Palo Alto Unified School District can expect to receive $201,418 in federal money to help increase foreign language instruction, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spelling announced today -- surprising school officials.
The grant is part of the federal National Security Language Initiative intended to address the shortage of critical foreign language speakers. The initiative aims to boost the number of Americans studying Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Farsi and others in programs from kindergarten through college.
Palo Alto school board member Mandy Lowell said the grant was most likely not a result of the board's recent decision to implement Mandarin immersion at Ohlone school or study how to expand language in elementary schools.
In 2006, the district applied for a three-year $180,000 federal-language assistance program grant, but the district missed the qualification by half a point.
It looks as if the federal government came up with additional funds, Lowell said.
Board member Gail Price said the district does not know why the government announced the award today.
The new Mandarin-immersion program will make the district eligible for a wider range of grants, Lowell added.
"Too few speak languages like Arabic, Chinese and Farsi at a time when communication is vital to a peaceful world," Spellings said. "We hope these funds will enable more students to become fluent in critical languages."
Fewer than 1 percent of American high school students study the targeted languages, including Korean and Urdu, according to the State Department. Less than 8 percent of U.S. undergraduates take foreign-language courses and fewer than 2 percent study abroad in any given year, the department said. Foreign language degrees account for only 1 percent of undergraduate degrees conferred in the United States.
"This is not just an education issue," Spellings said. "It's an economic issue, a civic issue, a social issue, a national-security issue, and it's everybody's issue."
Forty-four percent of American high school students study foreign languages -- low compared to students in the European Union, China, Thailand and other countries where learning a second or third language is mandatory, she said.
"Many begin learning before they're even 10 years old," Spellings said. "And as fluent, accent-less adults, they will have a strong advantage over monolingual Americans in developing new relationships and businesses in countries other than their own."
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