Tuesday Reading List: Foreign Languages, American Cities, and Human Rationality is a Myth

Corey Mitchell of Education Week looks at a new study of foreign language instruction in American schools:

The reports from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and American Councils for International Education found that public schools and state departments of education are struggling to find qualified world language instructors and unequipped to track local and national trends on language learning. The American Councils for International Education survey—which sought state-by-state data on enrollment in foreign language courses—estimates that 10.6 million K-12 students in the United States are studying a world language or American Sign Language. That's only one out of every five students.

The educators in my community were waving the flag on this when I was a child, and it seems like little has changed in the intervening decades. The liabilities here stretch from international trade to national security. Moreover, there is significant academic research indicating the cognitive benefits of learning a foreign language.

In other research news, Lauren FitzPatrick of the Chicago Sun Times looks at a new report on that city's schools:

One in four African-American students in Chicago Public Schools attends a “failing” school, according to a new analysis that puts the number for Hispanic students at two in 25 and, for white students, two in 100. That’s according to a report Monday from the education advocacy group New Schools for Chicago, which also says about one in every five schools overall isn’t fulfilling the promise of a quality education ... The bulk of the lowest-performing schools are found on the South Side and West Side, serving predominantly low-income, African-American student bodies that constitute 37 percent of CPS students. Austin, Englewood, the Near West Side and West Englewood account for a quarter of them.

It's easy to get caught in the blame game, which is what this article devolves into after the data is presented. Both education reformers and traditionalists need to swallow hard and accept some difficult truths. The vast majority of America's cities contain disparities similar to those found in Chicago. Those disparities existed long before the onset of standards-based reform, much to the chagrin of traditionalists who want to blame their preferred bogeymen (i.e. charter schools! privatization!) for the problems.

But it's also important to remember that two decades of reform have not changed the fundamental performance disparities of American schools, particularly when it comes to our most vulnerable kids ... which should come as a wake-up call to reformers who have been pushing solutions for the last twenty-five years. Everybody needs to chill the f out with the finger pointing and work on improving schools.

In other news, Isaac Carey of The Hechinger Report examined a Virginia program that aimed to determine whether information about future earnings can drive college attendance decisions:

Researchers gave students at participating high schools in Virginia access to a state-backed website called gradpathva.com, which analyzed the average wage earned by graduates and the average cost of enrollment, sorted by university and type of program. The students used the website rarely, and did not seem to base their academic decisions on it. During the three-year study, researchers were able to see where students ended up going to college, and what type of programs they chose to pursue. There was no evidence that access to salary data had a detectable impact.

Gosh. It's almost as if humans sometimes make decisions that aren't 100% geared at maximizing microeconomic outcomes. 

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In all seriousness, the more information that students have about the colleges they hope to attend, the better. As the author points out, though, information alone cannot reduce costs, increase student readiness to succeed in college-level courses, and otherwise prepare teens for higher education success.

Have a great day!