What Kinds of Schools Are Most Likely to Teach Foreign Languages?

By Mary Ann Zehr — December 10, 2009 1 min read
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Private elementary schools are more than three times more likely than public elementary schools to offer students foreign-language classes, according to a national survey released recently by the Center for Applied Linguistics.

The survey was conducted in collaboration with Westat, a statistical survey organization, with funding from the U.S. Department of Education.

In 2008, the percentage of private elementary schools offering foreign-languages was 51 percent, versus 15 percent in public elementary schools.

The survey shows that the proportion of elementary and middle schools teaching foreign-languages declined significantly from 1997 to 2008, from 31 percent to 25 percent in elementary schools and from 75 percent to 58 percent in all middle schools. The decline occurred mostly at public elementary schools. I wrote a story for EdWeek about this trend, based on preliminary findings from the survey, back in March.

The level of foreign-language offerings at high schools stayed about the same over the last decade.

The survey also showed that students attending schools in rural areas are less likely to have the chance to study a foreign tongue than students in suburban or urban areas, regardless if the school is private or public. And schools with students primarily from low-income families are also less likely to offer foreign languages than schools with students who tend to be from more affluent families.

By the way, the Smithsonian Institution just announced this week a travel-abroad program for high school students, Smithsonian Journeys, intended to give students a language-immersion experience in a foreign country for three weeks in the summer.

The travel-abroad experience is pricey, $5,695 for three weeks in Beijing, for example, and that doesn’t cover the cost of the plane ticket. The Smithsonian is offering a scholarship of $1,500 for one student in each of the groups going to three countries this next summer. But it seems to me that the experience is still unaffordable for anyone from a low-income family.

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