State Advisory Council on Indian Education calls for department-level position, removal of mascots

By Cheyenne McNeill

This story was originally published by EducationNC.

The State Advisory Council on Indian Education (SACIE) shared its annual report with the State Board of Education last week. The report, which SACIE presents to the Board each year, provides an analysis of American Indian students’ performance regarding end-of-grade (EOG) scores, dropout and graduation rates, and suspension data. 

According to the report, 12,795 students American Indian students were enrolled in 19 school districts in North Carolina that receive funding through the Title VI Indian Education Act (IEA) of 1972.

What does the data show?

Dr. Tiffany Locklear, SACIE chairwoman, outlined the data in the report, which shows American Indian student performance compared to non-native students. Locklear said the data reveals significant achievement gaps between American Indian and white students.

“This highlights the need for targeted interventions that address the unique challenges faced by American Indian students and provide them with the necessary support to succeed academically,” Locklear said. 

Locklear noted that the dropout rate among American Indian students, which is 3.46%, is greater than their white, Black, and Latinx peers. It is worth mentioning that the dropout rate for American Indian students also remains above the state average, which is 2.39%. 

Across grade levels, American Indian students showed significant improvement in reading EOG test scores compared to previous years. However, American Indian students still lag behind their white peers and the state averages. 

It’s also worth noting that suspension data reveals an increase in short-term suspensions for American Indian students. American Indian students were suspended at a rate of 243 per 1,000 students compared to their white counterparts at a rate of 83 per 1,000 students. 

The report includes more data, including AP and EOC scores. It also includes local education agency (LEA)-specific data for those with a Title VI Indian Education program. You can find all of the data here

Giving American Indian education a voice

SACIE provides yearly recommendations to the Board. This year, the council is once again calling for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to hire a director of American Indian education services to oversee the Title VI Indian Education programs across the state.

SACIE said this fulfills the Board’s resolution “to eliminate opportunity gaps by 2025, improve school and district performance by 2025.” SACIE said this recommendation is also consistent with the requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which requires collaboration and consultation with districts, tribes, higher education, critical state organizations, and DPI. 

These Title VI funds are distributed from the federal government directly to the eligible districts. Locklear said that adding the position would help DPI and SACIE have more oversight over the Indian education programs in the state to make sure that student needs are being met. 

“This position is important because we need someone to hold leadership accountable to make these culturally responsive practices become apparent in these classrooms,” Locklear said.

There’s support from legislators to take another look at this position. The House’s budget plan requests that DPI reclassify the position. 

Locklear said adding the position is about increasing support for Title VI coordinators in schools, while also ensuring that tribes and coordinators “have a voice.” 

Ultimately, Locklear said adding this role to DPI would benefit students and hopefully help the state continue to see American Indian students’ academic performance improve. 

“We don’t want to just be compliant. We really want to be intentional, and we want to be making an impact,” Locklear told the Board. 

American Indian mascots

Another SACIE recommendation is related to eliminating school mascots that use American Indian imagery.

The recommendation reads: 

Urge all public school administrators and boards of education to review and implement local policies related to the selection of athletic mascots, and to educate all school personnel on the long-term, damaging effects to students when inappropriate images and messages dishonor the American Indian culture. 

In February 2002, SACIE passed a resolution calling for the elimination of American Indian mascots and related imagery in North Carolina’s public schools. The resolution cited research showing the damaging psychological effects that American Indian-themed mascots have on Indigenous children and youth. At that time, SACIE said its hope was that “North Carolina will eliminate Indian sports mascots and imagery by June 2003.”

The 2002 resolution can be read in Appendix L of the report.

The report states that SACIE is “recommitting” to this 2002 resolution.

SACIE’s report shows that 34 public schools in North Carolina still use American Indian-themed logos or mascots. Two other schools use the name “warriors” and “braves” but have eliminated the logo.

SACIE is urging the Board to show its support in this matter, similar to how then-state superintendent Michael E. Ward did in 2002. At that time, Ward, sent a letter to superintendents across the state asking them to consider the impacts of American Indian-themed mascots and logos. Here’s a portion of that letter:

The State Board approved a recommendation strongly encouraging all educators in the public schools of North Carolina to educate themselves on the educational, curricular, and psychological effects of using American Indian sport mascots and logos. In addition, the State Board agreed that all public school administrators and local boards of education should review their policies and procedures toward the use of American Indian sport mascots, logos, and all demeaning imagery. 

You can read the letter in Appendix M of the draft report. 

Ward’s letter encouraged superintendents to make schools an inviting place for American Indian students.

SACIE is remaining committed to its 2022 resolution and calling for the Board’s support in completely eliminating American Indian-themed mascots and imagery, even though the decision ultimately lies with local school boards.

You can read Appendix K to see SACIE’s plan moving forward.

Other recommendations

The SACIE report also lists four other recommendations for the Board to consider: 

Ensure senior leadership who participated in the National Center’s American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) Education Project’s Circles of Reflection Pilot acts on recommendations prioritized in three core areas: (1) Native culture and language; (2) tribal consultation and sovereignty; and (3) targeted DPI efforts to recruit effective American Indian teachers and leaders. 

Implement formal protocols to ensure DPI collaboration and consultation with SACIE regarding the revision of content standards. Consultation will include the development of 21st century instructional resources that specifically reference American Indian history and the current affairs of culture.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges that have revealed deeply rooted barriers to increased student achievement, most noticeably inequitable access to technology. To this end, SACIE recommends the following:

Increase advocacy for access to broadband internet both in students’ homes and schools, particularly in rural areas and tribal communities; 

Increase digital literacy efforts to ensure American Indian students can successfully engage in an increasingly virtual world; and 

Ensure that COVID relief dollars adequately address gaps resulting from learning-loss during the 12-month school closure. State and federal dollars should support recovery in reading, mathematics, and comprehensive services in social-emotional learning. Mitigating the long-term impact of the 2020 Pandemic on the education of American Indian students must remain paramount. 

Explore new venues for disseminating the self-paced modules titled, Culturally Responsive Teaching about American Indians. This resource aligns with North Carolina Teaching Standard II.

Students listen during a session at the North Carolina Native American Youth Organization’s annual conference.
Photo by Cheyenne McNeill/EducationNC