Faced with teacher shortages in big cities and several academic specialties, school districts across the country have been hustling lately to sign up new recruits for the classroom. But at the same time, another teacher shortage has received little public attention--this one on Indian reservations, where on the average one teacher in three leaves every year, according to the American Indian College Fund.
To relieve this problem, the Education Department has developed a $10 million program with tribal colleges on reservations to train 1,000 new teachers over the next five years.
Tribal colleges and nearby universities are to work together to provide courses so that teacher's aides in reservation schools, most of them Indians, can earn the state credentials needed to become teachers.
Nationwide, there are fewer than 18,000 Native American teachers, less than 1 percent of the nation's 2.5 million teachers.
"There is tremendous turnover in schools that serve Native Americans because so many of them are isolated and remote, and if you're not part of that community, you don't stay very long," said Therese Dozier, who advises Education Secretary Richard W. Riley on teaching issues.
Dozier described the program as "kind of 'grow your own.' . . . We are trying to target it to people who are already in the schools and are part of the communities."
For the most part, reservation schools have few Native American teachers, said Richard Williams, executive director of the American Indian College Fund, which supports the nation's 31 tribal colleges. At the Flathead reservation in Montana, for instance, six of 450 teachers are Indians.
The fund has argued that Native American teachers are likely to stay in reservation teaching jobs longer, and are able to serve as role models for students and impart lessons about tribal culture.
"By incorporating culture, I can reach these kids in ways other teachers can't," said Allan Demaray, who began teaching this fall at a school on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. About 90 percent of the students in the reservation's schools are Indians, compared with about 10 percent of the teachers.
Teacher training has been a priority of the tribal colleges since the first one was founded three decades ago, and all but five have elementary education programs, most operated in conjunction with state colleges such as the University of North Dakota and University of Nebraska.
Dozier said one purpose of the grant program is to gradually build the capacity of tribal colleges to train more teachers.
An earlier design of the program, adopted in 1995, had only awarded fellowships to help individual students complete teacher training in exchange for a commitment to work in schools serving Native Americans.