LITTLE STONE – Some lawmakers want to change what they described at a meeting Friday as a “mistake” of removing the requirement for high school students to study a foreign language to receive an Arkansas Academic Challenge scholarship .
A House of Representatives committee is considering a proposal to require high school credit for two years of foreign language in order to receive the scholarship, largely funded by the state lottery.
Two years of study in a foreign language was a requirement for the scholarship until the legislature changed it to a lottery-funded scholarship intended to be available to more students, including academically weaker performers . The changes, which include a lowered minimum ACT score and GPA requirements that must be met to be eligible for the scholarship, were enacted in 2009 for scholarships awarded in 2010 and after.
Representative Johnnie Roebuck, of Arkadelphia, said removing the language requirement was a mistake that had the “unintended consequence” of reducing enrollment in foreign language courses. “We sent the message to our young people that the foreign language is not important. It was never, ever the message we should have sent. This is just one of those unintended consequences.
During the 2009-2010 school year, 49,216 Arkansas students learned a foreign language. The following year, the number fell to 44,263, according to Ministry of Education figures. Department spokesman Seth Blomeley said the department does not know if the change in scholarship requirements has caused the decline.
In the 2009-2010 school year, 5,735 of the students who applied for the scholarship had completed two years of foreign language in high school. As this is no longer an eligibility requirement, the department does not track the number of applicants who have studied a foreign language. . The department also did not know how many of the 31,109 students who received scholarships this year completed two years of foreign language.
Each school district in Arkansas is required to offer two “units” of a foreign language, but students are generally not required to take them, although some districts require the study of a foreign language for degrees. “specialized” or other programs.
Rep. Randy Stewart, D-Kirby, who sponsored the study proposal, said it was important to encourage students to take foreign language classes. Otherwise, they won’t, he said.
He is open to “any way to do so, for our students to improve their scores, increase [college] retention rate, and get out there and compete in the world,” he said. Studying foreign languages in high school will help in all of this, he said.
Roebuck said it might be more expedient for foreign language study to be incorporated into the “smart core curriculum” and for school districts to consider requiring it for honors degrees or similar programs.
Beginning in the 2013-2014 school year, students will need to complete the “intelligent core” to be eligible for scholarships. Until then, if they have not completed the program, they must test at proficient levels in Algebra I, Geometry and Biology.
Foreign language teachers told lawmakers on Friday that the state should do everything in its power to get more students into their classes.
Horst Lange, chair of the Department of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at the University of Central Arkansas, said students who take foreign language courses in high school have an advantage in college, where many degrees require study of foreign languages.
John Miller, training and education manager at Dassault Falcon Jet of Little Rock, told lawmakers the benefit extends to the business world, where knowledge of a foreign language is an asset.
Rep. Garry Smith, D-Camden, said the state has an interest in exposing students to a foreign language. “People say, well, I don’t want the government telling me what my kids should take, but we didn’t ask that question when it came to reading, writing and arithmetic,” Smith said. “I think that’s what government is supposed to be about, helping people see the road.”
But a member of the Lottery Commission’s Legislative Oversight Committee, Rep. Barry Hyde, D-North Little Rock, later said in a phone interview that it appeared members of the education committee were trying to requiring courses that the state had decided not to be mandatory. Requiring students to go beyond state requirements is contrary to the lottery’s mission, Hyde said.
“What we promised the people of Arkansas when we asked them to support a lottery and lottery scholarship program, we said it would be the average child in Arkansas who would be eligible for these scholarships. And the average Arkansas kid graduates with the basic curriculum,” he said.
Blomeley, the department’s spokesperson, said while the department has determined that it is necessary for students to have the option of choosing a foreign language, it has not determined that they should be required to do so. .
In Arkansas, 850 teachers are licensed to teach Spanish, 281 to teach French, 73 to teach German, 30 to teach Mandarin Chinese, 12 to teach Latin, and three to teach Russian.
Blomeley said the department doesn’t know if more foreign language teachers would be needed if the scholarship criteria changed, “But if there are a lot more students who want to learn a foreign language, that would require more teachers, and teachers cost money.”