Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Prioritization of K-12 World Language Education in the United States: State Requirements for High School Graduation

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Prioritization of K-12 World Language Education in the United States: State Requirements for High School Graduation

Article excerpt

Introduction

In an increasingly global society, the demand for individuals with proficiency in languages other than English in government and industry is on the rise (Hunter, 2004; Malone & Rivers, 2013; McGinn, 2014; Stewart, 2007; Tochon, 2009). Increasing opportunities for students to learn a world language represents the key vehicle to meet this need. In the United States, the study of a world language has not been considered a critical component of education, at both the K-12 and higher education levels (Brecht et al., 2013). Indeed, K-12 world language instruction in the United States decreased over a period of 10 years ending in 2008 (Pufahl & Rhodes, 2011), and, according to ACTFL, during the 2007-2008 school year, only 18.5% of all K-12 public school students were enrolled in a foreign language course (ACTFL, 2015, n.p.). Survey research conducted by the Center for Applied Linguistics has shown a similar trend of declining enrollments at the K-12 level (Malone & Rivers, 2013). This contrasts sharply with the European Union (EU): A survey showed that in the 2009-2010 school year, 78% of primary school students in EU countries were learning a foreign language and 61% of students at lower secondary levels (ages 10-14) were learning two or more foreign languages (Baidak, Borodankova, Kocanova, & Motiejunaite, 2012, p. 10). This trend has also been observed in higher education in the United States. A recent report from the Modern Language Association indicated that at the national level, enrollments in world language courses and programs in institutions of higher education have declined (Goldberg, Looney, & Lusin, 2015), indicating that decreasing numbers of students prioritize learning a world language. Noting the disparity between the need for highly proficient speakers of languages other than English (Hunter, 2004; McGinn, 2014) and the decline in enrollments, Brecht et al. (2013) concluded that the current education system in the United States is failing to provide opportunities for the majority of the nation's youth to acquire critical language skills and related intercultural and 21stcentury competencies. In 2001, the late Senator Paul Simon (D-IL) summed it up as follows: "Today, some 80 federal agencies need proficiency in nearly 100 foreign languages. While the demand is great, the supply remains nonexistent. Only 8 percent of American college students study another language" (Simon, 2001, p. A23). Despite the late senator's recognition of a fundamental gap in American education and the K-12 and postsecondary levels, in the ensuing 15 years this shortfall in human capital has continued to seriously impact our nation's economic competitiveness and national security.

Given the lack of a national world language education policy and the persistent importance of proficiency in languages other than English in the United States, this study sought to assess the prioritization, or lack thereof, of world language education by investigating state-based high school graduation requirements in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, focusing on what is required of, and/or available to, all students. In addition to graduation requirements, the study also examined state policy relating to the Seal of Biliteracy. The goal of providing this overview of state policy was to gain insight into the prioritization of world language in K-12 education and investigate the extent to which current state requirements are consistent with the needs of the nation.

Background

In the United States, world language instruction in public education typically does not begin until high school (Pufahl, Rhodes, & Christian, 2001). Indeed, in their survey of 1,835 public elementary schools, Pufahl and Rhodes (2011) found that only 15% taught world language in 2008, a figure that represented a significant decline from a previous survey they had conducted in 1997, while 91% of high schools surveyed offered world language instruction (p. …

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