A Q&A with Susan Faircloth about her leadership role in the National Indian Education Study

Findings from a national study focused on the education of American Indian and Alaska Native students are now available in the 2019 National Indian Education Study, and they have a CSU connection.

The National Indian Education Study is the only nationally representative study of American Indian and Alaska Native students in the U.S.

Portrait of Susan Faircloth
Faircloth is dedicated to advocating for the education of Native Americans.

Susan C. Faircloth, professor and director of the School of Education at Colorado State University, joined the NIES Technical Review Panel in 2005 and was appointed its chair in 2016. She is the first American Indian to chair the panel.

Tell us about yourself and your research on Indigenous education

My name is Susan Faircloth and I am an enrolled member of the Coharie Tribe of North Carolina. I joined the faculty at CSU in 2018, when I was appointed professor and director of the School of Education. To my knowledge, I am one of only three tenured American Indian female faculty at CSU. I earned my master’s and doctoral degrees at Penn State, where I was a fellow in the American Indian Special Education Teacher Training Program and the American Indian Leadership Program.

Although I never dreamt of being an educator, my family and community members knew this was the path I was destined to travel. For more than 20 years, I’ve been involved in the education of American Indians and Alaska Natives, having worked with a federally funded American Indian Education program in North Carolina; the American Indian Higher Education Consortium in Alexandria, Virginia; and as the Director of the AILP at Penn State. I can think of few things I would rather do than work in the field of Indian Education.

As a Technical Review Panel member, what was your role in the study?

I have been a member of the National Indian Education Study Technical Review Panel since 2005. The TRP, which is composed of individuals from across the nation with expertise in Indigenous education, research methodology, Indigenous cultures and languages, etc., advises on the design of the study.

The NIES study has gone on for several years. How have you been involved in each study year? How has it evolved over that time?

Over the years, I’ve seen the number of states included in the study sample increase, thereby enabling us to better understand the educational contexts in which Indigenous students are educated. The study is particularly interested in the ways in which Indigenous cultures and languages are infused into curriculum and other aspects of schools.

The study focuses on reading and math assessments of students in grades 4 and 8. Why focus on these grades?

NIES is conducted in conjunction with the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which focuses on achievement in reading and math for students in grades 4 and 8. The NAEP is administered to a nationally representative sample of all students, and is not limited to American Indian/Alaska Native students. Data from the NAEP are reported out in the NIES, along with data regarding educational conditions and contexts specific to AI/AN students.

What did you find to be the most interesting or impactful part of the study?

As an American Indian and the parent of an American Indian child, I am committed to engaging in scholarship that has the potential to affect positive and lasting change in the education and lives of Indigenous children and youth. The results of the NIES allow us to better understand how Indigenous children and youth are being educated and to potentially enact strategies to either enhance and strengthen those practices that are working or to rethink those practices that are not found to be effective.

Being a part of this study from its inception has been one of the highlights of my career, as I know firsthand, what it’s like to be an Indigenous student, teacher, and parent in schools that too often fail to recognize and honor Indigenous languages, cultures, and peoples. This work allows me to play a small role in potentially changing the educational futures of the next generation of Indigenous children and youth, including my own.

What impact does the study hope to make overall?

Throughout the history of the United States, national reports (e.g., Merriam Report, Kennedy Report, Indian Nations at Risk) have pointed to the failure of the educational system to adequately serve American Indian and Alaska Native students. As an educator, scholar, parent, and chair of NIES Technical Review Panel, I want to see educators, policymakers, Tribes, and communities use data from the NIES to effect positive change for Indigenous children and youth, and ultimately for our communities and Tribal Nations. Such change can occur when schools and educators acknowledge and affirm the cultural and linguistic heritage and strengths of our children, our Tribal Nations, and our communities. The NIES provides a unique opportunity to highlight ways in which this is happening in schools, as well as to highlight the ways in which Indigenous languages and cultures are still absent in schools.

How have you integrated this study into your work at CSU?

I’ve spent my entire career focused on the education of Indigenous children and youth. This focus has remained and will remain, regardless of the institution in which I work. At CSU, I’m a member of the Native American Advisory Council. I also serve on the Equity and Diversity Action Committee for the Poudre School District. In each of these roles, as well as in my role as the director of the School of Education, I remain committed to providing culturally relevant approaches to education for all students. However, my primary area of expertise is Indigenous education.

The School of Education is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.