American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians are the descendants of the original inhabitants of the lands that now comprise the United States.
As of 2010, there were approximately 2.9 million Americans whose ancestry is entirely Native American or Alaska Native, with 5.2 million Americans claiming at least partial ancestry. Forty-one percent live in the western United States (including Alaska), 33% in the South, 17% in the Midwest and 10% in the Northeast. The American Indian and Alaska Native have recently experienced rapid growth, increasing by 39 percent since 2000.
As a group, American Indians and Alaska Natives face many challenges, with lower life expectancy than any other racial or ethnic group and higher rates of diseases such as diabetes, tuberculosis and alcoholism. American Indian and Alaska Native students frequently attend materially inferior schools in addition to being taught by underpaid teachers who utilize weak curricula and outdated learning tools. The geographic isolation of many reservations also serves to make recruitment and retention of teachers difficult. American Indian and Alaska Native students score lower than any other racial or ethnic group in reading, math or history, and are more likely to drop out before graduating high school.
Native Hawaiians are the descendants of those who occupied the area now known as Hawaii prior to 1778. There are almost 540,000 Americans of entirely Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander ancestry, and they live primarily in the western United States, with 58% living in the states of Hawaii and California.
In 1988, with the passage of the Native Hawaiian Education Act, the federal government recognized its role in meeting the educational requirements of Native Hawaiians. The act authorized the establishment of Native Hawaiian education councils to be composed of Native Hawaiian education providers and Native Hawaiians. The councils coordinate education programs, assess their effectivness and provide direction and guidance to appropriate education agencies through reports and recommendations.
Persistent learning gaps exist between Native Hawaiian students and other racial and ethnic groups. Native Hawaiians score below national norms on standardized achievement tests at all grade levels, lag behind other students in terms of readiness factors such as vocabulary test scores, have lower representation in uppermost achievement levels and gifted and talented programs, and higher representation in special education programs. Native Hawaiian students also have the highest rates of drug and alcohol abuse in the state of Hawaii.
Improving educational outcomes for American Indians and Alaska and Hawaii Natives is an important challenge facing policymakers.