Portland Public Schools held one of its three community meeting on “High School System Redesign” at Franklin High School on 4/29/09. I attended intending to testify, but that was not the format. Instead, the 100 or so participants were seated at 15 tables for structured discussions of the three design options now under consideration. See here for info on the process and the three current options.
For Portland’s economic and national security future,
Portland Public Schools needs strategically to emphasize foreign languages more
and to teach to higher levels of proficiency. Therefore, I urge Portland Public
Schools to create a high schools system with the following characteristics:
(1) Strong high school foreign language immersion and heritage language programs in the foreign languages essential for Portland’s economic future exist. Such languages would now include Mandarin, Japanese, Spanish, and Russian. “Strong” would mean a high school student could spend at least 50% of his/her high school course time in that foreign language. Future languages essential for Portland’s economic future might include Portuguese, French, German, Korean, Vietnamese, and Indonesian.
(2) Strong central office direction of the foreign language immersion programs from kindergarten through high school graduation exists. There needs to be strong coordination between the elementary school, middle school and high school components of immersion programs. Program offerings cannot be left up to the principal at each individual school.
(3) One and only one high school has the immersion program for each individual foreign language. That is, for example, there is only one high school with a Mandarin immersion program. This permits breath and depth of courses taught in the foreign language at that school.
(4) A given high school has no more than one foreign language immersion program. That is, for example, the Mandarin and Spanish immersion programs are not at the same high school. This permits breath and depth of courses taught in the foreign language at that school without sacrificing course offerings in English.
(5) Major heritage language and immersion programs in a given foreign language should be in the same high school.
(6) An ongoing substantial expansion of foreign language immersion programs takes place. The high school system is able to accommodate the growing numbers of immersion students in their variety of languages as they work their way up through the grades.
A growing number of high school students spend a high
school year studying abroad. Portland Public School supports and implements
legislation to permit state and local funds to be used to pay for high school
students to study abroad.
(8) Access to each high school immersion program is district wide and there is no limit to the number of students in each immersion program.
Portland Public Schools needs to emphasize foreign languages because the world’s economic and geo-political arrangements are undergoing rapid and sustained change.
Consider that improved transportation and communications together with the resulting global flow of financial investment funds are bringing distance economies into competition with each other, making the globe seem smaller and more interconnected; and
Consider that the global banking firm Goldman Sachs estimated that by 2050 the combined emerging economies of the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) could exceed the combined economies of the current richest countries of the world; and
Consider that during the next
thirty years, two to three billion people (out of a global population of 6.4
billion and growing) may join the global middle class, bringing substantial new
buying power into the global market; and
Consider that in the next few decades roughly 80% of the world's economic growth will be found in emerging markets; and
Consider that the Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace estimated (2008) that the economy of China
will equal in size the US economy in 2035 and be twice as large in 2050.
This is the global economy that today’s students, our next generations, will have to compete in. To be successful they will need the skills and knowledge to innovate, design, produce, buy and sell in these emerging markets around the globe. I know you understand these international competitive pressures. And that Portland Public Schools is working to improve our education system and to raise the skills of our next generations, with specific concerns for improving science and technology education and for raising the educational achievement levels of underperforming populations. But, for our next generations to survive and thrive in this future global economy, more of them will need foreign language skills, and at proficiency levels higher than we now usually produce. I urge you to invigorate the study of foreign languages in Oregon’s public schools. I urge you to create a high school system with the characteristics I have outlined.