California Wants Students to Parlez-vous Français, or Arabic, or Chinese

January 21, 2009 1 min read

California’s state board has adopted draft content standards for foreign language, “putting the discipline on the same level as math, science, history, and other core academic subjects” for the first time, according to this article from the Sacramento Bee.

The move is a badly needed endorsement for the subject, which gets a lot of lip service owing to the importance of such a skill in a global economy. But generally, there has been very little action in making more students learn Spanish or Arabic or Chinese, beyond pilot programs and local efforts. Foreign language, like the arts and civics and physical education, is listed as a core subject in the No Child Left Behind Act, but is not part of the accountability measures schools must adopt.

With more time being spent on math,reading, and science—the subjects tested under NCLB—foreign language is way down the list of priorities. A federal project to increase the number of fluent speakers of critical languages has pumped millions into school foreign language programs that build a pipeline of expert speakers, but the money goes to select districts that start courses in the elementary grades.

California still does not require all students to take a foreign language course to earn a diploma, but perhaps this move signals an effort to raise the importance, or at least the perception of the importance, of learning a language. Advocacy groups are trying to make the case in other states as well, with

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.