Report of the Education Task Force



Introduction and Historical Background 127
Western Education of Alaska Natives Prior to 1867 127
Western Education of Alaska Natives After 1867 127
Contemporary Background 133
Current Western Education and Alaska Natives, K-12 133

Alaska Native Students in the 1990s
Factors Contributing to Educational Success and Failure

Current Western Education and Alaska Natives, Post-Secondary 139
Findings and Recommendations 143
Principal Findings 143

Skills Necessary for Success
Failure of the Public Education System
Failure of the Social System
Needs and Issues
Addressing Needs and Issues

Recommendations Regarding Alaska Native Education 145

Three-component K-12 Education System
Total Local Control of Schools
Model Curricula for Alaska Native Students
Recruitment and Training of Native Professionals
Involvement of Parents and Community
Subject Matter Prerequisites
Teacher Preparation for Village Schools
Distinguishing Qualifications for Teaching in Village Schools
Teaching Certificates in "Non-traditional" Fields
Certification in Native Language and Culture
Teacher Tenure Requirements
Graduation Requirements
Funding for Curricula Appropriate for Native Students
Indian/Native Education Programs for All Native Students
Upgrade and Replacement of Rural Schools


I. Introduction and Historical Background

This support study provides baseline information for recommendations of the Commission for improving federal and state policies affecting the education of Alaska Natives. The information includes a recounting of the evolution of federal and state educational policy and programs affecting Alaska Natives, a description of the educational situation of Alaska Natives using 1990 data, a summary of concerns about that situation as revealed by hearings conducted by the Commission and its task forces, and recommendations as to how federal and state governments can improve the educational situation of Alaska Natives.

A. Western Education of Alaska Natives Prior to 1867

Attempts to impose "Western" education on Alaska Natives began in 1784 when a Russian fur trader, Gregorii Shelikhov, established a trading post at Three Saints Bay on the southwest coast of Kodiak Island. After killing a large number of Alaska Natives and taking others hostage to gain a foothold on Kodiak, Shelikhov opened a school for young Natives. He taught them "the precepts of Christianity," arithmetic, and the Russian language.1

Shelikhov's school for young Natives gave way to mission schools operated by the Russian Orthodox Church after its first priests arrived in Alaska in 1796. The Russian American Company, which received a monopoly to exploit Alaskan resources from the Tsar in 1799, supported the mission schools. The company also provided technical training for some Alaska Natives and Creoles (children of mixed Russian and Native parentage) in return for periods of indentured service. Russian schooling of Alaska Native children had three goals: to "Christianize" them; to "civilize" or "Westernize" them; and to make them more useful servants of the Russian American Company.2

Russian American Company vocational schools in Alaska closed with the 1867 ceremonies transferring Alaska from Russian to American jurisdiction. The Russian mission schools continued after 1867 with support from the Russian government. The last of them did not close until 1916.3

B. Western Education of Alaska Natives After 1867

The Russian mission schools were supplemented, or in some cases supplanted, by American Protestant and Roman Catholic mission schools. A Methodist missionary began the first of them at Wrangell in 1877. A Presbyterian missionary began the second of them at Sitka in 1878. Army and Navy administrators of Alaska supported them on an informal basis. Again, the schools intended to "Christianize" and "civilize" their Native students.4

Although Congress in 1869 had appropriated $100,000 for education among "Indian tribes not otherwise provided for" with the expectation that some or all of the money would be spent on education of Alaska Natives, not a dollar of the money reached Alaska. About this time the government compelled the Alaska Commercial Company, which had acquired an exclusive government lease to harvest the fur seal herds of the Pribilof Islands, to operate schools for the children of St. George and St. Paul Islands.5

Formal government support for education of Alaska Native children began only in 1884 with passage of the Alaska Organic Act. This established the "District of Alaska." It authorized limited civil government for Alaska and directed the United States Secretary of the Interior to establish an educational system for school-age children in Alaska "without reference to race." At this time 99 percent of the school-age children in Alaska were Alaska Natives.6

In 1885 the Secretary of the Interior assigned his department's Bureau of Education the responsibility for education in Alaska. The director of the Bureau of Education then appointed Sheldon Jackson, a Presbyterian missionary, as General Education for Education in Alaska. By 1895 the Bureau of Education was operating 19 grade schools in Alaska. Many were initially contract schools run by and taught by Protestant and Roman Catholic missionaries. Concern over church-state separation resulted in secularization of the schools in 1894.7

The education objectives assigned to these schools were that:

the children must be kept in school until they acquire what is termed a common-school education, also practical knowledge of some useful trade. . . . We believe in reclaiming the Natives from improvident habits and in transforming them into ambitious and self-helpful citizens.8

In connection with schooling, Christianity was seen as a "powerful lever in influencing them [Alaska Natives] to abandon their old customs. . . ."9

The schools were segregated, either by intention or circumstance. In Juneau and Sitka, where there were substantial numbers of non-Native children, Native and non-Native schools operated concurrently. An attempt to consolidate the Native and non-Native schools at Juneau was foiled by local resistance. In other areas of Alaska the schools served mostly, if not all, Native children because there were few non-Native children. The schools stretched from Metlakatla at Alaska's southern tip to Gambell on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea. 10

The growing non-Native population brought to Alaska in the wake of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898 expressed growing dissatisfaction with a school system that seemed to focus on the education of Native children. In response, Congress included in a 1900 Civil Code for Alaska authorization for incorporated towns to establish and operate schools for White children. In 1904 Congress passed the Nelson Act. The act directed the District of Alaska to assume responsibility for education of "white and colored children and children of mixed blood who live a civilized life." It further specified that the Secretary of the Interior would retain direction and control of schools for Eskimos and Indian children.11

Although the Russian American Company was no longer a factor in Alaska, the goal of education for Alaska Native children remained much the same as it had in the Russia era: "so that the White man can use these men for things that are useful for his civilization." Harlan Updergraff replaced Jackson as director of Native education in Alaska, working under the title of Chief of the Alaska Division, Bureau of Education.12

Under Updergraff, bureau educational objectives continued to reflect assimilationist philosophy. In 1910 the bureau desired to mold the future development of Native villages and the Natives "by their guidance in all phases of life, in the schoolroom, industrial room, kitchen, bathroom, home, and herd." But for the first time the bureau recognized the unique requirements of Alaska Natives. While still grounded in assimilationist philosophy, the new objectives recognized a need to develop Native industries adapted to the region and to the Natives' abilities.13

Congress passed Alaska's Second Organic Act in 1912. This established Alaska as a territory, with a territorial legislature. Although prohibited by the act from changing existing school laws, the 1915 Territorial Legislature tried to establish a uniform school system. The legislation for this purpose excluded schools for Natives which are now or may hereafter come under the control of the Federal Government. . . .14

The Solicitor of the Interior Department ruled the legislation invalid when it reached Washington. It made clear, nevertheless, the intent of the Territory not to be responsible for the education of Alaska Natives. When Congress amended the Second Organic Act to allow the Territorial Legislature to pass school laws, the 1917 Legislature restated the exclusion of Alaska Natives from the territorial school system.15

Thus, 1917 gave official sanction to a mostly segregated school system in Alaska. In that year 46 territorial rural schools enrolled 1,162 pupils. The federal Bureau of Education concurrently operated 71 rural schools that enrolled 3,500 pupils. Children, mostly non-Native, in incorporated municipalities continued to be served by city-operated schools. There were exceptions. The Territorial Commissioner of Education wrote in his 1920 report:

. . . no objection is made [to attendance of Natives at Territorial Schools] where the admission of Natives does not interfere seriously with the progress of the school and where their admission does not precipitate a quarrel because of divided sentiment. In other words, the question of admission of Native children has been left very largely in the hands of the local school boards.16

Despite the intention to maintain racially segregated schools, this did not happen. Neither the territorial government nor the Bureau of Education had enough money to establish schools in each rural community. Over time duplicate schools disappeared and de facto integration occurred to the extent that small community schools occasionally included both Native and non-Native children. By the time of statehood in 1959, there would be 6,144 Native students in territorial schools and 4,300 Native students in federal schools.17

Throughout the years the territorial school system, regardless of the number of Native students it served, continued to offer a Western curriculum. The federally operated system, in contrast, included Native games and dances in its 1926 curriculum. Other curriculum elements for the Bureau of Education-operated schools included Health and Sanitation; Agriculture and Industry; Decencies, Safety, and Comforts of Home; Healthful Recreation and Amusements; and Basic Education and Industrial Schools. To further this curriculum the Bureau of Education established three vocational schools for Alaska Natives. The schools were at Eklutna, Kanakanka, and White Mountain.18

In 1931 the Secretary of the Interior transferred responsibility for education of Alaska Natives from the Bureau of Education to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). With appointment of John Collier as Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1934, the BIA adopted dual-purpose education for Native Americans, including Alaska Natives. Collier said when taking office:

Indians whose culture, civic tradition, and inherited institutions are still strong and virile should be encouraged and helped to develop their life in their own patterns, not as segregated minorities but as noble elements in our common life.

At the same time, the individual Indian is entitled to every opportunity which the nation offers to any citizen. This means that he is entitled to the fullest educational privileges, not in sequestrated institutions but in the schools and colleges which serve us all.19

Congress reflected some of the concerns expressed by Collier in 1934 when it authorized financial assistance to territories and states operating public schools on tax-exempt Native-occupied lands. Practice failed to fulfill policy, however. When Alaskan officials were unable to obtain federal funding for territorial schools with mostly Native student bodies, they began to transfer the schools to the BIA. By 1939 nineteen schools had been transferred from territorial to BIA jurisdiction.20

Evaluations of the era revealed that BIA schools were not meeting the federal education policy goals of (1) integrating Natives in White culture; (2) preserving Native culture. A 1935 survey concluded that the curricula in rural schools in Alaska were an inept patchwork of various American textbooks quite unsuited to an Eskimo environment. A 1941 study reached similar conclusions: '. . . this academic type of curriculum is especially ill-suited to the needs of Native children, who constitute a large majority in the rural schools.21

When World War II came to Alaska in the early 1940s, Native and non-Native contact intensified throughout the territory. As a result BIA adopted a new policy for assimilation. Instead of converting entire Native groups to White culture, individual Natives would be prepared for assimilation. At the same time the Territorial Attorney General issued an opinion which stated that the Territory was obligated to provide education for Native children either in traditionally White schools or in separate but equal segregated schools.22

At the close of World War II, the Territorial Commissioner of Education proposed a single territorially operated school system for Natives and non-Natives alike. He also insisted on a common curriculum for all students. This initiative was unsuccessful. The BIA continued to operate a separate school system for Alaska Natives.23

To facilitate its new policy of individual assimilation, the BIA in 1947 opened a high school for Natives at the site of a World War II Naval Air Station at Sitka. Known as Mount Edgecumbe, the school took Native students from all over Alaska. It offered both academic and vocational instruction. If Mount Edgecumbe was full, Alaska Native students were sent to boarding schools operated by the BIA in other states. The bureau also operated an elementary school at Wrangell for children from communities with no school facilities at all. The philosophical emphasis of the BIA program changed from keeping Native children in their home communities to taking them out of their communities and encouraging them not to return.24

In 1951 the BIA began to transfer some of the schools it had been operating to the Territory of Alaska for operation as contract schools. This process continued after Alaska became a state in 1959 and was completed in 1985.25

With statehood in 1959 came formation in 1965-1966 of a State Operated School System designed to provide centralized management of schools in rural Alaska. By the 1960s the generally agreed-upon goal of the education system was to equip Alaska Native youth to function in either Native or non-Native cultures. In 1975 the state disbanded the State Operated School System. Twenty-one regionally controlled school districts were set up to provide local control of schools. Committee School Committees supplemented regional school boards to further emphasize local participation in school management.26

Federal policy also changed in the mid-1970s and placed emphasis on local control of schools. Public Law 95-561 assigned most control over BIA schools to tribal governing bodies or to school boards appointed by tribal governing bodies. These tribal entities had more control than that delegated by the State to regional school boards and Community School Committees.27

State Operated Schools, when in existence, also provided education in grades 8 through 12 at several regional high schools. Established as a result of studies in the 1960s, the regional high schools were discontinued in the 1970s. Students' inability to fit comfortably back into village life after attending the regional high schools plus appalling alcohol abuse and suicide rates in the student populations led policy makers to re-evaluate the regional high school concept.28

State-funded village high schools became a reality in the late 1970s. Taken into court by plaintiffs who argued a constitutional right to K-12 education in a student's home community, the state settled out of court in 1975. In the settlement the state agreed to provide a high school in every community that has an elementary school. One-hundred and ten communities out of 126 eligible chose to have a local high school. Later, ten of the 16 that originally chose not to have a local high school reversed their original decisions.29

In the words of the most thorough study to date of the federal and state school systems operated in Alaska from 1867 to 1970:

policy makers over the years have vacillated between attempted assimilation of the Native population into white society and protection of their cultural identity.30

That study goes on to report that throughout the history of these systems, non-Natives determined policy and developed programs under the premise that they knew what was best for Native education.31

II. Contemporary Background

A. Current Western Education and Alaska Natives, K-12

1. Alaska Native Students in the 1990s

In the 1989-1990 school year, 68 percent of Alaska's K-12 students were White; 21 percent were Alaska Native; and 11 percent were from other ethnic groups. Twenty-two of Alaska's 54 school districts had student populations of 75 percent or more Alaska Natives. Twenty-nine districts (over half) had student populations of 50 percent or more Alaska Natives.32 These percentages did not change dramatically in 1990-1991 school year when, of Alaska's 110,982 K-12 students, 24,453 or 22 percent were Alaska Natives.33

In some school districts up to 30 percent of Native children in elementary school are below grade level. In grades 7 through 12 the figure jumps up to over 40 percent.34 Despite this failure of the school system, some students are passed from grade to grade and finally graduated without achieving academic competency. According to one Native Alaskan who testified before the Alaska Natives Commission:

Education in the Bush for our students is nothing but social passing. A kid in school; he doesn't read or write well; he's passed along; he's old — too old to be in school; he's too big; he's whatever; he['s] disruptive; so we're not going to educat[e] [ion] him; we're going to pass him through.35

Another observer noted that many Alaska Native high school graduates can't read at the sixth grade level or do sixth grade math.36

Overall, about 30 percent of Alaskan students entering high school wind up not graduating. In urban areas, about 60 percent of Alaska Natives entering high school do not graduate, while in rural areas only 12 to 15 percent do not graduate. However, the high rural graduation rate is countered by much lower-than-average student achievement levels.37

Students in over one-third (20 of 54) of Alaska's school districts scored on average below the 22nd percentile in either reading, mathematics, or language arts at the 4th, 6th, or 8th grade. On average, Natives constituted 87 percent of the children in these districts. Nineteen of the 20 lower-performance districts had populations that were 60 to 98 percent Native students.38

The failure of the schools to adequately prepare Alaska Natives is also reflected in tests such as the American College Test (ACT) and Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) taken by students preparing to graduate from high school. According to a 1989 address by a former Chancellor of the University of Alaska Fairbanks:

Caucasian Alaskans had an average composite score of 20.7 [on the ACT], almost two points above the national average; American Indian groups [outside Alaska] had an average score of 14.9, while Alaska Natives had an average score of 12.2.39

This means that Alaska Natives had ACT scores about 40 percent, on average, lower than those of White students. As the following table shows, this inadequate preparation of Alaska Natives for pre-college testing is also confirmed by SAT results.

Table 1: Scholastic Aptitude Test Scores by Ethnicity



Average Score


Average Score


Average Score

Alaska Natives/

Native Americans




All Students in Alaska




Source: Riverside Publishing Co., Report of State Averages and Responses to Student Questionnaire, Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, November 1990.

In the instance of the ACT, and presumably the SAT, however, these statistics have been illuminated by more investigation. A 1987 questionnaire sent to students taking these tests revealed that only a small percentage of Alaska Natives taking them had studied subjects such as chemistry, American history, second-year algebra. Fifty-three percent of all Alaska students had taken second-year algebra versus only 11 percent of Alaska Native students. Forty-eight percent of all Alaska students had taken chemistry versus 8 percent of Alaska Native students. Sixty-seven percent of all Alaska students had taken American history versus 15 percent of Alaska Native students. These are among the studies that help students to acquire the habits of critical thinking and concepts necessary to do well on the college screening tests. Alaska Native students who reported taking these courses had ACT scores resembling those of non-Natives.40

In addition to Alaska Native students who are short-changed by the instruction they receive, there are others who leave school prior to graduation. On a statewide basis, only about 67 percent of Alaska Native students complete high school. This compares to a total statewide completion rate of 75 percent. The drop-outs who do not complete high school suffer many adverse consequences. Generally, they are left with low academic skills, lack of employment opportunities, limited opportunities of further education or training, and high potential for development of mental and physical health and social problems.41

Surveys conducted for the 1990-1991 school year indicate that Alaska Native students leaving school before graduation did so for a variety of reasons. Of the 914 Alaska Native drop-outs interviewed for the survey, 267 (almost 30%) had been dropped either administratively or for truancy, or they had been expelled. The second largest group, about 20 percent, said that they had dropped out due to family reasons. Another 11 percent left school early due to medical reasons (including pregnancy), and 8 percent indicated they left school because they were failing academically.42

2. Factors Contributing to Educational Success and Failure

Many reasons are cited for Alaska Native students' lack of academic success. The reasons include the economic situation in which many find themselves; endemic medical and social problems; the difficulty of succeeding in a system based on values of another culture and managed to a large extent by people from another culture; and, for rural Alaska Natives, limitations thought to be inherent in small schools.

a. General. A recent study of lower-performance school districts found them to have these common characteristics:

rural and remote;
small with low pupil/teacher ratios;
cultural and linguistic differences [from the predominate White culture];
high rate of poverty and low per capita income;
high rates of students classed as learning disabled; and,
high rates of teacher turnover.

Alaska, with an area of 586,000 square miles, and its population scattered over those miles, necessarily has a number of rural and remote school districts. As a result of the Tobeluk v. Lind settlement of 1976, state school regulations require that a school district must provide local secondary education if the local school committee wants it, if the community has an elementary school, and if one or more children are available to attend secondary school. As a result, there are over 100 small rural and remote high schools in Alaska.44

These 100-plus small rural schools are included in 31 predominately rural school districts that serve over 19,000 students. Of these students, over 14,000 are Alaska Natives. Only seven percent of the instructional staff serving these students are themselves Alaska Natives. Another 9,500 Alaska Native students attend non-rural schools. In these schools, less than two percent of the instructional staff are Alaska Natives.

In the rural schools, over 12 percent of the student population are classified as Chapter I pupils. This means that their educational attainment is below the level appropriate for children of their age according to regulations of the United States Department of Education. In non-rural schools, less than 4 percent of the student population are classified as Chapter I pupils. In rural and non-rural schools combined, Alaska Native students make up over 49 percent of Chapter I students. Also, in the rural schools, nearly 40 percent of the students are classified as bilingual/bicultural, as compared to less than 4 percent for students in non-rural schools.46

Nearly all rural Alaska schools recognize and attempt to accommodate the bilingual/bicultural nature of their students. Bilingual programs designed to help with English are offered in 53 percent of Alaska's small schools. Bilingual programs designed to maintain Native languages are offered in 62 percent of Alaska's small schools. Eighty percent of these schools offer instruction in community history and cultural traditions. Eighty-five percent of these schools offer instruction in local economic skills such as trapping. Eighty-nine percent offer instruction in subjects such as land claims and Native corporations that are of particular relevance to Alaska Natives.47

b. Teacher Turnover. High teacher turnover is a fact of life in Alaska's rural schools. Nationally, and also in Alaska, teacher retention in rural schools plots as a U shape. Rural schools tend to have some teachers with little experience, some teachers with much experience, and few teachers with a mid-range of experience.48

Rural schools in Alaska have an approximate 30 percent teacher turnover rate. This means that at the end of any given school year, about 500 of the 1600 teachers employed in rural Alaska leave for other jobs.49

The high turnover means that teachers often do not have enough time to adjust to the schools and communities in which they find themselves and that school-community communications must begin anew each year. As a result, students in rural schools are placed at a disadvantage. Responsibility for this condition can be apportioned among institutions that train teachers, agencies that certify teachers, school administrators that hire teachers, and teachers themselves.

Institutions that produce teachers frequently do not produce the generalists that rural schools need. They also often do not provide student teaching and internships that acquaint their students with the unique challenges and rewards of teaching in a rural, multi-cultural setting. These institutions also need to expand opportunities for professional development of teachers who are on the job in rural schools.50

Agencies that certify teachers also bear some responsibility for high teacher turnover in rural areas. By not establishing different criteria for rural and metropolitan teaching certificates, they fail to alert candidates to the differing requirements of rural and metropolitan teaching and do not give school officials knowledge that they need to make good hiring decisions.51

School officials also contribute to the problem of high teacher turnover. Some turn to the institutions in which they were trained or Outside school districts in which they have worked as sources of candidates for teaching positions. In many cases, excellent, newly graduated teachers or outstanding teachers from other areas are simply not prepared for the exigencies of teaching in rural Alaska.

Teachers sometimes set themselves up as agents of high teacher turnover. Some fail to understand the differing conditions of rural and metropolitan teaching. They may not have prepared themselves academically for those conditions and be frustrated once on the job by finding themselves ill-equipped for the tasks they are asked to perform.52

c. Size of Student Population. Despite the seeming association between small rural schools and low-performance, specialists in rural education point out that they can offer several advantages to their students. These advantages include:

low student-teacher ratios;
opportunities for teachers to get to know students and their families;
opportunities for teachers to significantly influence the lives of their students;
relative freedom from burdensome bureaucracy; and,
economies of scale.

The small schools are, some investigators have noted, similar to the alternative schools offered in non-rural areas. They offer a personalized atmosphere, a sense of community, and individualized instruction tailored to students' academic background.54

The same specialists admit that small rural schools cannot be comprehensive. They lack the diversity of teachers, pupils, and courses as well as the extracurricular activities. On the other hand, they point out, small rural schools have a wealth of advantages that make them among the most promising educational opportunities to be found anywhere.55

Thus, there is some evidence that simply being rural and remote and having low teacher-student ratios are not necessarily ingredients of low performance.

d. Poverty and Student Performance. Children living in poverty are one-third less likely to graduate from high school than other children,56 and Alaska Natives were the largest group of the Alaska population to live in poverty. In 1989, one in every five Alaska Natives lived in poverty versus one in fifteen Alaskans generally.57

In Alaska's rural school districts, over 47 percent of the students lived in poverty as of the 1990-1991 school year. This compares to 17 percent in non-rural schools districts. Rural districts did not, however, have significantly higher proportions of learning-disabled students than did non-rural school districts (15.33% versus 12.39%).58

School-age Alaska Native children, like Native American children throughout the United States, are bored, burned-out, unhappy, and worried, according to a recent report. A national survey of Indian and Native youth revealed that 21 percent of the girls and 12 percent of the boys have attempted suicide; 46 percent of the girls and 56 percent of the boys have used hard liquor; and 26 percent of the girls and 9 percent of the boys have been sexually abused. Less than 50 percent of the Indian and Native youth lived with both parents.59

e. The Cultural Divide. Another reason cited for Alaska Native students' lack of academic success is a dearth of Native teachers. Native teachers, it is believed, are better able to understand Native ways of learning and to establish bridges between schools and the communities in which they are located.

Native ways of learning are different than traditional Western ways of learning. Much of this is attributable to the high value placed on cooperation by Native culture as opposed to the high value placed on individualism by Western culture. In the words of Mr. John Active, a Yupik who spoke at a University of Alaska Faculty Convocation in 1992, Native students have to become another person, an opposite of their natural selves, to succeed in a traditional American school setting. Traditional Native learning emphasizes quiet observation as opposed to the questioning and active participation emphasized by American-trained educators.

The gaps that the bridges must cross are illustrated by a recent incident in a rural Alaska community. A federal official who had been in the community on non-related business for only a few hours was asked by residents of the predominately Native village to talk with the school principal. The principal needed to know, they said, that the instructor hired to teach Native language was teaching their children the wrong dialect. When the federal official asked why the parents did not talk with the principal themselves, the parents replied that the principal would not listen to them because they were Natives.60

The cultural differences between students and teachers in Alaska's rural schools are exacerbated by a lack of Native teachers and administrators. In 1991 Alaska Natives made up less than one-tenth (9.5%) of the work force within Alaska's elementary and secondary schools. More than two-thirds of them were instructional aides based mainly in rural schools. Of the nearly 7,000 elementary and secondary teachers statewide, less than 4 percent (1990: 3.2%; 1991: 3.7%) were Alaska Natives. Out of about 250 certificated Alaska Native teachers, a total of 244 were employed as instructional staff in the 1990-1991 school year. This included 164 in rural schools and 80 in non-rural schools. Only a small percentage of school administrators, however, were Alaska Natives.

B. Current Western Education and Alaska Natives, Post-Secondary

Alaska had 30,793 students enrolled in all of its colleges in 1990. The 2,793 Alaska Natives enrolled in the colleges constitute 9 percent of the total in-state population enrolled in post-secondary institutions. Comprehensive figures are not available, but at least another 280 Alaska Native students were enrolled in colleges outside Alaska.

Table 2: Enrollment by Ethnicity at Alaskan Colleges — 1990


% Alaska

% Asian

% Black

% Hispanic

% White

% Foreign


Alaska Bible








Alaska Junior








Alaska Pacific








Sheldon Jackson








U of Ak –








U of Ak –








U of Ak –








Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 3, 1993, p. 21.

Native enrollment in post-secondary institutions does appear to be increasing. Native enrollment at the University of Alaska Anchorage is said to have increased 50 percent between 1987 and 1991.

Of those Alaska Native students who do make it to college, according to one long-time Native education administrator, only about half succeed in graduating. What data are available appear to bear this out. According to a University of Alaska Anchorage study, that school's retention of Alaska Natives over a five-semester period averaged 58 percent with retention for specific semesters ranging from a low of 43.8 percent (Spring 1989) to a high of 86.5 percent (Fall 1988).61 A lack of standard data and reporting, however, make comprehensive conclusions about Alaska Native retention rates impossible to reach.

According to the UAA study on student retention, of 140 Alaska Natives who enrolled in 1987 for the first time, only eight remained three years later. This 5.7 percent retention rate for Alaska Natives compared to a 10.6 percent retention rate for White students. These rates consider only students who left UAA and do not indicate whether or not they transferred to other schools or returned to UAA later. Overall, the University is said to lose about 60 percent of Native students between their freshman and sophomore years.62

Table 3: Ethnicity in Population and College Enrollment in Alaska


% of Total


% of College


Alaska Natives/
American Indians



Asian/Pacific Islanders









Other and Unknown



Hispanics (may be any race)



Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education, Almanac, August 26, 1992.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) has not conducted a study of Alaska Native dropouts. It has conducted a study of its Alaska Native graduates for a 10-year period. The study revealed that an increasing number of Alaska Natives have earned degrees at UAF over the last two decades. Most of the increase came, however, between 1989 and 1992.63

Of the total of 445 Alaska Natives who received one kind of degree or another at UAF, 107 received associate degrees. Of these two-year degrees, 72 percent were in the General Program. Other majors attracting relatively large numbers of Alaska Native graduates included Human Services Technology (8%) and Office Management and Technology (also 8%). The remaining Alaska Native graduates at the associate level majored in subjects ranging from Airframe & Powerplant to Science.64

Of the total 318 Alaska Natives who received bachelors degrees at UAF between 1976 and 1992, over 40 percent majored in Education. Other majors attracting relatively large numbers of Alaska Native graduates included Business Administration (8%), Psychology (7%), and Social Work (5%). The remaining graduates at the bachelors level majored in subjects ranging from Accounting (1 graduate) to Wildlife Management (2 graduates).65 During the same period, 20 Alaska Natives earned masters degrees at UAF. Of these, 75 percent majored in Education. The other 25 percent majored in subjects ranging from Anthropology to Geology. No Alaska Natives earned doctoral degrees at UAF during the period of the study.66

Other branches of the University of Alaska and small colleges in the state have not conducted similar studies. Alaska Junior College, a two-year proprietary institution in Anchorage focusing on career-oriented courses, did review its records for 1990-1993. Out of 96 Alaska Natives enrolled in those years (about 5% of the total student population), 50 percent withdrew before graduation. Nineteen percent of the Alaska Native students enrolled during the period graduated, in contrast to 94 percent of the non-Native students enrolled in the same period.67

Standard data are also not available for Alaska Native students enrolled in post-secondary schools outside Alaska. -Native organizations assisting students financially could provide incidental information for the 1992-1993 school year. The Bristol Bay Native Association reported that it assisted 26 college students attending institutions outside Alaska. Out of the 26, only one dropped out and one transferred back to Alaska. Central Council, Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska, assisted 235 students. Of these, 64 students attended college in Alaska and 171 attended college outside Alaska.

Of all of those students, between 41 percent (Fall 1992) and 53 percent (Winter 1993) attained Honor Roll status. Chugachmuit had 8 students enrolled outside Alaska. Their grade point averages ranged from 2.35 to 3.09. Kawerak, Inc., (in school year 1991-1992) assisted 61 students at in-state institutions and 25 at out-of-state institutions. None dropped out of school.

Kotzebue IRA assisted three students in attending out-of-state colleges. Their grade points averaged 3.0 or better. Nome Eskimo Community funded six students attending post-secondary institutions outside Alaska and 14 attending post-secondary institutions inside Alaska. The six students had an average grade point average of 2.98. Tanana Chiefs Conference funded 48 college students, whose grade point averages ranged from 1.60 to 3.80.68

Why some Alaska Native students have difficulty in college can probably be linked to inadequate preparation in high school and to some of the same conditions that make it difficult for them to succeed in high school. One national study has noted that the overall Native American high school dropout rate is declining. This is attributed to Parental involvement, belief in the relevance of education, community-based curriculum, appropriate teaching styles, caring teachers and administrators, and holistic early intervention programs. The study goes on to suggest that similar qualities would increase Native American successes at the post-secondary level.69

III. Findings and Recommendations

A. Principal Findings

1. Skills Necessary for Success

Children are the most important segment of any community, for each community's future lies in its children. To assure that future, the children must be given, through education, the skills that will enable them to succeed in life and the understanding that will continue the community's values. For Alaska Native children, this means that they must receive an integrated education that encompasses two sets of skills and two sets of values.

The first set of skills is that necessary for the children to succeed in traditional Native lifeways. The second set of skills is that necessary for the children to succeed in Western society. The children’s education must also integrate Native and Western values so that they are empowered in both cultures. The skills and values are inseparable, for mastery of one cannot be obtained without mastery of the other.

This ideal of an integrated education has not been achieved, or even accepted, in the past. Alaska Native children enter an education system developed by Western culture. In past years the system had eradication of Native culture as one of its objectives. Even after this misguided goal was abandoned, the system still proved unable to meet its own fundamental objective: education of Native children in the skills and values necessary to succeed in Western society.

2. Failure of the Public Education System

This inability of the education system in its current form to meet the needs of Alaska Native children is manifested in many ways. Traditional measures of success in America's public education system include academic achievement, preparation for higher education, readiness to enter the work force, capacity for leadership, and ability to participate in a self-governing society. Ability to achieve success in these areas is distributed no differently among our children than among non-Native children.

Notwithstanding their innate capacity, too many Alaska Native children consistently score lower-than norm groups on standardized tests that are said to measure academic achievement, fail to graduate from high school in acceptable numbers, experience unusual difficulty in moving from high school to college work, do not have the skills potential employers expect, and are ill-equipped to participate in a self-governing society that depends upon a literate and well-informed citizenry.

Despite the success of several innovative local programs, on a statewide basis the public education system now serving Alaska Native children fails to provide an education that will prepare them for life. In too many cases, the education system does not provide our children the education they need to become good citizens, productive adults, and individuals with self-respect and dignity in the communities of their choice.

3. Failure of the Social System

The most thoughtfully designed education system, most up-to-date school facilities, best trained and carefully selected teachers, brilliantly conceived and executed curricula, and unimpeachable intentions will not, by themselves, significantly improve the educational situation of Alaska Native students. The environments in which many young Alaska Natives find themselves must be rid of alcohol and drug abuse, dysfunctional families, and poverty. Parents and the community must join in the education process if the education system is to do all that it might. Ironically, improved education is part of the solution to these problems and must begin immediately if Alaska Natives are to survive as a distinct culture and with the fulfilling lives to which all Americans are entitled.

4. Needs and Issues

As previously discussed, there are many reasons why the education system as a whole has not adequately served the needs of Alaska Native children. They include economic, health, and social issues as well as differences between Western and Native ways of learning (see p. 18-31 for detailed discussion). Some spring from other issues in Alaska Native life being examined by other task forces of the Alaska Natives Commission. To address needs and issues within the purview of the Education Task Force:

Alaska's education system needs to design model curricula and alternative delivery modes that will prepare Native students to function in Western society while acquiring a clearer understanding of their cultural heritage and traditional lifeways;

Alaska's education system needs to prepare Native students to be at home in and adapted to rural life as well as urban life;

Alaska's education system needs to supply teachers knowledgeable of and with respect for Native cultures who are equipped to take advantage of Native ways of learning;

Alaska's education system needs to accommodate locally created and culturally relevant standards for teachers and students and to assure that teachers and students meet those standards;

The Native community, including parents and community leaders, needs to achieve a compelling voice in the direction of and widespread ownership of the educational system;

Replacement of obsolete BIA facilities that never met state codes and standards is critical;

Facilities built in the future should be designed so that students see the schools as an extension of their community's local culture; and,

Native arts, fine arts, music (band and chorus) must be included as sources of on-going recreation.

5. Addressing Needs and Issues

Federally funded supplemental programs should include Native operation of contract programs providing early childhood education as a form of choice and contract programs providing post-secondary education (grade 13). Contract programs providing instruction to administrators, teachers, and students in Native cultural behavior, heritage, and language are needed, as are Regional Education Institutes offering educational services supplemental to those available in village schools. These, too, should be operated by Natives.

Tribally-Controlled Colleges providing higher education opportunities specifically aimed at nurturing the cultural, social, economic, and political aspirations of Alaska Natives are also necessary and, again, should be Native operated.

B. Recommendations Regarding Alaska Native Education

1. Three-component K-12 Education System

Continue or take action necessary to create a three-component K-12 education system of Alaska Natives that includes: home community K-12 schooling that is the right of every American child; distance education delivery that effectively redresses the limitations inherent in small rural schools; regional academic and vocational schools that effectively redress the limitations of small rural schools that cannot be overcome by internal improvements and distance education delivery; and, vocational schools that adapt curricula to regional and local needs.

2. Total Local Control of Schools

Establish total local control of schools by recasting advisory boards as policymaking boards and increasing Native administrators and teachers through affirmative hiring and alternative certification.

3. Model Curricula for Alaska Native Students

Establish model curricula that meet the needs of Alaska Native students by engaging Native scholars and educators in developing: model K-12 curricula differentiated on a regional basis; model post-secondary programs that will aid Native students in the transition from high school to college or vocational education; and, model programs that will aid Native students in becoming proficient in skills necessary to continue the subsistence tradition.

4. Recruitment and Training of Native Professionals

Recruit and train educational staff, including local Native professionals, to meet the special circumstances of Alaska Native students by providing: incentives to Native college students to become teachers; incentives for Native teacher aides to become certified; alternative certification avenues to encourage qualified Native professionals to enter the field of education; alternative certification avenues to establish a role in K-12 education for elders learned in Native culture, traditions, and learning styles; incentives to Native teachers to become school administrators; and, instruction in Native culture and language for all teachers and educational administrators certified in Alaska, whether rural or urban.

5. Involvement of Parents and Community

Encourage Native parents and community leaders to become and stay involved with the education of Native children by: establishing on-going community relations programs that encourage parents to become active participants in the education of their children; making schools places where Native parents feel comfortable and know that their contributions are valued; and, encouraging Alaska Native leaders and elders to devote part of their effort to monitoring and improving Native education.

6. Subject Matter Prerequisites

Require a major in a subject matter discipline as a prerequisite for completion of a professional teacher education program at all campuses of the University of Alaska.

7. Teacher Preparation for Village Schools

Require teacher training programs that prepare new teachers and upgrade in-service teachers for assignment in village schools to be standard offerings of the University of Alaska system and routinely available as a means to qualify candidates for teacher certificate endorsements appropriate to a system of certification that distinguishes between competencies necessary to teach in village Alaska and traditional teaching assignments.

8. Distinguishing Qualifications for Teaching in Village Schools

Enact legislation establishing teaching certificates that distinguish between qualifications for teaching in rural schools and qualifications for teaching in metropolitan schools such as qualification in multiple and varied subjects.

9. Teaching Certificates in Non-traditional Fields

Enact legislation establishing limited teaching certificates in fields where baccalaureate degree training is not sufficiently available (such as Native languages) so long as the person to be certificated demonstrates both subject matter expertise and teaching competency.

10. Certification in Native Language and Culture

Allow Alaska Native language, culture, and vocational experts to attain certification as classroom teachers once their competence as teachers has been documented through the State Department of Education.

11. Teacher Tenure Requirements

Amend Sec. 14.20.150(2) of the Alaska Administrative Code to extend years necessary to qualify for teacher tenure to five years, and institute remedies to decrease teacher turnover to enhance student learning and to maintain stability in school programs.

12. Graduation Requirements

Amend minimum state high school graduation requirements to require one credit in Alaska history and culture, and also include environmental education and health education as required curricula.

13. Funding for Curricula Appropriate for Native Students

Enact legislation appropriating specific funding for schools serving Alaska Native children to develop and use linguistically, culturally, and developmentally appropriate curricula, and re-energize the LEARNALASKA Network to provide alternative education in rural Alaska.

14. Indian/Native Education Programs for all Native Students

Amend legislation authorizing Indian/Native education programs to include funding eligibility and accessibility in all areas that includes Alaska Natives.

15. Upgrade and Replacements of Rural Schools

The federal government should appropriate one-time funding of $50 million to $100 million for upgrade or replacement of former Bureau of Indian Affairs schools, and long-term planning for school construction that ensures timely replacement of obsolete plants should be. instituted.

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