A tribal school in Florida has been granted relief from the most onerous provisions of No Child Left Behind, making it the first tribal school in the nation to win its own waiver from the nation’s main federal education law.
The Miccosukee Indian School joins more than 40 states that have already won flexibility from No Child Left Behind by setting forth an alternative plan to hold their schools accountable. The Miccosukee school’s plan includes academic standards that cover not just math and English, but also the Miccosukee language and culturally relevant science.
It also aims to cut academic achievement gaps at the school in half over the next six years, which means its annual performance targets are different than Florida’s.
“Our standards include rigorous educational benchmarks and reflect the unique history, heritage, tradition, language, culture and values of the Miccosukee Indian Tribe and our people,” said Colley Billie, chairman of the tribe.
U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the move Monday, saying it is a sign of the Obama administration’s broader commitment to ensuring that tribes have control of their children’s education.
“This is a historic day,” Jewell said during a ceremony at her office. “It’s all about tribal self-governance, self-determination, and it starts with making sure the people who care most deeply about these children are the people that are making decisions for them.”
The Miccosukee tribe, whose homeland is in the Everglades of south Florida, runs a casino and hotel west of Miami. Its only school is small, serving just 150 students in kindergarten through grade 12. But Duncan said that he believes more tribes will apply for and win waivers.
“Where tribes do this, we want to do a better job of listening and providing the resources, and the flexibility, to have culturally responsive education,” Duncan said, “to think about math and science and English and also language and culture and heritage — all those things that give our students a reason to feel proud about who they are and where they come from.”
Duncan began awarding waivers to No Child Left Behind during Obama’s first term, granting flexibility to states that adopted reforms that the administration favors. The 2002 law, which set a goal of ensuring that all students be proficient in math and reading by 2014, was widely seen as unrealistic and overly punitive.
The law expired in 2007, but so far Congress has been unable to reach a compromise to replace it.