Qualities of effective Native American bicultural education programs

Nathan Frizzell
College of Education and Allied Professions, Western Carolina University
August, 2006


Cultural Education programs include all the components of a comprehensive instructional program. It includes cultural awareness courses, integrated curriculum, and bilingual education courses. Currently most schools in predominantly Native American communities are working to implement instructional practices which include cultural heritage. In some cases, research is being used to support instruction that is very single-minded and narrowly focused. Instruction that is almost exclusively focused on the cultural heritage and background of the students occurs rarely. More common is instruction that occurs within the context of a greater curriculum.

No Child Left Behind legislation recognizes the Native American population as "at-risk" in American public education. As a group, Native Americans achieve academic success at a lower rate as judged by standardized tests, graduation rates, and attendance. Furthermore, Native Americans attend post-secondary educational institutions less frequently than do other populations.

To remedy these deficiencies in public education, a number of schools across the nation have introduced bicultural education programs. (Bicultural education programs are defined as native heritage education, bilingual education, native perspectives history, or combinations of these.) These programs vary in intensity, scope, and integration as well as in the degree of community support each receives.

These programs are not without controversy and adversity. Pressures abound from state and federal governments as well as local ruling bodies. Issues regarding standardized testing concern state and federal authorities. Local communities focus on issues of heritage preservation and economics.

Research reveals that bicultural education programs impact achievement of Native American students. Although these bicultural education programs differ from place to place, results typically show marked improvement in attendance and graduation rates as well as increased standardized test scores. Regardless the program, however, leadership implementing and maintaining cultural education programs plays a vital role.

Examination of the experiences of leaders of bicultural programs offers a wealth of guidance for educational leaders. Lessons learned from their experiences may assist future leaders to avoid the pitfalls of implementing bicultural education programming.

The researcher investigated effective bicultural education programs to identify 2-3 programs in each of five regions: Southeast, Southwest, Northwest, Northeast, and Midwest. The leaders of these programs were interviewed to determine qualities of effective bicultural education programs.