiatives and efforts in the AIAN community: www.nea.org/dropout/index.html and www.nea.org/mco/amerindians.html.

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing 3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT: Ramona Parks-Kirby (202) 822-7823