America has long struggled with equitable access to high quality education. As we grapple with how to best educate students during the COVID crisis, this struggle became even more critical. Given the dangers of in-school instruction, the large majority of American schools pivoted to some version of distance education. This quick transition has exposed and exacerbated existing disparities in how we educate our children and has highlighted the profound consequences of the digital divide. In particular, many Tribal communities are under served by broadband, with 628,000 Tribal households lacking access (a rate more than four times that of the general population) making distance education challenging, if not impossible. The consequence is that students in Native communities may not have been receiving adequate online instruction, and could fall further and further behind their peers as the COVID pandemic continues. In order support BIE schools in distance learning, the BIE required fuller information about the challenges these schools faced and the best practices to address these challenges, and support in creating action plans to move schools from where they are to the ideal future state.
BIE funded NORC and our partners Bowman Performance Consulting, Education Northwest, and SRI International, to directly address this problem.
This project has three main goals. First, we are investigating all Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) and Tribally Controlled Schools (TCS) schools' and colleges’ current state of distance education. Second, we are defining best practices for distance learning implementation based on BIE and TCS schools', colleges', and students' specific strengths and challenges. Third, we will develop plans to bridge the gap between schools' and colleges' current and ideal states of distance learning and provide oversight of execution of these plans.
Historically, Tribal communities have experienced racist and colonialist approaches as research subjects which have resulted in inconsistencies in how their lived experiences are represented and communicated to the broader public. Our research team takes this issue seriously and is working to center Indigenous ways of knowing and learning throughout the project. The research team’s work is driven by BPC’s Dr. Bowman’s Culturally Responsive Indigenous Framework (Bowman & Francis, 2018), which underscores the notion that understanding Indigenous culture and contexts is important in developing an effective Indigenous evaluation or research design.
The Framework uses traditional knowledge and contemporary Indigenous theory and methods to design and implement a research study led by and for the benefit of Tribal nations. The model allows for adaptations for community context/building community, cultural responsiveness/traditional teachings for solving issues, documenting strengths as well as needs or challenges, and flexibility to meet local and funder requirements for evidence-based evaluations. By using Western and Indigenous evaluation methods together as a truly blended practice and not as a separate or after thought to the evaluative process, the team works to facilitate acceptance of the results and buy-in of the recommendations, thereby helping to ensure the success of the project.
This project will provide a thorough understanding of the state of distance learning for all BIE and TCS schools and colleges and will support schools in reaching best practices in distance education. In addition, the insights around measuring distance learning and supporting schools in bettering their distance learning--can be expanded to all types of rural K-16 schools and an increasing range of policy considerations in the quickly evolving learning landscape.