Federal officials are waiving some requirements of No Child Left Behind regulations for a tribal school in South Florida, hoping that giving the school flexibility will help in its efforts to boost student achievement and college readiness.
The Miccosukee Indian School was awarded flexibility by the departments of Education and the Interior, allowing it to use a different definition of what is known as “adequate yearly progress,” a standard in the no-child regulations. The Miccosukee school is funded by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Education.
In announcing the move, the secretaries of Education and Interior said that it was the first time such flexibility had been granted for a tribal school but that they were hopeful more would follow.
“We want something that is profoundly different for Indian children than what we’ve had in the past – and that is all about tribal self-governance, self-determination,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “And it starts with making sure that the people that care most deeply about these children are the people that are making decisions for them.”
Added Education Secretary Arne Duncan: “We want to have more tribes step up and hold themselves to high standards.”
The school for the Miccosukee Tribe, which is based west of Miami, serves about 150 students. Principal Manuel Felix Varela, who joined Obama administration officials in Washington to announce the move, said that a typical kindergarten class for the school might be about 12 but by the time high school graduation comes the class might just have three or four, as students drift away from school.
According to the letter from federal officials to the tribe, the approach approved by the federal government will allow the school to better target the progress of individual students. The school will administer college- and career-ready standards in reading and language arts and mathematics and will implement curricula aligned with those standards.
In reading and language arts and math, the school aims to reduce the percentage of students who are judged not proficient by 50 percent over six years.
Varela said the school has been running on the revised model for the past couple of years. “How will the school look in a couple of years? I can only say ‘better,’ ” he said. “I like to be better every single day, and that’s the same standard that I hope for our staff and for our students.”
While Monday’s announcement was the first time such flexibility had been awarded a tribe, the Department of Education has regularly granted flexibility to states on certain requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. In exchange, the states develop comprehensive plans to improve educational outcomes, close achievement gaps, increase equity and improve the quality of instruction.
Closing the gap among Native American youth is a particularly pressing goal.
According to the Department of Education, the graduation rate for American Indian students increased from 65 percent in 2010-11 to about 70 percent in 2012-13. That said, the graduation rate for American Indian students is lower than the national rate of 81 percent.
Among Bureau of Indian Education schools, the figures are even worse: a graduation rate of 53 percent in 2011-12.