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Fairfax County, Virginia, Looks to Axe Foreign Language Program

Yet again foreign language programs in a county’s public school system is looking to wield its budgetary axe — and the victim is — foreign languages! Haven’t school systems learned the importance of teaching young students another language?! Not only does it encourage them to be better ‘global citizens’ but it also stimulates their cognitive abilities. Isn’t it about time foreign languages stop being the whipping boy for budgetary cuts in school systems that fail to keep their house in order?!

Here’s the article by Kate Yanchulis for Fairfax Times, October 31, 2013:

Foreign language instruction at 46 elementary schools has been targeted as a possible budget cut by the county school system to help make up a projected $140 million budget deficit.

Sandy Knox has been through this before. In November 2009, a budget shortfall also put the Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools program at risk, but the work of passionate parents such as Knox ensured that its funding remained intact.

“It’s an exhausting effort,” Knox said. “And it’s a shame that this has to come up so regularly.”

Superintendent Karen Garza and the county School Board last week held the first of many discussions on next year’s budget, and eliminating FLES was just one of many possible cost-saving measures being evaluated. Garza estimated that more than $100 million in cuts would be needed.

Cutting the foreign language program would result in an estimated $5.5. million in savings, but also would impact students in one-third of the county’s elementary schools. Through FLES, students receive two to three 30-minute periods of language instruction per week. Of the 46 schools, 30 provide instruction in Spanish; the others teach either Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Italian or French. Six schools’ programs just started this year.

For Knox, advocating for this program is about more than just the importance of foreign language instruction, though she does believe that it benefits students.

“We really want to advocate for money for the schools,” Knox said. “Yes, we want to keep our programs, but it all comes down to getting money for the schools.”

Knox co-founded the group Fairfax FLAGS — Foreign Language Advocacy for Grade Schools — when FLES last was threatened by budget cuts in 2009. She had just fought to bring the program to Brookfield, her children’s school, the previous year, and she did not want to see it disappear.

She organized a group of FLES parents and banded together with parents whose children participated in the county’s foreign language immersion programs, which then also were at risk. At its height, the Fairfax FLAGS online mailing list reached 3,000 parents, and the group helped save both programs from the chopping block.

“We feel like these things are what make Fairfax County schools unique and better than other school districts,” Knox said.

However, in the years since then, as FLES has remained safe and even expanded, Fairfax FLAGS dropped off. It still has an active Facebook group, but its website went offline and many parents moved on to other issues.

Now, with news of the budget deficit possibly endangering the program, parents have started contacting Knox and Fairfax FLAGS again, and the organization is working to get its website and numbers back up.

School Board member Ryan McElveen (At-large) wants parents to know that despite the cost-crunching situation it faces, the board still is dedicated to foreign language learning. The board has formed a working group focused on internationalization efforts in schools, and one of its main priorities is to investigate how FLES could be restructured and improved.

“Parents need to know, we still do view it as an important part of our curriculum,” said Ryan McElveen, School Board member (At-large). “In some counties in the country, that program would be the first thing to go. But I don’t think that’s who we are in Fairfax County.”

Still, the threat to the program remains, and Knox worries that Fairfax FLAGS will not be able to muster as much energy as it once did.

“It’s really an exhausting effort,” she said. “I think parents just get tired of having to fight this battle.”

With her youngest child now in sixth grade and moving out of the elementary school program, she has started looking for FLES parents to take her place as a leader in advocating for the program.

“I’ve done this for six years, and I don’t have the energy for it anymore,” Knox said. “It’s not that I don’t care, but we need to have new faces and new energy.”


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University of North Texas Trims Foreign Language Study

From NTDaily.com, October 3, 2012:

While it is known that UNT has had to make some tough financial cutbacks this semester, cutting back on the quality of classes is unacceptable.

This semester all lower-level French, Spanish, German and Italian language classes have been reduced from a 4-hour course to a 3-hour course. In-class labs have been replaced with online labs, and the hours of instructional class time have been reduced. Although the number of course hours is lower, the amount of course work is the same.

The university claims that these cuts were made because of scheduling issues. As a 4-hour course, language classes were taking up too many time slots on students’ schedules, leaving little room for other courses. Now that the labs are online, more students can enroll in each class. Basically, UNT is claiming that they have reduced the quality of classes for the students’ own benefit.

Let’s face it – these cuts to the language classes seem to be a direct result of UNT’s budget cuts. Although administrators are trying to spin it so it looks like they are trying to help students, they are really just cutting corners wherever possible. Who do they think they are fooling? Eliminating in-class labs does not benefit students because of scheduling issues – it leaves students with more work and less learning time. In-class lab is needed for students to use and learn in person.

In the past, students have been able to work through verbal assignments in groups with their peers or ask their instructor for help. If something was incorrect, students had the chance to be corrected and learn from the mistake.

With the new online labs, students are given the same assignments and asked to complete them without any assistance. If an answer is incorrect, students do not have the chance to learn from their mistakes. It is simply counted wrong.

A foreign language is difficult to learn, especially for beginners. These students need a conversational atmosphere where they can receive immediate feedback and interaction. With the online labs, students are easily distracted by their surroundings and cannot focus or absorb as much information as they would in a classroom.

Obviously, in-class labs were not eliminated for the benefit of the students. They were eliminated so that UNT could save money by packing more students in classes with fewer professors. With online labs, the school was able to reduce the faculty size by replacing lab professors with teacher’s assistants who grade hundreds of students’ assignments each day.

Budget cuts not only lessened the quality of the language classes, but created more work for both the students and the teacher’s assistants. Perhaps when the semester is over and UNT sees the poor grade results in these classes, administrators will open their eyes to the issues they have created.

Mallory Scudder is a journalism senior. She can be reached at malloryscudder@aol.com.

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A Comment on Shrinking Foreign Language Offerings

More people should join the campaign against the foreign language decline.  Here’s one such advocate, Jennifer Crystle, who published the following article in pbk.org, July 17, 2012.  

It’s common to hear our world referred to as small. However, with a surface area of over 500 million square kilometers and a population of over 7 billion people, our planet is certainly not small. With technology advancing at a record pace and our economy becoming more globalized, the distance between cultures is dwindling down to the space between a person and their Skype camera.  As our world shrinks, a new importance must be granted to our ability to communicate in other languages.

Phi Beta Kappa recognizes and defends the importance of language study. However, many universities’ decisions to cut language programs suggest that there are various leaders in the field of higher education who do not share that view.  In 2008, the University of Southern California said auf wiedersehen to its German program due to low student enrollment, a diminishing faculty, and an administration that didn’t consider foreign language a priority. When students and faculty protested, USC stood by the decision to cut the German major, but kept a minor to stifle the dissent.

Some drew attention to the increasing importance of Asian languages in international affairs to justify USC’s sudden cut to the German program, but a quick glance at the headlines should quell any reservations about the value of studying German. In a CBC News article, “Germany Key To Resolving European Debt Crisis,” Daniel Schwartz argued that Germany has become a central force in world economic affairs. That was a year ago. Since then there is little media discussion of the debt crisis among European nations and the financial concerns of the EU that doesn’t place Germany in the most vital role. Why, then, are major universities agreeing to downsize German, the language spoken by the newest European powerhouse?

A closer look at economic policy and educational funding may provide some answers as to why language programs are suffering more than most other departments at American universities.

While President Obama’s overall budget proposal for the 2013 fiscal year features a 2.5 percent increase in Education Department spending, the Title XI program, which helps to support over 150 National Resource Centers (NRCs) dedicated to the study of less commonly taught languages, endured a 40 percent reduction of its funds. In his 2013 budget announcement back in February, Obama announced that Title XI will receive a small increase of $1.7 million. 

Not all universities are affected by Title XI, and, certainly, the decision to cut and condense language programs is ultimately their own. As quoted in Stan Katz’s blog post for The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Wie Gehts, USC?,” it was USC’s Dean Howard Gillman who ruled to close the “stand-alone” German department. Despite his continued support of giving students a “global perspective,” in his memo to the faculty, he argued that the university’s best option would be to “integrate the field of study into a broader enterprise.”  

After learning of these cuts, I became curious about the history of language programs at my own university, The University of Mary Washington. As a small liberal arts college with just over 4,000 students, the Modern Foreign Languages department is not as large as USC’s; however, to my dismay, I learned that we, too, have experienced cuts to our language programs over the years. Associate Dean and Professor of Spanish Ana Chichester noted that the university’s decision to cut the Russian program in the 90s was seen by faculty as both “premature” and “short-sighted.” While Mary Washington has been able to hold on to the German major, Chichester acknowledged that “the German program has recently been cut to one tenured faculty despite the fact that we have close to two dozen majors in German.”

It would seem that large universities and small colleges alike are withdrawing support for traditional language programs. As it stands now, we have a backwards correlation concerning language study. As the distance between cultures decreases, we need to aspire to anincrease in college language offerings across the United States.
Jennifer Crystle is a senior at The University of Mary Washington majoring in English and Spanish. Mary Washington is home to the Kappa of Virginia chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.


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Coalition to Address Lack of Funding in Foreign Languages and History

Why do the humanities and social sciences have to continually find ways to protect their programs from federal government budget cuts?!  How can federal government education officials and government leaders in general believe that choosing to fund science and math programs over humanities/social science ones won’t lead to imbalance in public education?  I guess they don’t mind having scientists and mathematicians who can’t read, write or communicate with the global community!  Are we becoming an insular nation as in the past?  

Article written by Erik Robelen for http://www.edweek.org, July 5, 2012:

Amid concern that funding to promote academic disciplines beyond reading, mathematics, and science is getting squeezed out of the federal budget, more than two dozen education organizations are banding together in a new coalition to more effectively make their case to policymakers.

Members of the new College, Career, and Citizenship Readiness Coalition represent subjects including arts education, social studies, history, foreign languages, P.E., and health education.

press release notes that Congress has recently made “deep cuts” in some program areas, including “completely eliminating funding for history, civics, geography, and economics programs.” In addition, President Obama has repeatedly sought to consolidate federal programs targeting various disciplines into one competitive-grant program, in which activities previously funded individually would have to compete across disciplines for money.

“These actions threaten schools’ and districts’ ability to provide all students with an education that truly prepares them for college, careers, and active citizenship,” said David Griffith, the director of public policy at ASCD, an education organization based in Alexandria, Va., that is spearheading the new coalition. “In addition, they seem at odds with the new national imperative to fully prepare students for the 21st century.”

As we reported in January, the final budget for fiscal 2012 did indeed eliminate funding for a number of programs, including Teaching American History grants, Foreign Language Assistance, Excellence in Economic Education, and civics education. We’ve also reported repeatedly on Obama’s efforts to wrap a range of subject-specific grant programs into a competitive Effective Teaching and Learning: Well-Rounded Education fund.

The new coalition aims to “advance the concept that a comprehensive education in all core academic subjects, including physical education and health education, is necessary to prepare graduates for colleges and careers,” the press release says.

It is distributing consensus recommendations to Congress that call for:

• Including “all elements of a comprehensive education” in any definition of college, career, and citizenship readiness;
• Maintaining “discrete and significant funding” for these disciplines;
• Promoting grant competitions within disciplines, rather than between them;
• Developing a rigorous evaluation process that includes significant input from professional educators; and
• Establishing “meaningful public reporting and accountability requirements.”

Coalition members include the National Council for the Social Studies, National Association for Music Education, National Dance Education Organization, American School Health Organization, Campaign for Civic Mission of Schools, and Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

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Cuts to French Program Protested

Derek Mclean for The Milford Daily News, June 11, 2012:


A group consisting of a language teacher, a past student, and parents is pleading with the School Committee not to cut grade 7 French, a decision that was finalized during a May 10 working budget discussion.

But the committee has remained adamant the course would come to an end when summer vacation begins.

Superintendent Robert Tremblay said the committee had to fund a 2 percent budget increase, requiring members to free up around $600,000 in direct cuts.

Tremblay said the course’s low enrollment led to the cut.

Current classes have as little as 10 students and do not exceed 14 students.

The budget cuts eliminated one foreign language teacher, saving the school approximately $50,000, thus ending the grade 7 program.

Grade 8 French was not affected.

“This particular cut impacts not only just one position, but potentially an entire program,” said Fran Olano, the Milford schools foreign language curriculum team leader for grades 7 through 12. “We know that the earlier our students start a foreign language, the longer they continue to study that language, the more proficient they become.”

To retain a quality French language program in Milford schools, Tremblay and the committee agreed, at a future meeting, to look into finding new ways to offer French in some capacity to the grade 7 students. But no solution will retain the cut teaching position.

“I think we need to have language,” said Tremblay.

“There is no intention on my part nor is there on the principal’s part to eliminate French in Milford Public Schools,” he said. “But I think everyone can appreciate that we need to make ends meet budgetarily.”

But members of the four-person group at Thursday night’s school board meeting, including Olano, feared that by ending grade 7 French, students in high school would have trouble reaching the advanced placement class, putting it in jeopardy of ending as well.

School board member Donald Quattrochio shared that concern.

Assumption College student Kristin Clark took grade 7 French while attending Milford schools. She said the subject “deserves its recognition and exposure.”

“I want to see French flourish because it is a beautiful language.”

Clark said French is a gateway language, which helps students learn other languages such as Italian and Spanish.

Quattrochio said the course for next year is not being offered to the current sixth-grade students.

He said that to help guide the committee in finding ways to offer the subject, it is critical that teachers find out how many of the grade 6 students are interested in taking French, before the end of the school year.

Bonnie Bufalo-Derderian taught the grade 7 course at Stacy Middle School. The school consists of students from grades 5, 6 and 7.

She will take a foreign language teaching position in grade 8 Middle School East, currently held by foreign language teacher Megan Berry who was cut from the budget. Tremblay said the decision to cut Berry was based on seniority.

During the budget cuts one other physical education teacher position was eliminated and another teaching position ended by attrition. Two curriculum supervisor positions were also cut.

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Wyoming School Protests Possible Foreign Language Cuts

From WyomingNews.com, June 9, 2012:


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University of Northern Iowa Threatens Foreign Language Cuts

Here we go again! More attempts to eliminate critical foreign language programs …. Story from The Des Moines Register, March 20, 2012:

University of Northern Iowa faculty this week continued to push back against proposed cuts in academic programs in advance of today’s scheduled vote by the state Board of Regents on the plan.

Professors advocated against the elimination of French and German degrees by noting that at least 55 students have declared majors or minors in each field of study. They also argued that foreign language faculty have a broad reach on campus, as evidenced by the more than 1,200 students they taught last year.

UNI also wants to eliminate minors in Portuguese and Russian as part of a plan to close low-demand programs. The plan, unveiled two weeks ago, calls for eliminating or restructuring more than a quarter of UNI’s degree programs to help close a $5 million budget gap. Under the plan, only beginning-level language courses would be offered to students.

Foreign language faculty are bucking a national trend of language program closures that is driven by universities’ struggle to balance budgets in a tough economic climate. Since 2010, majors in French or German have been eliminated at such schools as the University of Maine, Louisiana State University, South Carolina State University and the University of Nevada-Reno.

Universities that slash language programs are not top-tier schools with large endowments. Rather, the schools tend to rely on public funds and target European languages such as Italian, German and French, said Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association in New York.

“Distinguished universities aren’t doing it,” she said. “Universities doing it have financial crises they have to manage by taking away swaths of academic programs.”

The decision by UNI officials to eliminate degrees and shutter Malcolm Price Laboratory School, a hub of education research and teacher training, has garnered national attention and produced sustained local protests.

The American Association of University Professors said last week that it would investigate allegations that UNI faculty were shut out of decisions to eliminate programs and tenured jobs. If the Washington, D.C.-based organization were to sanction UNI, it could affect the school’s ability to recruit professors, faculty said.

Rallies and protests are scheduled on the UNI campus on Thursday and Friday. Earlier this month, people lobbied the Legislature, and students conducted a weeklong sit-in outside the offices of university administrators.

UNI’s German and French programs have at least one professor each who is expected to accept a buyout offer, faculty said. In all, 29 tenured faculty have received the offers.

Siegrun Bubser, UNI’s director of German studies, said the decision to eliminate language degrees puzzles her because students majoring in business and science often choose to take advanced foreign language courses in preparation for working in a global economy.

The future of new study-abroad programs is in doubt, she said. Though the university has promised current students will be offered the courses necessary to graduate, she said she’s unsure of what kind of instruction they’ll receive.

“We have been given no information about any plans regarding staffing,” Bubser said.

Jacob Dannen, a junior majoring in German and psychology, said he’s concerned about the passion and experience of teachers he’ll have in his remaining classes.

The university will continue to offer beginning courses in German and French to help students meet a foreign language requirement. But he said he’s skeptical of the value of duplicating courses offered at two-year colleges for far less money.

“We don’t want to turn into Panther Community College,” he said, a reference to UNI’s mascot.



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