Humanities Indicators
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K-12 Education  >  High School Course-Taking
 
Language Instruction in Elementary and Secondary Schools
(Updated January 2017)

Language courses in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools are opportunities for English-speaking students to acquire the foundation on which advanced study and true fluency in another language is built. The most recent data reveal a downward trend in the share of schools offering courses in languages other than English (LOTE) but an increase in the share of secondary students pursuing such learning opportunities, particularly at a higher level.

Findings and Trends

  • In academic year 2007–2008, 25% of elementary schools taught languages other than English, a decline of six percentage points from 1996–1997 (Indicator I-7a).
  • Over the two decades for which data are available, private elementary schools were substantially more likely than public schools to expose their students to languages other than English, and the disparity increased over time. In 2007–2008, 51% of private elementary schools offered languages other than English, a share 36 percentage points higher than for public schools, while 20 years previously the gap was 17 points.
  • American secondary schools were more likely than elementary schools to offer LOTE instruction (Indicator I-7b). In 2007–2008, 79% of secondary schools had LOTE classes. Middle schools, however, were not as likely as high schools to provide students LOTE learning opportunities, and the difference in shares for 2007–2008 (33 percentage points) was the largest recorded and a reversal of a trend toward greater parity.
  • The share of secondary schools offering courses in languages other than English fell from 1996–1997 to 2007–2008. The change was attributable to a statistically significant drop in the proportion of middle schools offering LOTE courses, from 75% to 58%.
  • Public and private secondary schools differed little with respect to the share offering LOTE courses (not pictured).
  • The share of LOTE-enrolled elementary and secondary students in individual states ranged from 8.5% in New Mexico to 51.2% in New Jersey, with an average state share of 20.0% for academic year 2014–2015 (Indicator I-7c). The share for the nation as a whole was 19.7%.
  • The share of high schoolers graduating in 2009 with LOTE credits was 89%, up from 84% in 2000 (Indicator I-7d). Almost 70% of students had earned credit in Spanish, a nine-percentage-point increase from 2000. Less than one-third had taken a for-credit course in another language.
  • Among 2009 high school graduates, 71% of instances of LOTE credit-earning were in Spanish (Indicator I-7e). The next largest share, was in French (14%). All other languages were substantially less likely to have been studied.[1]
  • While most high school students study a language other than English, only a small proportion take advanced courses, although such study was two to seven times more common among 2009 high school graduates than it was among students who graduated in 1982, depending on the measure used (Indicator I-7f).
I-7a: Share of Elementary Schools Teaching Languages Other than English, by Control of School, Academic Years 1986/7–2007/8

* Change from 1996–1997 is statistically significant at the 5% level.

Source: Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL), Foreign Language Teaching in U.S. Schools: Results of a National Survey (Washington, DC: CAL, 2010), 22 fig. 1.

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I-7b: Share of Secondary Schools Teaching Languages Other than English, by School Level, Academic Years 1986/7–2007/8

* Change from 1996–1997 is statistically significant at the 5% level.

Source: Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL), Foreign Language Teaching in U.S. Schools: Results of a National Survey (Washington, DC: CAL, 2010), 23 fig. 2.

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I-7c: Public K–12 Enrollment in Languages Other than English, by State, Academic Year 2014–2015
Source: American Councils for International Education, American Council on the Teaching for Foreign Languages, Center for Applied Linguistics, and Modern Language Association, The National K–16 Foreign Language Enrollment Report 2014–15 (Washington, D.C.: American Councils for International Education, 2016), http://www.americancouncils.org/national-k-16-foreign-language-enrollment-report.
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I-7d: Share of High School Graduates Who Received Any Credit for a Course in a Language Other than English (LOTE), Graduation Years 2000–2009*

* Arabic was excluded from the calculations on which this indicator is based because reliable estimates of the share of graduates who had earned credit in this language could not be obtained. The language categories used in the graph are not mutually exclusive (e.g., a student who earned Spanish credit could also have earned credit in another language; he or she would be included in the estimated percentage of both Spanish and “Other”).

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, Table 225.70, http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d14/tables/dt14_225.70.asp, accessed 11/15/2015.

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I-7e: Distribution of High School Graduate LOTE* Credit-Earning among Languages, 2009 Graduation Class

* “LOTE” stands for languages other than English. Arabic was excluded from the calculations on which this indicator is based because a reliable estimate of the share of graduates who had earned credit in this language could not be obtained. Percentages do not add to 100% due to rounding.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, Table 225.70, http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d14/tables/dt14_225.70.asp, accessed 11/15/2015.

About this DataRelated Indicators
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I-7f: Share of High School Graduates Who Completed Advanced Coursework in a Language Other than English (LOTE), 1982–2009 Graduation Class
Source: Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2013 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2013), 52.
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Endnotes

[1] Some students earned credit for more than one language, and thus the units depicted in the graph are not high school graduates but rather instances of earned credit in a given language among those graduates.