Survey Finds Much Interest in Studies Of Other Nations, But Limited Funds
A new national survey suggests that interest in providing students with more international perspectives in their studies is high among state departments of education, but that funds to support such efforts may be limited.
According to the survey, 46 of 52 state-level coordinators of international education said such studies should be given a higher priority by schools in their states. However, 36 respondents said support for funding such efforts in their states was "low or nonexistent.''
"I think there's just been a tremendous awareness and opening up about the world, from the breakdown of the Soviet Union, the Iraqi war, our relations with Japan,'' said Frederick Czarra, who compiled the survey for the Council of Chief State School Officers with Andrew Smith, the executive director of the American Forum for Global Education. Mr. Smith and Mr. Czarra conducted the survey last year, interviewing state coordinators of international education in every state and two districts or territories.
But Mr. Smith, speaking on behalf of his own organization, cautioned that such awareness has yet to translate into greater financial support for new programs. In a few states, he said, funding for such efforts has actually been reduced in recent years in an effort to plug state budget deficits.
"Given different budget conditions,'' Mr. Smith said, "I think this [interest] would generate to a great deal more programming.''
Nonetheless, the survey found that most states have undertaken at least some efforts intended to improve students' understanding of the world.
The activities identified ranged from the production of curriculum guides on "your state and the world,'' to the establishment of formal offices of international education in Florida, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
Alaska infuses international education throughout the business curriculum for students, the survey found. And dozens of states are taking part in alliances--such as the Geographic Alliances launched by the National Geographic Society or the Japan in the Schools Program sponsored by the United States-Japan Foundation--to promote studies in those fields.
Ohio is among several states that have also developed "sister state'' relationships designed to foster educational exchanges with other countries.
Other efforts identified through the survey have included: model United Nations programs in schools, teacher-training programs, the establishment of "international'' or "governor's'' schools for precollegiate students interested in pursuing international studies, and state commissions and study groups on the issue.
The survey did not examine foreign-language studies, which, according to another national survey released last year by the Joint National Committee on Foreign Languages, have been increasing in schools across the nation. (See Education Week, Nov. 6, 1991.)
Barriers to Improvement
The state coordinators who responded to the survey appeared to be divided, however, over whether such efforts were enough.
Of the 52 who responded, 28 said their schools were doing an "adequate job'' or better in preparing students for understanding the world, and 24 said that schools were not doing very well in that regard. Thirty-three respondents said their state education agency should be more supportive of such efforts.
The biggest barriers to doing more, the state coordinators said, were: limited support for their programs from top-level administrators, a lack of state mandates and policies on international education, and the need for improved curriculum materials on the subject, among others.
Part of the problem with existing materials in the field, some of the respondents said, was that such literature sometimes is biased, promoting particular views on global issues.
"There are a lot of people who want to see a better world in so many different ways,'' said Mr. Czarra, who is a consultant for international education to the state chiefs' council. "Some of these groups are not very objective in their points of view, and the job of schools is to be objective.''
The survey is an outgrowth of a 1985 report by the council calling for an emphasis on the "international dimensions'' of education. In addition to recommending that students study world history, geography, foreign languages, and other areas that fall in the domain of international studies, the report emphasized the organization's role in facilitating cross-national comparisons of education and in fostering exchanges of educational practice with other nations.
The council's committee on international education is scheduled to review the survey and make recommendations on its findings later this year.