Bigger Ed. Dept. Role Seen in Bush Foreign-Language Plan

By Mary Ann Zehr — January 17, 2006 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Foreign-language experts are praising the Department of Education for taking a larger role in promoting the teaching of other languages as part of a proposed Bush administration initiative to bolster national security and the economy.

The departments of Defense and State have headed up efforts to increase the teaching of much-needed foreign languages, focusing on the university level, while the Education Department has done little to promote language development at the K-12 level, the experts say. The federal government’s list of critical-need languages includes Arabic, Chinese, Korean, and Russian.

For at least a decade, the Education Department has supported the teaching of foreign languages, primarily through the Foreign Language Assistance Program. That small grant program gave out $18 million in fiscal 2005 and is budgeted at $22 million in fiscal 2006, with far less than half the money going to the teaching of critical-need languages.

Funding Boost

President Bush announced earlier this month that he would seek $114 million in the fiscal 2007 budget for a new National Security Language Initiative. Half of that total, $57 million, would be administered by the Education Department to step up the teaching of much-needed languages in elementary and secondary schools. That would mean a $35 million boost in funding by the department for foreign languages.

“Is it enough? No. Is it a start? Yes,” Robert Slater, the director of the National Security Education Program, said of the $114 million proposal.

“Of equal significance, it gets the Department of Education more involved in asserting the importance of language learning at the K-12 level,” said Mr. Slater, whose Department of Defense-run program gives scholarships to university students to study languages.

Marty Abbott, the director of education for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, in Alexandria, Va., said that $114 million is a “significant amount when you consider what was there prior to this for K-12 education.”

Long-Term Planning

Asked if the Education Department has been slow to recognize the nation’s need for speakers of foreign languages, Holly Kuzmich, the agency’s deputy assistant secretary for policy, said: “It’s not like the rest of the country is ahead and we’re behind. We as a country have been behind.”

With adoption of the president’s initiative, the Foreign Language Assistance Program would be able to increase its incentives for schools to start programs that teach critical languages, she said. Under the initiative, the grant program would give out $24 million in fiscal 2007, which begins next October.

In addition, the Education Department would give $24 million to 24 school districts to form partnerships with colleges and universities to establish programs for critical languages.

The department is also proposing three smaller programs to support language teaching. For example, it wants to use $5 million to generate a corps of 1,000 new foreign-language teachers in public schools by the end of the decade.

Dora E. Johnson, the project director of the K-12 Arabic Teachers Network for the Washington-based Center for Applied Linguistics, said Mr. Bush’s initiative doesn’t take into account some of the challenges of teaching critical languages at the precollegiate level.

“There needs to be a plan put into place, but not overnight,” Ms. Johnson said. “The plan must have the components of not only making programs available, but also the materials, the curriculum, the standards, and accreditation.”

The teaching of critical languages “cannot happen by saying, ‘We will do this in the next five years,’ ” she added. “It has to be a 10- to 12-year plan, because that’s how long it takes to get the students through school.”


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.
Teaching Profession Webinar
Professional Wellness Strategies to Enhance Student Learning and Live Your Best Life
Reduce educator burnout with research-affirmed daily routines and strategies that enhance achievement of educators and students alike. 
Content provided by Solution Tree
English-Language Learners Webinar The Science of Reading and Multilingual Learners: What Educators Need to Know
Join experts in reading science and multilingual literacy to discuss what the latest research means for multilingual learners in classrooms adopting a science of reading-based approach.
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.

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

Curriculum How the Overturning of 'Roe v. Wade' Will Reverberate Through Classrooms
Some teachers are looking for ways to address with students the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn the abortion rights precedent.
8 min read
Thousands of people attend a protest for abortion access after the Supreme Court reversed the federal right to abortion decided in Roe v. Wade. The legal basis for the decision could be used in the future as precendent to overturn other rights not explicitly stated in the Constitution (e.g., same-sex marriage). With the exception of Thomas, all of the conservative justices in the majority testified under oath in their confirmation hearings that they consider abortion access 'settled law.'
Thousands of people attend a protest for abortion access after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned <i>Roe v. Wade,</i> which guaranteed the right to an abortion.
Allison Bailey/NurPhoto via AP
Curriculum Miami School Board Reverses Itself, Approves Sex Ed. Textbook
The board reversed itself again to accept the text but to maintain a block on access on the more controversial chapters.
3 min read
Image of books on a library shelf.
Curriculum Florida School Board Rejects Sex Ed. Textbook Under Pressure
Critics said the material was not age appropriate for students in middle and high school.
2 min read
Image of books.
Curriculum 4 Ways States Are Exerting More Control Over Classroom Materials
States have limited power over what materials teachers use—but some are wielding influence anyway.
7 min read