Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Student Enrollment in World Languages: L'égalité Des Chances?

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Student Enrollment in World Languages: L'égalité Des Chances?

Article excerpt


Students enrolled in world (foreign) language1 classes experience many positive academic and developmental outcomes (for a review, see an annotated bibliography at the ACTFL Web site,, or Curtain & Dahlberg, 2010). Furthermore, world language classes are often gateways to institutions of higher education. Completion of two high school credits in the same world language is a common requirement for entry to many four-year colleges and universities. In 1995, it was estimated that 20% of all colleges and universities in the United States required prior study of a foreign language for admission (Brod & Huber, 1996, p. 37). By 2008, that percentage had risen to an estimated 26% (Barnwell, 2008, p. 236).

However, not all learners have access to world language classes.2 Differences in language class availability exist not only between school districts, but also within individual districts. Furthermore, few studies have examined enrollment patterns, particularly concerning students of color, in world language classes. The purpose of this study was (1) to explore world language offerings across different school contexts in four large local education agencies (LEAs) in North Carolina during the 2013-2014 academic year, and (2) to better understand world language enrollment patterns for middle and high school students within these LEAs.

Literature Review

Despite the absence of recent national data regarding differences in world language programming across districts and school contexts, it has been estimated that 91% of all American high schools have offered a foreign language since the 1990s (Rhodes & Pufahl, 2009, p. 1). Analysis of broad trends in language instruction has further shown that K-12 public school student enrollments and offerings in world languages have fluctuated over time. The most recent national K-12 foreign language survey (ACTFL, 2011) reported that K-12 language enrollment increased from 2005- 2006 to 2007-2008, but that only 18.5% of all public school students were enrolled in languages during the 2007-2008 academic year (ACTFL, 2011, p. 1). During this time, some school districts offered world language programming beginning in kindergarten that continued through 12th grade with vertical articulation as students advanced, depending on state requirements (Met, 2008). However, other districts had low rates of foreign language programming in elementary and middle schools. In fact, the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) reported that middle school programming dropped from 75 to 58% from 1997 to 2008 (Rhodes&Pufahl, 2009, p. 1).

To date, there is scant literature regarding African American3 student enrollment patterns in secondary world language classes and no known literature that has reported Latino/a student enrollment patterns. The executive summary of the 2000 ACTFL survey (Draper & Hicks, 2002) did not include student demographic information (Draper & Hicks, 2002), and the CAL survey (Rhodes & Pufahl, 2009) only reported world language enrollment demographic information about students' socioeconomic status (Rhodes & Pufahl, 2009). In an analysis of National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS:88) data,4 Watzke (2000) excluded students' ethnoracial status as a demographic variable of interest, instead focusing on gender, a composite for socioeconomic status, and school context (e.g., urban, rural, etc.).

The 2009 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) High School Transcript Study (Nord et al., 2011) linked students' race to three levels of graduation expectations:

1. standard curriculum: four credits of English and three each in social studies, mathematics, and science;

2. midlevel curriculum: in addition to standard requirements, mathematics requirements must include algebra and geometry; science courses completed must cover two subjects among biology, chemistry, and physics; and one credit must be earned in foreign language courses; and

3. …

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