Monthly Archives: June 2011

More Foreign Language Cuts in Public Schools

Article written by Debbie Sullivan for Northport Patch, June 23, 2011:

Both Northport and Elwood school districts are facing cuts in foreign language classes in the 2011-12 school year, and many say they aren’t happy about it.

At Elwood’s most recent Board of Education meeting, frustration and disappointment were expressed by parents and students over the canceling of French as a language choice for seventh graders.

The reason? Only 17 students had enrolled for the 2011-2012 school year, a number which Superintendent Peter Scordo was too low given the probability of some attrition taking place in subsequent years.

Students currently taking French, and even those involved in other languages, made heartfelt pleas for the district to reconsider its decision. Several pointed out that at the United Nations, French is the official language spoken. Others spoke of a lack of competitiveness with other schools if it were to be eliminated.

Julia Badlato, president of the John Glenn High School PTSA, told the board that offering French is a minimum requirement, and to not do so would be an embarrassment to the district.

Northport residents are facing the same issue, except that the language in question is German. At the June 7 Board of Education meeting, many parents spoke in favor of keeping the class, even though only a total of 15 students between the Northport and East Northport Middle Schools had expressed interest.

Robert Dennis, a Spanish teacher at Northport High School, said it was important to not only offer romance languages. He said that if German were not offered, it would “die off,” and asked what would need to be done to offer the program next year.

Board President Stephen Waldenburg said he’d like to find a solution but didn’t know if there was one at this stage. Matt Nelson, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction and Administration noted that Western Suffolk BOCES offers German classes online.

Trustee Andrew Rapiejko asked about the possibility of offering an introductory class in ninth grade.

Nelson replied that if that were the case, students wouldn’t be prepared to take the more challenging International Bacculareate classes in German in eleventh grade. He also noted that the New York State Board of Regents had recently eliminated all language Regents, making testing a challenge.

One solution might be to offer German as a second language option for those students already taking another language. Nelson said the district is considering it.

Ironically, Northport High School sophomore Michael Kavanaugh was recently awarded an all-expenses-paid summer study trip to the Federal Republic of Germany after competing nationally against 23,000 students in a testing program offered by the American Association of Teachers of German.

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Grinnell College’s Foreign Language Successes

The following article is taken from The Grinnell Magazine:

At the same time globalization makes communication across cultures more important than ever, shrinking budgets have forced schools around the country to cut foreign language programs. The local Grinnell district is no exception.

A new collaboration between Grinnell students and the Grinnell Area Arts Council may help fill the gap.

“The decline of foreign language instruction in schools seemed like a problem for which we may have an exceptional local solution,” says Claire Moisan, instructor in the Grinnell College Writing Lab and founder of Babel Tower Language Academy. Babel Tower is an after-school and weekend language program employing Grinnell students to teach six foreign languages.

Grinnell students are particularly well-prepared to teach languages. The study of foreign languages continues to thrive at Grinnell, Moisan says. Thirteen percent of Grinnell graduates are language majors; 86 percent of Grinnell graduates completed at least one language course, and 49 percent completed as least three. Nearly 60 percent of Grinnell students study abroad for at least one semester.

“My goal was to create a program that would be as much about learning to teach as it is about teaching to learn,” says Moisan, whose initial academic training was in French. “Teaching is one of the best ways of solidifying language skills.”

Students are excited about the opportunity. “As a future educator, I have this phenomenal opportunity to try out my lesson plans, to see what works and doesn’t,” says Chinese teacher Heidi Chun ’10.

“This last semester reminded me how much fun learning about language and culture can be,” she adds. “I had the opportunity to review a large amount of material often not discussed at the college level and to slow down and enjoy preparing lessons on cultural topics.”

Moisan also collaborated with visiting instructor Yasuko Akiyama, who trained the student teachers in a two-credit course on foreign language teaching methodologies. “This course gives the student both training in the theory of how languages are taught, and practice teaching in a low stakes, creative environment,” says Akiyama.

“I am so excited about the collaboration between the College and the arts council,” says Moisan.“ It’s a win-win situation that enriches the lives of all involved — the college students who have the opportunity to impart their skills and knowledge of topics they are studying at Grinnell, and the local community children who have the opportunity to broaden their cultural, creative, and linguistic horizons.”

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N.J. Congressmen Introduce Legislation to Bolster Foreign Language Education

Thankfully, some government officials understand the need to reverse the decline in foreign language programs and learning!

Article by Julia Terruso for The Star Ledger, June 5, 2011:

When Rep. Rush Holt heard about FBI storerooms stacked with untranslated documents and U.S. businesses losing contracts for want of bilingual negotiating power, it became clear to him the country had a language problem.

The solution, decided Holt (D-12th Dist.) and others who advocate more extensive foreign-language instruction, lies in bolstering the nation’s budget-strapped K-12 programs.

As a start, Holt and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) have introduced legislation in both the House and Senate to provide $50 million in federal funds for public school students to learn foreign languages, starting in kindergarten.

“This modest bill addresses a big gap in language training,” Holt said Thursday. “The United States has a real problem with foreign languages and we need to address it for economic reasons, reasons of national security, quality of life and cultural enrichment.”

As school districts across the country face state and federal budget cuts, language programs are often the first to go, foreign-language educators and lobbyists said.

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie cut $825 million from education last year, prompting many schools to replace foreign-language teachers with instructional CDs and computer programs. On the federal level, Congress cut $50 million from foreign-language education this year and the House Education Committee has proposed cutting an additional $27 million.

Sabia Usted? Saviez Vous? Did you know?

• Spanish is the nation’s most commonly studied foreign language, accounting for nearly 70 percent of secondary school enrollment

• Arabic accounts for just 0.6 percent of national foreign language enrollment in secondary schools

• On the campaign trail in 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama said: “I don’t speak a foreign language. It’s embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe and all we can say is “merci beaucoup,” right?”

• Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world, with just over 1 billion speakers.

• CIA Director Leon Panetta said in March 2010: “Strengthening the CIA’s language capability is one of my top priorities. … We can’t succeed without it.”

SOURCES: The Center for Applied Linguistics; CBS News; U.S. Census Bureau; CIA press office
Holt said the Foreign Language Education Partnership Program Act (HR 1966), will make the country more globally competitive and secure.

“When you see foreign companies prospecting for minerals needed or international banks looking for partnerships, the companies that have facility with language often land those contracts,” he said.
The bill would directly fund teacher recruitment, high school study-abroad scholarships, language certification and the appointment of supervisors to oversee new programs.

In New Jersey, French and Spanish are most widely offered in schools. Arabic and Chinese, cited as two of the most critical languages by federal Education Secretary Arne Duncan, are on the rise. Still, they account for less than 4 percent of languages taught nationally, according to a study by the Center for Applied Linguistics, a nonprofit research and education organization.

The study found that from 1997 to 2008, foreign-language instruction declined from 31 percent to 25 percent in elementary schools and from 75 percent to 58 percent in middle schools.

“When we talk about foreign language learning, we’re not talking about a skill to use in a restaurant or a family vacation, although that’s wonderful,” said Maryann Woods-Murphy, the 2009-2010 New Jersey Teacher of the year and a Spanish instructor at Northern Highlands Regional High School in Allendale. “We’re talking about vital skills to move the democracy to its greatest potential.”
In New Jersey, the study of world languages in public schools is required from kindergarten through eighth grade. There is also a five-credit high school graduation requirement. But with tight budgets, enforcements have relaxed, prompting some districts, like Randolph and Manalapan-Englishtown, to purchase the Rosetta Stone computer program for use in language classrooms in lieu of teachers.
Frank Belluscio, director of communications for the New Jersey School Boards Association, said one-third of New Jersey school districts have had to scale back their world-languages programs.

“As we know, there’s a critical need for the U.S. to be competitive in a world economy and to give students the skills and knowledge they’ll need to succeed,” he said.

While most people support foreign-language instruction, not everyone agrees the federal government should be funding it.

Steve Lonegan, director of the New Jersey chapter of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, said the nation’s debt burden is a bigger problem than its intellectual capacity.

“This is a big country with a lot of people speaking a lot of languages. I don’t think there’s a shortage of those languages,” said Lonegan, a former Bogota mayor and gubernatorial candidate whose opposition to a McDonald’s Spanish-language billboard made news in 2006. “The nation’s debt will yield far more negative consequences on our global competitiveness than if we have enough people who can speak Chinese.”

But Martha Abbott, director of education for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Language, a national foreign language interest group, said the proposed funding’s not enough.
“Fifty million from the federal government is really a drop in the bucket,” Abbot said. “It’s important for people to really get behind this because our days of being a monolingual nation are over.”

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Time Magazine’s Comments on Foreign Language Cuts

The following article is by Kayla Webley for Time, June 2, 2011:

When Congress handed down the budget resolution for the 2011 fiscal year in April, widespread cuts were to be expected. But when an eleventh hour cut to international education programs was wedged in, those Americans whose job it is to know about the rest of the world saw it as an assault both on their studies and U.S. diplomacy around the world.

Under the Continuing Resolution budget agreement, $50 million, or about 40% of the Department of Education’s budget for International Education and Foreign Language Studies programs was slashed, reducing the total allocation to $76 million. (They had hoped to receive more than $125 million.) The cuts, which will likely force the scaling back of some critical language programs, come at time when the U.S. needs to approach tumultuous events such as the upheavals of the Arab Spring and the rising might of China with as much savvy and guile as possible.

The programs on the chopping block are those funded by Title VI, which funds programs in addition to the critical language courses such as international business programs, training for study abroad programs, among others. Additionally, funding for two programs under Fulbright-Hays, which would have funded both doctoral dissertation research and faculty research abroad, were completely zeroed out.

“This community fully expected to take its portion of cuts like everyone else because of the deficit, but this was disproportional,” said Miriam Kazanjian, a consultant with the Coalition for International Education, a group of collegiate organizations that works to promote U.S. global competence. “Some of these programs are already so small.”

Going under the knife are some programs that were originally designed 50 years ago to counter research gains by the Soviet Union, such as its launch of Sputnik 1, which brought attention to the emergence of sophisticated technologies and international security threats. “These programs survived all these years because they really produce results,” Kazanjian told TIME.
Students enrolled in these programs often end up being big players in the world of international relations, Kazanjian said. Among those who have benefited from Title VI and/or Fulbright-Hays funds are Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who studied Russian and East European studies, Middle East analyst Aaron David Miller and James Collins, the former ambassador to Russia. Recipients of these grants line the ranks of influential institutions like Council of Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institute, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

For its part, the Obama Administration says it remains committed to international education despite the massive cuts. “The President and Secretary of Education recognize the value of these programs in our multilingual society,” Jane Glickman, spokeswoman for the Department of Education told TIME. “But these are tough economic times. We’re all tightening our belts.”

Still, these cuts come on the heels of an internal audit by the Government Accountability Office in June 2010 that found a substantial absence of skilled foreign-language speakers in national security departments and agencies. (A pdf of the audit is here.) Ironically, the programs that are now being cut were the same ones that received an increase in funding after the 9/11 terrorist attacks when the government sought more graduates with fluency in languages like Pashto, the predominate language in Afghanistan. Prior to 9/11 there was not even one university in the U.S. teaching Pashto, Kazanjian said. Now, thanks to grants from Title VI, there are six institutions nationwide, instructing 128 students in the language.

At National Resource Centers nationwide, which are facing more than $18 million in cuts (about 47% of their total budget), in addition to Pashto, students learn what are considered “critical” languages, including Arabic, Chinese and Urdu. In total, according to Kazanjian, the National Resource Centers teach 130 languages, while for its part, the State Department’s Foreign Service — with its much larger budget — only teaches 75.

While the Department of Education hasn’t yet dictated exactly which of international education programs will sustain cuts, likely all will face some sort of reduction in resources — a fact that leaves those who would like to see U.S. diplomacy augmented rather than undermined feeling as though Congress is speaking another language.

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Foreign Language Programs Continue to Be Cut or Eliminated

The following was written by Mary Ann Zehr for Education Week, June 1, 2011:

The federal government has a huge demand for proficient speakers of foreign languages, but Congress substantially reduced funds to support the teaching of foreign languages to K-12 and college students in the budget deal struck for fiscal 2011.

Foreign-language advocates said this week they are discouraged that while President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have stressed in speeches the importance of bilingualism, a pot of money that underwrites the cost of 14 higher education programs focused on foreign languages and international education—some of which provide crucial support to K-12 educators—will be cut by 40 percent in the current fiscal year.
They’re relieved, though, that the $27 million Foreign Language Assistance Program authorized by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which gives grants directly for K-12 programs that teach languages deemed critical to U.S. security and economic needs, emerged from the budget talks unscathed.

The 14 small programs in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 that support language and international education, authorized by the Title VI and Fulbright-Hays sections of the law, were funded at $126 million in fiscal 2010. They weren’t mentioned in the 2011 budget legislation approved by Congress in April, but a chart of the cuts in the 2011 budget posted on the website of the House Appropriations Committee said that those programs could receive a cut of $50 million, or 40 percent of their budgets. The final budget released last month showed the programs will be funded with nearly $76 million in fiscal 2011, which means that the U.S. Department of Education agreed to the 40 percent cut.

It’s a big blow, the advocates say, and they’re lobbying Congress to restore the fiscal 2010 level of funding in the budget for fiscal year 2012, which begins Oct. 1.
Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for the Education Department, wrote in an email, “We’re in one of the most difficult budget environments in recent memory” and that has resulted in “some painful cuts.” He added: “We’re committed to the mission of international education and will continue working to do all we can to make sure our students are prepared to successfully compete in a global economy.”

Some advocates for language education say the most crucial of the higher education programs for K-12 teaching and learning of foreign languages is the authorization of money to pay for 15 language-resource centers at universities. Those centers received $5 million in 2010. The research, materials, and professional development the centers provide for precollegiate educators help improve the quality of foreign-language study, the advocates say.
“With them being cut, I wonder what will be the concerted effort to provide high-quality resources, teacher training, development of curriculum, development of assessments, and having people who present on and write about the issues” in language education, said Joy Kreeft Peyton, a vice president of the Washington-based Center for Applied Linguistics.
The language-resource center housed at the University of California, Los Angeles, for instance, has formalized into a national initiative what had been primarily a volunteer effort to advance the bilingualism of heritage speakers, Ms. Peyton said.

Heritage speakers are exposed to a language other than English while growing up but may not have developed full literacy or fluency in that language. For example, children growing up in Arab-American families may speak and understand Arabic but not be able to read or write it. If they take classes to develop literacy in Arabic, however, they may become fully bilingual.
The UCLA center started a journal on heritage languages, has held conferences about them, and offers summer institutes for teachers. And it has conducted research on how assessment of the language proficiency of heritage speakers should be different from that of native speakers or second-language learners, Ms. Peyton said.

Marty Abbott, the director of education for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, said: “There has been an emphasis in what the [Obama] administration has said about the importance of learning languages. We’re very confident those statements can be turned into action eventually.”

She added: “We haven’t seen it yet.”

Ms. Abbott said the budget cuts don’t make sense, given that the U.S. Department of Defense and other agencies need to hire a larger pool of linguists and other people who have high levels of proficiency in languages. She said having students begin to study foreign languages in elementary or secondary school, or even colleges, is key to meeting the demand.

Miriam Kazanjian, a consultant for the Coalition for International Education, a group of more than 30 higher education associations that promotes the U.S. Department of Education’s foreign-language programs, said a number of the programs nested in Title VI of the Higher Education Act have K-12 components.

Title VI authorizes money for 127 national resource centers as well as the 15 regional language-resource centers, for instance. Many of the programs have some kind of K-12 outreach, which typically is professional development for teachers or a section of a center’s website promoting resources for K-12 educators, Ms. Kazanjian said.

Elaine E. Tarone is the director of the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, another of the language-resource centers authorized by the Higher Education Act. “We’re not big, but we think we’re effective,” she said about the language-resource centers.

She said she’s frustrated that the Education Department hasn’t released a couple of studies to the public that report on the effectiveness of language and international education programs authorized by the Higher Education Opportunity Act.

One study, an evaluation of the effectiveness of the International Research and Studies Program, which supports the development of instructional materials in foreign languages and area studies and is one of the 14 programs authorized by Title VI and the Fulbright-Hays provisions, was conducted by the Bethesda, Md.-based J.B.L. Associates Inc. Gina Shkodriani, a researcher for the report, said in an email that the report was turned in to the Education Department in March 2009. She said she didn’t know why its findings, which she is not at liberty to disclose, hadn’t been released to the public.

A more recent evaluation of foreign-language programs financed by the Education Department was carried out by the Washington-based American Institutes for Research. A spokesman for the AIR referred questions about the report to the Education Department.

The department didn’t respond to a request for an update on the status of the two reports.

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