International Educators Eye Endowment Plan
By Robert Rothman
Washington--Hoping to capitalize on what one participant called a "unique historical opportunity," leaders of foreign-language and international-studies groups met this month to begin laying out an agenda for their field.
America's lagging competitiveness in the world market has dramatized the need for greater emphasis on international education in the schools, the educators meeting here agreed.
At the same time, they said, the growing interest among policymakers in the politically charged issue of competitiveness has improved international educators' chances to make their message heard.
issue recommendations next year.
Perhaps the most controversial idea under consideration is a for international studies," modeled after the National Science Foundation or the Education Department's Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education.
"I don't find hostility, I find indifference," he said. "There's a vacuum out there, and you have to fill it."
Attention Must Be Paid
The coalition--which includes 128 groups representing foreign-language teaching, social studies, area studies, and international exchanges--was established last year by the Ford, William and Flora Hewlett, McDonnell, and Rockefeller foundations.
Intended as a two-year effort, the project comes at a time when numerous reports and reform advocates have called for improvements in students' foreign-language skills and international understanding.
For example, the new chairman of the National Governors' Association, Gov. Gerald L. Baliles of Virginia, has made international education one of his top priorities.
But despite such interest, Ms. Pubillones said, federal support for in4ternational programs has been erratic, and there has been little coordination among the many state and local programs.
As a result, she said, many international educators are concerned that "not enough attention is being paid to the issue."
"To get the attention of the public, the media, and the decisionmakers," she said, "all the components of the international-education community will have to come together."
Proponents of the proposed national endowment argued that such an entity would be one way to ensure that concerted action continues after the coalition issues its report.
Moreover, they said, the endowment would boost local efforts to improve international education.
"It would be a place where one can get information or technical help," said Frank C. Abbott, senior program director for the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. "It would ensure that we don't reinvent the wheel 100 times."
But others warned that such an agency could become a visible target for federal budget cutters, and could stifle local initiatives.
In addition, argued Robert T. Willner, executive director of the Oregon International Council, the endowment would foster the view that international studies is a "specialty, rather than an integral part of education."
Instead of creating a new entity, said Willard M. Kniep, vice president for research and development of the American Forum, a global-studies group, educators should work to boost support for international studies within existing institutions.
Participants also debated whether to recommend an overhaul of the K-12 curriculum to devote greater attention to international studies.
Frances Haley, executive director of the National Council for the Social Studies, said such a recommendation was unlikely to be implemented.
"If you put something everywhere in the curriculum, it ends up nowhere in the curriculum," she said. "If it's everybody's idea, it's nobody's idea."
But Burkart Holzner, director of the university center for international studies at the University of Pittsburgh, said the public would be receptive to bold proposals.
"Corporations are convinced the country is in an international crisis, and international educators have been called upon to help alleviate that crisis," he said. "This is a unique historical opportunity. We should think expansively, not apprehensively."