Federal

Maryland Tackles Ways to Tap Into ‘Heritage’ Languages

By Mary Ann Zehr — March 10, 2009 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

While other states have enacted policies to discourage students from building on their native-language skills, Maryland has completed an audit of the opportunities the state has to leverage the “heritage language” skills of its residents.

Heritage speakers have been exposed to or speak a language other than English at home.

The Task Force for the Preservation of Heritage Language Skills, which was established by the Maryland General Assembly last year, presented a report to Gov. Martin O’Malley and the legislature Feb. 26 with recommendations for how the state can better support the use of native languages other than English. Lawmakers in Maryland are predominantly Democratic.

Maryland is “uniquely positioned to take a leadership role” in supporting heritage speakers to meet the foreign-language needs of business and government, in part because bilingual speakers in the state are very well educated, says the report. Maryland ranked third of 50 states and the District of Columbia in its share of foreign-born people with at least a bachelor’s degree in 2006, says the report.

“We know these folks are important to us, and we don’t want these language skills to go away—and without intervention, they will,” said Catherine W. Ingold, the director of the National Foreign Language Center, a research institute at the University of Maryland, and the chairwoman of the 20-member task force.

No Extra Money

She said she was impressed by the statements of various Maryland agencies and sectors on the value of heritage languages. “I’ve been following the issue of heritage languages in the United States since the late 1990s,” Ms. Ingold said. “Often you encounter a brick wall of: ‘We don’t care what they spoke before, we just need them to speak English now.’ ”

Joy Kreeft Peyton, the vice president of the Washington-based Center for Applied Linguistics, said she doesn’t know of any other state legislature that has set up a task force to examine the resources that heritage speakers could offer. “The bottom line is [Maryland has] switched the focus from immigrants as a problem to people with high-level skills, high levels of education, and speaking languages other than English. It’s a different focus that is very powerful.”

The report calls on the Maryland education department to carry out four of the task force’s seven recommendations: increase the number of dual-language programs from two to at least 10; expand teacher-certification opportunities for heritage speakers; enhance collections in schools and public libraries of children’s books in heritage languages; and better support schools in providing high school credit by exam for students who speak languages other than English at home.

Colleen Seremet, the assistant state superintendent for instruction, said the department doesn’t expect to receive any additional state funds to carry out the recommendations, but she believes many can be done without extra money. Susan Spinnato, a specialist in world languages for the education department, has been assigned to coordinate the implementation.

Ms. Spinnato said the department has tried to make it easier for native Italian and Chinese speakers to earn credit for their proficiency so they don’t have to get an undergraduate degree in those languages to become teachers in Maryland. She wants to set up practical ways for speakers of other languages to become teachers as well.

While Maryland permits schools to provide foreign-language credit to high school students by having them take an exam, Ms. Spinnato said she isn’t aware of any districts that are doing so. She’s convening a group to find out what language exams are available from test-developers, and hopes to have an approved list of exams to provide to districts by next year.

Two districts—Montgomery and Prince George’s counties—have dual-language programs in which students who are dominant in English and those who are dominant in Spanish learn both languages together. Ms. Spinnato said the department will be promoting such programs as a cost-effective way to teach heritage languages.

One of the most amazing findings of the audit, said state Sen. Jim Rosapepe, a Democrat who sponsored the legislation to set up the task force, is that two-thirds of heritage speakers in Maryland speak languages other than Spanish.

Heritage-language schools, said Mr. Rosapepe, “are the driving force on this. The school systems are behind the curve.” He added: “The foreign-language strategy of schools is oriented toward a handful of European languages that are in declining use around the world, instead of being focused on the real diversity of languages in the world and of heritage people in the United States.”

A version of this article appeared in the March 11, 2009 edition of Education Week as Maryland Tackles Ways to Tap Into ‘Heritage’ Languages

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Assessment Webinar
The State of Assessment in K-12 Education
What is the impact of assessment on K-12 education? What does that mean for administrators, teachers and most importantly—students?
Content provided by Instructure
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Proven Strategies to Improve Reading Scores
In this webinar, education and reading expert Stacy Hurst will provide a look at some of the biggest issues facing curriculum coordinators, administrators, and teachers working in reading education today. You will: Learn how schools
Content provided by Reading Horizons

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Miguel Cardona Came in as a Teacher Champion. Has COVID Muted His Message?
The education secretary is taking heat from some who say his advocacy is overshadowed by Biden's push to keep schools open.
11 min read
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona talks to students at White Plains High School in White Plains, N.Y. on April 22, 2021.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona talks to students at White Plains High School in White Plains, N.Y., last April.
Mark Lennihan/AP
Federal Citing Educator and Parent Anxieties, Senators Press Biden Officials on Omicron Response
Lawmakers expressed concern about schools' lack of access to masks and coronavirus tests, as well as disruptions to in-person learning.
5 min read
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to the president, testify before a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing to examine the federal response to COVID-19 and new emerging variants, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, left, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president, testify at a Senate hearing about the federal response to COVID-19.
Greg Nash/Pool via AP
Federal Miguel Cardona Should Help Schools Push Parents to Store Guns Safely, Lawmakers Say
More than 100 members of Congress say a recent shooting at a Michigan high school underscores the need for Education Department action.
3 min read
Three Oakland County Sheriff's deputies survey the grounds outside of the residence of parents of the Oxford High School shooter on Dec. 3, 2021, in Oxford, Mich.
Three Oakland County Sheriff's deputies survey the grounds outside of the Crumbley residence while seeking James and Jennifer Crumbley, parents of Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley, on Dec. 3, 2021, in Oxford, Mich.
Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP
Federal In Reversal, Feds Seek to Revive DeVos-Era Questions About Sexual Misconduct by Educators
The Education Department's decision follows backlash from former education Secretary Betsy DeVos and other conservatives.
4 min read
Illustration of individual carrying binary data on his back to put back into the organized background of 1s and 0s.
iStock/Getty Images Plus