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E.D., Endowment To Fund Standards for Foreign Languages

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WASHINGTON--Two federal agencies have unveiled plans for a project to develop "world class'' standards for student achievement in foreign languages.

The eighth--and last--standards-setting project funded by the Bush Administration, the new effort will by 1996 specify what students in kindergarten through 12th grade should know and be able to do in a second language.

Slated to receive $211,494 this year, the project is being funded jointly by the Education Department and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Officials from the two agencies were scheduled to announce the grant during a news conference on Jan. 8.

"What this effort does,'' Diane S. Ravitch, the department's assistant secretary for the office of educational research and improvement, said in an interview, "is to underscore the message of the importance for students to have a second language.''

Foreign languages are not universally taught in schools in this country, as they are in some other nations. American schools' interest in teaching the subject has, however, increased in recent years amid a growing recognition that the United States is becoming increasingly diverse and that nations are becoming globally interdependent.

Despite such interest, the subject was not included in the national education goals set in 1990 by the President and the nation's governors. And foreign-language educators have long contended that, by focusing on only five subject areas--English, geography, history, mathematics, and science--the goals could make it easy for schools that already ignore foreign languages to continue doing so.

Over the last year, however, the Education Department has sought to broaden national standards-setting efforts by funding projects in some core subjects not specifically mentioned in the goals, such as the arts and civics. The arts, civics, and foreign languages were all mentioned by a national standards panel as subjects for which national standards would also be desirable.

The department turned down a separate proposal to fund a standards-setting project in economics, according to Ms. Ravitch.

A 'Coherent Sequence'

The new grant will go to a consortium led by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, a group based in Yonkers, N.Y. Other groups in the consortium are: The American Association of Teachers of French, the American Association of Teachers of German, and the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portugese.

The Education Department is providing the bulk of the grant award--$181,494--and will continue funding the project in subsequent years.

C. Edward Scebold, executive director of the council, said the coalition will establish a board of directors to oversee the standards project as well as a 30-member advisory board that includes foreign-language scholars, teachers, representatives of business, international specialists, and politicians. A separate, 10-member task force will draft the standards.

A major aim of the project, Mr. Scebold said, will be to develop a coherent sequence for foreign-language instruction throughout a child's years of schooling.

Currently, experts say, such instruction is often disjointed in school districts.

"We don't want a kid to have foreign language in elementary school, nothing in middle or junior high, and then start again in high school,'' he said. "Extended sequences is what we're looking for.''

He also said the project, although drawing from groups representing some of the most commonly taught languages, would also attend to the particular needs of less familiar languages, such as Chinese or Japanese, which are more difficult for most Americans to learn.

The project is part of a larger effort by the consortium to improve foreign-language teaching.

Mr. Scebold's group last year drafted proficiency standards for students in 4th, 8th, and 12th grades. And the consortium is seeking additional funding from other sources to develop professional standards for foreign-language teachers and to set down student-achievement standards in foreign languages at the college and university level.

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