Joe Nathan Column: Great ideas from tribal, historically black colleges, universities
Many more Minnesota students could succeed if we follow lessons from historically black and tribally controlled colleges and universities.
This was a key theme at an Oct. 9 conference. Professor Ivory Toldson, deputy director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges, praised the meeting as the “first time” people have considered lessons for K-12 schools from historically black colleges and universities. Bill Mendoza, director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaskan Native Education pointed out, “Lessons we’re describing will benefit all kinds of students.”
Why should we listen? Research presented showed that:
–The number of American Indian students who’ve earned a one-, two- or four-year higher education or degree has increased almost 250 percent in the last 20 years, in part because of the emergence of tribal colleges and universities. Minnesota has three.
–The top 10 schools that send African Americans on to earn Ph.D.’s in science or engineering are historically black colleges and universities.
–The top two colleges in the country producing American Indian nurses are tribal colleges.
–Almost 50 percent of the nation’s African American K-12 educators are graduates of historically black colleges.
–More than 50 percent of American Indians who are attending colleges or universities and are enrolled in recognized tribes attend tribal colleges or universities.
We often hear about achievement gaps. But researchers like Mendoza and Dr. Brian Bridges, vice president at the United Negro College Fund, pointed to positive achievements of students and graduates at historically black or tribal colleges and universities. These successes come despite the fact that these institutions educate, as Bridges noted, “large proportions of low-income, first-generation, academically under-prepared” students.
Key lessons from these institutions include:
–The value of a “go-to” person for each student. As Don Day, president of the Leech Lake Tribal College noted, this is a central part of their success. His and many tribal or historically black colleges and universities are organized so every student has a faculty or staff member who can help resolve academic or personal challenges.
–The importance of faculty mentors who help students consider careers. Researchers emphasized the value of having faculty who not only teach classes but also encourage students to consider careers in their field.
–A curriculum that helps young people discover “who they are.” This is important for every student. In fact, I worked at a Minnesota public school that required each student to study their own culture, however they defined it, and several others prior to graduating from high school.
–A deep belief from faculty in student success and an optimistic mindset.
–The importance of continuing innovation. Bridges and Carrie Billy, director of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, cited the need to assess what’s working well and be willing to try new approaches. This includes collaborations such as those developed by Fond-Du-Lac Tribal and Community College to offer on-campus career exploration programs for high school students as well as dual-credit courses.
Superintendents, state legislators, teachers union leaders and community groups responded positively to the meeting. For example, Minnesota Sen. Patricia Torres-Ray, who chairs the Senate K-12 Education Committee, responded that she wanted to convene a meeting with the House and governor to discuss how to make better use of Minnesota’s tribal colleges. St. Paul Superintendent Valeria Silva said she wants to review local textbooks to see if they need to be more inclusive. Mary Cathryn Ricker, executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, offered to help share inclusive lesson plans. Several participants said they planned to share lessons presented with groups they work with.
Papers from the meeting are available at the Center for School Change website, http://bit.ly/1xS8VTK.
The meeting was co-sponsored by the United Negro College Fund, African American Leadership Forum-Minnesota, St. Paul Indians in Action, Migizi Communications and the Center for School Change, where I work. Grotto, Cargill, General Mills and Target foundations helped make the meeting possible.
We often describe problems and gaps with African American, American Indian and other students of color. But there are great examples of progress and accomplishment. We can use them to help more students succeed.
Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at [email protected].