Survey Finds Nearly Two-Thirds of South Dakota Educators Use Native Standards

This article was originally published in South Dakota Spotlight.

Survey results indicate that nearly two-thirds of South Dakota public school educators teach Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandingsbut the number of respondents is lower than that of the last survey.

Essential Knowledge is a set of standards approved in 2018 for teaching students about Native American culture and history. “Oceti Sakowin” is the collective term for Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota-speaking Native Americans, many of whom live in South Dakota. There are nine tribal nations within the state.

About 62% of teachers use these standards, according to a survey conducted by the state Department of Education in 2023 – a “remarkable increase” from 45% in 2021, said Fred Osborn, director of the Office of Education. Indian Education, which is under the supervision of the State Department of Tribal Relations. He presented the survey results to the Advisory Council on Indian Education earlier this month.


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The use of standards is optional. The survey is used to understand how the standards are implemented and to help state officials encourage their statewide adoption.

“The key is that there is improvement,” Osborn said. “It’s not perfect yet. There is still work to do, but we are far from 45% teachers. We hope this will increase every year.

Osborn added that the Bureau of Indian Education has provided 10,000 copies of Oceti Sakowin’s Essential Understandings books through a grant from the Bush Foundation since the first survey, and has sent educational kits for all grade levels last fall.

Fewer survey responses

Only about 385 educators participated in the 2023 survey, compared to 554 in 2021.

The 2023 survey also does not specify how many public school districts were represented in the survey, whereas the 2021 survey collected responses from 125 of the state’s 149 school districts. The school district identification question was changed between 2021 and 2023, department spokeswoman Nancy Van Der Weide said. The department has no data to determine how many school districts were represented in the latest survey.

Removing the school district identification question allowed participants greater anonymity, Van Der Weide told South Dakota Searchlight.

Neither Osborn nor any board member addressed the potential impact of a lower number of responses on the validity of the survey results. The survey was voluntary and available for a month, Van Der Weide said, with notice placed in a newsletter sent to teachers across the state.

“The educators who responded provided informed recommendations,” Van Der Weide said in an emailed statement. “Some of them were educators who already integrate many OSEUs into their classes, while others were those who wanted to integrate them into their teaching and responded with ideas for tools that would help them integrate the standards. ..

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