U.S. Schools Are Saying Goodbye to Foreign Languages

Such instruction is in rapid decline despite the proven benefits of bilingualism.

USAG- Humphreys/Flickr

Success Academy Charter Schools is responsible for about 9,000 students in 32 charter schools around New York City. Eva Moskowitz, the school's CEO and founder, recently spoke with the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute about how to fit everything she deems important for students—coding, recess, and science—into the school day, five times a week. One of the school's new "solutions," she 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.

(Here's a video of the interview, in full.)

Indeed, foreign language instruction has been on the decline around the U.S., at least in elementary and middle schools—which is Success Academy’s sweet spot. (High schools remained steady, with 91 percent of them offering foreign languages, and Success only has one high school so far.)

Here’s the change in the percentage of U.S. schools offering foreign language instruction in 2008 versus 1997, according to a study funded by the U.S. Department of Education:

Schools Offering Foreign Language K-12

In Moskowitz’s defense, English continues to assert its dominance as the language of the global economy. But 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.