The Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) has released its third survey report on foreign language instruction in the United States (CAL also released such surveys in 1987 and 1997). You can read the executive summary here and read about its methodology here. The report’s findings are bleak:
- The percentage of elementary schools offering foreign language instruction declined 6% between 1997 and 2008. Only a quarter of elementary schools now offer any foreign language instruction. 51% of private elementary schools offer foreign language instruction but only 15% of public elementary schools do so.
- Even worse, the percentage of middle schools offering foreign language instruction declined 17%. Now just over half of middle schools teach foreign languages.
- Survey data indicated that students attending rural schools and “schools whose students were of low socioeconomic status (SES)” are really being left behind, as those schools “were less likely” to offer any foreign language instruction.
What’s to blame for this trend? Not surprisingly, NCLB is a big part of the problem. From the report:
Approximately one third of public elementary and secondary schools with language programs reported that their foreign language instruction had been affected by the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education legislation. Comments from survey respondents suggested that NCLB’s focus on mathematics and reading instruction had drawn resources away from foreign languages because they are not included in the law’s accountability measures.
Despite some bright spots, such as greater availability of Chinese and Arabic classes and increased usage of literature from the target culture in the language class, the report’s authors conclude that “the overall picture of foreign language instruction in 2008 was no better – and in some areas worse – than in 1997.”
Unfortunately, we’re not surprised.
Lynne Munson and James Elias