A Plea to Retain Foreign Languages in Wyoming School

From WyomingNews.cocm, November 10, 2012:

Keep foreign language in Hathaway

“If we make foreign language an option, we’re going to put our students even farther behind.” — Leslie Boaz, French teacher, Wheatland High.

Lawmakers are not doing anyone a favor — not Wyoming high school students, not the state treasury — by making the Hathaway Scholarship program easier.

And make no bones about it: A bill to lift the foreign language requirement from the top two tiers of Hathaway will do just that. By letting students substitute either fine and performing arts or career and technical education courses for foreign languages, legislators will be cutting the rigors of a program that already is not rigorous enough.

If anything, the Legislature should be looking to make earning a Hathaway Scholarship tougher, not easier. That would force students to work harder to earn their state dollars and better prepare them for the challenges of higher education.

That was, after all, one of the reasons for making Hathaway merit-based: to force students to do better in high school on tougher classes. That in turn, as the experts know, would help them to succeed at either the university or at the community colleges.

The fact that Hathaway is too easy now is proven by a quick review of its retention rates.

At the lowest, or Career, level (which requires a GPA of 2.5 and an ACT of 17), about 17 percent of students lose their scholarships due to inadequate academic performance, wasting thousands of state dollars in the process. That compares to a failure rate of just 3 percent at the highest, or Honors, level (GPA 3.5, ACT 25). The second-highest level, Performance (GPA 3.0, ACT 21), is clocking in with a 91 percent success ratio.

We said from the very beginning that the Legislature’s desire to make the Hathaway program more inclusive would be a waste of money because students with lower ACT scores would not be college ready. These numbers clearly bear that out.

But now lawmakers want to reduce the rigors at the upper two levels, letting students in with lesser academic resumes simply to pacify teachers of the arts or vocational education.

We have nothing against this course work, but it does not provide the rigor that was supposed to be the hallmark of at least the upper two Hathaway levels. In fact, ACT has proven that the taking of a foreign language improves college readiness — the point of the Hathaway “success curriculum — in English. These other course areas do not do that.

Some argue that the foreign language requirement is shutting students out of some other areas of study. But those can be covered through electives.

As state Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, said at a recent hearing on the Hathaway proposal: “If it’s that important to students and parents, they can find time to put in the courses they want.”

We urge lawmakers to oppose this measure, which has the backing of the Joint Education Committee. Any measure that dumbs down Wyoming education should be opposed. And this proposal does just that.

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