It is incomprehensible that in this data-driven age of accountability the U.S. Department of Education, through its National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), would stoop to a more technological version of the same neglect, marginalization and disenfranchisement practiced in the boarding schools of the 19th century. This time the feds didn’t cut education funding directly, instead they cut the collection of Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) data which agencies can use to increase funding levels via grants related to school improvement.
In the fall of 2010 the NCES unilaterally decided to eliminate the 169 Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools from the largest and most comprehensive education survey administered in the country—SASS. In October 2010 at an NCES sponsored training, I first learned of the fed’s plan to eliminate the BIE schools from the survey. Coincidentally, the training began the day after the public comment period ended for the proposed elimination. In December 2010 the NCES submitted a funding justification for the 2011-12 SASS to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
This document states, in part, “There is no other national survey yielding similar in-depth data on public school districts or public and private schools, principals, teachers, or library media centers.” In a single sentence within another document provided to the OMB, all of the BIE schools—which have been included in the SASS since 1990—were eliminated from the data collection efforts, “No Bureau of Indian Affairs-funded schools will be included in the sampling frame for the 2011-12 SASS.”
In May 2011, I received a response to a FOIA request I had submitted to the Department of Education requesting documents and emails pertinent to the decision to eliminate the BIE schools from the 2011-12 SASS. There was no record of even a formal conversation within the NCES of the intent of or rationale for this action. In July 2011, I wrote U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan explaining the negative impact that eliminating our BIE operated and tribally controlled schools from the SASS would have on our indigenous communities. Essentially, the field of indigenous education is in need of more research that informs administrator and teacher practices. The SASS information also provides tribal and federal policy actors with data on the state of teacher working conditions, which are linked to student learning conditions. Mr. Duncan then forwarded my letter to NCES Commissioner Jack Buckley who responded on July 29, 2011. In his letter Mr. Buckley stated, in part:
You are correct; NCES will not be including a census of BIE schools in the 2011-12 SASS. NCES was unable to procure funding in time for this collection. NCES is not ruling out the possibility for the 2015-16 SASS and will work diligently to obtain funding for the next collection.
Regarding the BIE SASS funding source, the commissioner also stated in an email message that, “The Office of Indian Education in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education in the U.S. Department of Education has historically funded this component.”
Please email the individuals listed below and demand that they reinstate the Bureau of Indian Education schools in the Schools and Staffing Survey. They chose to eliminate them; they are morally obligated to reinstate them.
Jack Buckley, NCES commissioner
Kathryn Chandler, SASS program director
Kerry Gruber, SASS project director
Joyce Silverthorne, OIE director
The NCES acronym has taken on a new meaning in Indian country: Natives Cut from Education Survey.