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Saturday, January 23, 2010

New Federally-Funded National Study Attributes School Foreign Language Cutbacks to NCLB

It's not as if there hasn't already been plenty of evidence regarding the destructive effects of NCLB on American public education and how those negative impacts have been magnified and multiplied by the policies of Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein. Now comes yet more damning evidence, this time courtesy of the Center for Applied Linguistics, in a just-released study of foreign language education in American schools funded by the federal Department of Education.

Based on a questionnaire sent to 5,000 American schools at all levels from primary through high school, coupled with follow-up phone calls to 3,200 of those schools, the survey garnered an impressive 76 percent response rate. While there's good news with regard to teaching of Chinese language, the news everywhere else is, as the New York Times describes it, "dismal." Yet while the Times chose to focus on the upbeat, Chinese language side of the picture, the downside for America's future in matters of global business, diplomacy, and multiculturalism generally seems inarguable.

The truly grim news emerges not so much in specific languages but in education level. The Center for Applied Linguistics survey found that thousands of public schools have shrunk or altogether abandoned foreign language instruction, with the largest cutbacks coming at the public elementary and middle school levels. The percentage of public elementary schools offering a foreign language declined from 24% in 1997 to just 15% in 2008, while the middle school fall was an even more precipitous seventeen points, from 75% to 58% over the same period. Furthermore, the study noted that the percentage of private elementary schools offering a foreign language, 51%, is now triple that of the 15% of public elementary schools offering a foreign language.

While restricted public school budgets may have contributed to this drop-off in pre-high-school foreign language courses, it should be noted that the study data reflects pre-recession, 2008 conditions. Instead, the study suggests that much of the cause can be attributed to adverse educational impacts of NCLB. As the study's Executive Summary states:

"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."

Is there any chance President Obama and/or Arne Duncan will someday wake up and realize the Bush-era damage to education they seem so bent on perpetuating? With apologies in advance for Blogger's inability to handle special characters, I can only say, "Ningun nino se quede atras," indeed, but not if Spanish (or French, German, Italian, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, or Hebrew) isn't already spoken in that left-behind child's home.

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