ECHO Culture & Change Symposium 2008

Executive Summary



Choctaw, Mississippi; October 6-8 2008

On October 6 – 8, 2008 ECHO (Education through Cultural and Historical Organizations), a program of the US Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement, convened a symposium to discuss the effects of NCLB (No Child Left Behind) on Native communities, and to share strategies for the upcoming debate over the re-authorization of ESEA (Elementary & Secondary Education Act of 1964)/NCLB.

The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and the collaborating institutions of ECHO hosted educators and cultural professionals from across the country. The purpose of the gathering was to share insights and experiences from their communities regarding the implementation of NCLB in their respective domains and their vision for a constructive future for Native education in the United States. The group consisted of nationally-recognized experts in the field of Native Education, members of the Choctaw education community and representatives from the six ECHO institutions. This document summarizes their joint findings and recommendations.

Historical Context:

The sympoisum took place within a context of Native education reform efforts reaching back over many years. The Meriam Report (1928), commissioned by the Dept. of the Interior, recommended incorporating tribal languages and culture into Indian education, sounding a theme that remains nearly unanimous in tribal and Native community educational thought. A wave of US government reforms in the late 1960s and early '70s resulted in the formation of the National Indian Education Association (1970) and the Indian Education Act of 1972, among other efforts, both of which supported the central findings of Meriam.  Two Presidential Orders, under Clinton in 1998 and Bush in 2003, strengthened a vision of Native language and culture as the basis of the Native educational system. Notwithstanding the long history of supportive documents and gestures, these efforts have enjoyed limited practical success and support. Progress toward the goal of an equitable system for education of Native children, as well as children of other groups outside the dominant cultural context, has been inconsistent at best.

ECHO Institutions:

The ECHO Culture & Change Symposium, Native Education: NCLB and Beyond, was organized as a joint project of the collaborating institutions of ECHO (Education through Cultural and Historical Organizations). This group of cultural institutions spans the US, and includes organizations with ties to Native Hawaiians, Alaska Natives, Native Americans, and non-Native communities with historical ties to those groups. The use of linguistic and cultural models for reaching, retaining and engaging Native students has been a dominant theme in Native education for decades. Similarly, museums and other cultural institutions have increasingly developed methodologies using culture- and place-based lessons to reach learners of all backgrounds and ages. These institutions have worked to tie these methods to the national and state educational frameworks by providing physical, tangible experiences that demonstrate required intellectual concepts. The confluence of these two distinct but related lines of thought has resulted in the present symposium.