I received several reader emails asking if we could talk about a story on the front page of today’s AJC about the expansion in foreign language classes in Georgia schools.
The AJC story reports record-setting demand for language courses. In the past four years, the number of Georgia students studying a world language has increased from 17 percent to more than 23 percent, according to the state Department of Education.
AJC reporter Jaime Sarrio says the growth reflects changes in Georgia’s high school diploma track, which now requires all students to earn a college-ready certificate. While foreign language is not a requirement to graduate, students are advised to take at least two years of it. (Georgia colleges require two years of foreign language for admission.)
The story focuses on Atlanta, which is one of the only school systems in the state to offer foreign language instruction at every elementary school. (Although some APS schools begin foreign languages in first grade, while others start in fourth.)
According to the story:
Until this year, Spanish was the only foreign language offered to students at South Atlanta High. Middle school students studying French at Bunche couldn’t take that language when they entered high school at Therrell. And Latin was offered only at Grady High.
Atlanta Public Schools is introducing changes this fall to its foreign-language program to address these issues and more. The district has one of the most comprehensive foreign-language programs in the state, but as in many systems, access to different languages varies from school to school.
Atlanta school officials say they can’t meet every demand for foreign language offerings, but they are trying to give students access to more languages and more higher-level courses without increasing spending in a tight fiscal year. To do that, elementary instruction will be reduced from 150 to 90 minutes a week. The reduced class time will free up teachers who will be reassigned to middle and high schools, where services will be expanded.
The changes will allow the district to increase the number of middle schools offering yearlong languages and to increase the course options at high schools. Students will be able to continue taking the same language as they move through their “cluster” of elementary, middle and high school.
“Our goal is for students to complete courses with a level of proficiency that will allow them to put on a resume, ‘I’m bilingual, ‘ as opposed to, ‘I’ve had exposure to another language, ‘ ” said Anita Lawrence, world languages coordinator for the district.
Most metro districts offer a few languages in high school, but options at the elementary and middle school levels vary. Clayton County is home to one of the state’s few immersion schools, Unidos Dual Language Charter, where elementary students learn half the day in English and half in Spanish. In Cobb, foreign language is offered in grades 8-12, along with optional exploratory language courses available for grades 6-7.
In Gwinnett, the state’s largest system, the decision whether to offer foreign language in the early grades is left to the local school based on staffing and the interests of students and parents, said a district spokesman. High schools offer three to four languages.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog