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Date:  March 27, 2007

Contacts:  Vanee Vines, Senior Media Relations Officer

Sara Frueh, Media Relations Officer

Sarah Morocco, Media Relations Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

U.S. Needs Integrated Approach to Improve Foreign Language Skills and Cultural Expertise

 

WASHINGTON -- The 14 U.S. Department of Education programs designed to strengthen education in foreign languages and in international and area studies -- known collectively as Title VI and Fulbright-Hays -- have made some progress but lack the resources necessary to keep pace with their mission, says a new report from the National Research Council.  And the Education Department does not appear to have a master plan for these efforts, which may not bode well for the nation's security and competitiveness.

 

More support from all levels of the U.S. education system is needed to develop an integrated approach to improving foreign language skills and expertise on other cultures, beginning in the primary grades, the report says.  Also, the Department of Education should consolidate oversight of its foreign language and international education programs under a high-ranking official who would provide strategic direction and coordinate its work with related activities at other federal agencies.  To be most effective, that position should be a presidential appointment and require Senate confirmation. 

 

Universities should play key roles, partnering with federal officials to create systems to continuously improve the programs, the report says.  The systems should help develop performance indicators and engage networks of professionals in the field.

 

"The nation's infrastructure for international and foreign language education is weak at a time when the United States faces unprecedented demands for globally aware citizens and professionals," said Janet L. Norwood, chair of the committee that wrote the report, a counselor and senior fellow at the Conference Board Inc., and former U.S. commissioner of labor statistics.  "The Sept. 11 attacks brought renewed attention to this topic.  However, a comprehensive strategy is essential for building greater knowledge of world cultures and national capacity in a wide range of languages."

 

Congress should require the U.S. secretary of education to issue a biennial public report outlining national needs, plans to tackle them, and progress toward goals.  To produce the reports, the education secretary should collaborate with the departments of State and Defense, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and other agencies with relevant projects, the study committee said.

 

The Title VI and Fulbright-Hays programs were created nearly 50 years ago following the Soviet Union's launch of the Sputnik 1 satellite.  The surprise launch shocked the United States, leading to large increases in federal spending on education and scientific research.  Over the years, the programs' scope has grown to encompass undergraduate and graduate education in foreign languages, international studies, and area studies, which focus on particular regions of the world.  The programs also promote greater use of technology, foreign language training and research, and the recruitment of minorities into international service professions.

 

Title VI and Fulbright-Hays have produced some positive results, the report says.  For example, they have boosted the teaching of more than 250 uncommonly taught languages, such as Mandarin, and developed instructional materials that are used in the federal government, K-12 education, and academia.  And they have been a catalyst for foreign language and interdisciplinary initiatives in higher education.  But funding and staff resources have trailed the programs' expanded mission, the report concludes.

 

In addition, national data on the programs' impact are lacking, and there have been few well-designed evaluations.  The Department of Education is actively working on improving this information.  It should ensure that its new data system provides uniform standards for data collection and allows comparisons across programs and over time, the report emphasizes.  And performance information should be publicly available.

 

Officials should improve how the programs assess the foreign language proficiency of students, the report adds.  Specifically, the Education Department should no longer allow those who participate in the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) program -- a part of Title VI and Fulbright-Hays -- to rate themselves, a practice it currently permits. 

 

The federal government should contract out for a project to find new ways to measure foreign language proficiency and to use technology to improve language instruction, the report says.  The project should work on research and development, as well as other issues.

Last year President Bush announced his National Security Language Initiative, which calls for new and expanded measures to help increase the number of Americans learning certain "critical need" languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, and Farsi.  The study committee said maintaining national capacity in a broad range of foreign languages would be prudent, allowing the United States to respond to new and unanticipated challenges around the world.

 

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter.  The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  A committee roster follows.

 

Copies of International Education and Foreign Languages: Keys to Securing America’s Future are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu.  The cost of the report is $47.00 (prepaid) plus shipping charges of $4.50 for the first copy and $.95 for each additional copy.  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).  In addition, a podcast of the public briefing held to release this report is available at http://national-academies.org/podcast.

 

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[This news release and report are available at http://national-academies.org ]

 

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL

Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education

Center for Education

 

Committee to Review the Title VI and Fulbright-Hays International Education Programs

 

Janet L. Norwood (chair)

Counselor and Senior Fellow

Conference Board, and

Former Commissioner

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Chevy Chase, Md.

 

William M. Arnold

Director of International Government Relations

Shell Oil Co.

Houston

 

Lyle F. Bachman

Professor and Chair

Department of Applied Linguistics and Teaching English as a

   Second Language

University of California

Los Angeles

 

Burt S. Barnow

Economist, Associate Director for Research, and Principal  

   Scientist

Institute for Policy Studies

Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore

 

Sheila Biddle

Independent Consultant

New York City

 

Christopher T. Cross

Chairman

Cross & Joftus LLC

Danville, Calif.

 

Eleanor Liebman Johnson

Independent Consultant

Washington, D.C.

 

Michael C. Lemmon

Professor of Strategic Planning

National War College

National Defense University

Washington, D.C.

 

Kenneth Prewitt

Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs

School of International and Public Affairs

Columbia University

New York City

 

Fernando M. Reimers

Ford Foundation Professor of International Education, and 

Director

Global Education Program and International Education Policy 

   Program   

Harvard Graduate School of Education

Cambridge, Mass.

 

David M. Trubek

Voss-Bascom Professor of Law Emeritus and Lecturer

Center for World Affairs and the Global Economy

University of Wisconsin

Madison

 

Elizabeth B. Welles

Independent Consultant

Bethesda, Md.

 

Yong Zhao

University Distinguished Professor of Educational Psychology

College of Education

Michigan State University

East Lansing

 

RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

 

Mary Ellen O'Connell

Study Director