Jan 19, 2024 - News

University of Arkansas report notes need for language education strategy

Illustration of a line of computers with exclamation marks on their screens, the one in the center has an inverted exclamation mark.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Arkansas should adopt a statewide world language education plan, according to a report recently published by three University of Arkansas professors.

  • Spanish is the most important foreign language for the state's current residents, they note.

Why it matters: The state's Hispanic or Latino population grew from an estimated 3.2% in 2000 to 8.6% in 2023, meaning there's more need for people to communicate in Spanish at businesses, schools and in daily life.

  • Hispanics in the state made a total income of $1.3 billion in 2014, per the most recent data available. They paid $190.5 million in federal taxes and $135.4 million in state and local taxes that year.

State of play: Authors point out there's not a concentrated effort to leverage any foreign language for residents.

  • They also note that there aren't enough world language teachers in public schools to meet projected needs.

By the numbers: There were only about 534 foreign language teachers in Arkansas at the beginning of 2023, or about 1.6% of the state's 32,800 certified teachers. Nearly a half million students are enrolled in K-12.

  • The number of students enrolled in Spanish courses at public schools dropped from about 41,000 during the 2004-05 academic year to 32,321 during the 2021-22 year.
  • Meanwhile, native Spanish speakers in public schools have grown to more than 51,000.

Of note: The researchers point to North Carolina as a state that had similar growth in its Hispanic and Latino population about 30 years ago.

  • The state launched a dual immersion pilot project — where subjects are taught in both English and Spanish — in 1990.
  • Now, it offers more than 260 such programs.

What they recommend: The Arkansas researchers call for educators and private industries to collaborate on a roadmap with goals and standards for world language education from grade school through college.

  • The plan should take a long view, starting in elementary school so that students are proficient in a language by the time they finish their education.

What's next: Researchers have requested to meet with secretary of the state Department of Education, Jacob Oliva, to present their findings, one of the authors, Luis Restrepo, tells Axios.

  • They also plan to share the report with NWA's public school superintendents.

Go deeper: Read the full report in English or Spanish.

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