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|Volume 22, No. 1||Fall/Winter 1998|
The Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL), through funding from the U. S. Department of Education, conducted a survey of elementary and secondary schools in 1997 to gain a greater understanding of current patterns and shifts in foreign language enrollment, languages and programs offered, curricula, teaching methodologies, teacher qualifications and training, and reactions to national reform issues. The survey was designed to replicate CAL's 1987 survey in an effort to show trends during the decade from 1987 to 1997.
The survey was sent to a randomly selected sample of principals at approximately 6% of all public and private elementary and secondary schools in the United States. Questionnaires were completed by principals and foreign language teachers at 1,534 elementary schools and 1,650 secondary schools, which represents an overall response rate of 56%. Respondents represented public and private schools, from preschool through Grade 12, from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The survey was designed with two purposes in mind: to provide a national portrait of foreign language education at the elementary and secondary levels, and to produce information on foreign language education on a state-by-state basis.
Highlights from the findings of the survey are presented below. The full survey report will be available in February 1999 (see box). For additional information on the survey, visit CAL's Web site at www.cal.org.
In the past decade, the number of elementary schools offering foreign language instruction in the United States has increased by nearly 10%, from 22% to 31% of all elementary schools.
The percentage of secondary schools offering foreign language instruction has remained fairly stable: 87% in 1987 and 86% in 1997.
In 1997, over 4 million elementary school students (out of 27.1 million) were enrolled in foreign language classes. About 3 million (out of 8.2 million) middle and junior high school students were studying a foreign language in school; over 7 million (out of 13.5 million) high school students were doing so.
Spanish instruction has increased significantly: from 68% of elementary school foreign language programs in 1987 to 79% in 1997, and from 86% of secondary school programs in 1987 to 93% in 1997.
French is the second most commonly offered language at all levels, but the number of schools offering French decreased significantly at the elementary level (from 41% in 1987 to 27% in 1997) and slightly at the secondary level (from 66% to 64%).
At the elementary school level, offerings in all but four languages (in addition to Spanish) remained stable or decreased from 1987 to 1997. Those that increased were Spanish for Spanish speakers (from 1% to 8%), Japanese (from 0% to 3%), Italian (from less than 1% to 2%), and American Sign Language (from less than 1% to 2%).
At the secondary level, instruction increased in Spanish for Spanish speakers (from 1% to 9%), Japanese (from 1% to 7%), and Russian (from 2% to 3%), while offerings of all other languages (except Spanish) remained fairly stable or decreased.
The percentage of secondary school programs offering advanced placement classes in foreign languages increased significantly, from 12% in 1987 to 16% in 1997.
The primary goal of most elementary school programs is introductory exposure to a foreign language. Only 21% offer programs having proficiency in the language as a goal.
Well-articulated K–12 language programs aimed at high levels of proficiency are still uncommon. Students who have studied a foreign language in elementary school are placed in Level I classes at the secondary level (along with students who have had no prior exposure to the language) in 26% of the responding school districts.
The most frequently cited problems facing elementary school foreign language programs were funding shortages, inadequate in-service training, inadequate sequencing from elementary to secondary school, and the high ratio of students to teachers.
The most frequently cited problems facing secondary school foreign language programs, in addition to those cited by elementary schools, were teacher shortages, lack of quality materials, and poor academic counseling for students.
Available in February 1999
Foreign Language Instruction in the
Nancy C. Rhodes and Lucinda E. Branaman
For ordering information, contact
Delta Systems, Co., Inc.
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