Reversing a long decline in language instruction

With U.S. businesses of all sizes competing on the global stage, foreign language classes—and the teachers who teach them—are vanishing from K12 schools.

Only about 10 percent of the U.S. population speaks a language other than English proficiently, and just 15 percent of public elementary schools offer language instruction, according to The American Academy of Arts and Science.

The decline is not surprising when one considers that language programs face the chopping block when budgets need cutting. But these declines come at a time when businesses more than ever require employees who can communicate in English and a range of other languages, including Spanish, Chinese and Arabic.

Link to main story: Schools are teaching, not preaching

The overall demand for bilingual workers in the United States has more than doubled in recent years. Employers posted three times more jobs for Chinese speakers in 2015 than they did just five years earlier, according to the New American Economy, a nonprofit immigration advocacy and research group.

During the same time period, the number of U.S. job ads listing Spanish and Arabic as a desired skill increased by roughly 150 percent. Employers in banking and financial services, healthcare, insurance, customer service, and other sectors want employees who speak languages other than English.

Some states are making efforts to reverse the language deficiency trend. In November 2016, California voters passed Proposition 58, which overhauls key parts of a 1998 law that required students to take classes taught only in English unless parents sign a waiver.

Fewer than 5 percent of California public schools now offer multilingual programs, but that will soon change.

There is also a growing effort to certify that high school graduates can communicate in a different language—at least at a conversational level.

Twenty-seven states and Washington, D.C., have passed laws creating a “Seal of Biliteracy” that a school or district awards to high school graduates who have attained proficiency in two or more languages. The goal? To provide proof that a student possesses skills that are attractive to future employers and college admissions offices.

Tim Goral is senior editor.

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