A case for cutting foreign languages from US schools

Is this really necessary?
Is this really necessary?
Image: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
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Eva Moskowitz is the CEO and founder of Success Academy Charter Schools, responsible for about 9,000 students in 32 charter schools around New York City. Moskowitz sat down for an interview with the American Enterprise Institute this week, and talked about how to fit everything she deems important for students—coding, recess, science five days a week—into the school day. One recent solution, Moskowitz said, was to cut foreign languages.

From the interview:

So something’s got to go. We picked—and you know this may be shocking to this audience—we picked foreign languages. People say “Don’t you believe in foreign languages?” I love multilingualism. I speak French, but something had to go. … We can’t do everything. And by the way, Americans don’t tend to do foreign languages very well. I think if I were doing schools in Europe I might feel differently. But my son took three years of French and he could barely say, “How are you?” … I really believe whatever we do we should do it exceptionally well and I wasn’t sure that I could find foreign language instructors that were really really good and could do it at a very very high level.

Indeed, foreign language instruction has been on the decline around the US, at least in elementary and middle schools—which is Success Academy’s sweet spot. (High schools remained steady at 91%, and Success only has one high school so far.) Here’s the change in the percentage of US schools offering foreign language instruction in 2008 versus 1997, according to a study funded by the US Department of Education:

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In Moskowitz’s defense, English continues to assert its dominance as the language of the global economy, though some would argue that just relying on everyone else to speak English could be detrimental to American business growth—while potentially sacrificing the benefits of bilingualism and of foreign language study (pdf).