Foreign-language classes for kindergarteners?
Cronkite News Service
Feb. 14, 2007


Bill part of schools chief's vision for international education Samantha M. Novick Starting foreign language training in kindergarten would make Arizona graduates more competitive in an international economy, the state's top education official says.

"In the 21st century, international studies have become much more important," said Tom Horne, state superintendent of public instruction.
"International trade has become a greater part of our economy and we need to be knowledgeable if we are to succeed."

A state lawmaker wants to launch Horne's drive for international education by establishing 10 schools of international studies where students would learn two languages and have international business training before they graduate. While not expressed in the law, some languages that have been recommended for study are Chinese, Hindi and Korean. "Businesses are looking to get employees that are fluent in different languages and who are culturally educated," said Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Mesa. "This state is poised to become the leader in education and this is a way we can achieve that."

Anderson's HB 2741 would enable three elementary schools - one each in northern, southern and central Arizona - to start teaching a foreign language in kindergarten. In addition, seven high schools would be designated to provide language training and global history and business classes.

The goal of the program, which would cost $2.3 million in its first year, is for high school students to be fluent in at least two foreign languages before graduation.

The House Education (K-12) Committee endorsed the bill Wednesday.

Horne proposed international schools in his Jan. 24 State of Education speech. If the international studies program is successful, Horne said he hopes to spread the program throughout the state.

The Arizona Department of Education has studied kindergarten foreign language training programs in Kansas, New Jersey and Wisconsin. Students who received the training have scored between 8 percent and 15 percent higher on standardized tests than students not in an international program.

John Lewis, chair of college education for the University of Phoenix, applauded the bill as a way to better prepare Arizona youth for jobs in the global marketplace.

"The time has passed for us to perhaps arrogantly assume that everyone else is going to speak English," Lewis said. "What we should have been doing all along is learning the languages of the nations that we're doing business with. It's about commerce, and it is about success."

Supporters said the price tag is small compared to the economic benefits that the state could see as a result.

"This program could really become a selling point for international CEOs who might want to bring their business here," Rep. Anderson said.

Arizona businesses would also benefit, said Richard Mackney, an aerospace manager at the Goodrich Corp. in Arizona. He said that his company and similar businesses could teach and offer internships to students.

"This bill is a partnership with the state, with academia and with business together that builds the future of the economy of Arizona," Mackney said.

Doug Clark, R-Anthem, was the only committee member to vote against the bill, saying that while he supported the bill's intentions he did not believe it should cost more to carry out.

"I have a hard time seeing why it should cost $2.3 million to do what should already be done in our school districts," Clark said.

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