Designing a curricula that is the right combination of challenging, engaging, and well-rounded is far from an easy task for those at the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE). Regardless, it is …
Designing a curricula that is the right combination of challenging, engaging, and well-rounded is far from an easy task for those at the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE). Regardless, it is RIDE’s responsibility to do so in a way that also does not over-encumber school districts at the local level.
We find our state at such a difficult crossroads right now, where the state is in the midst of updating its high school graduation requirements to better provide young adults with an advanced 21st-century education, while local districts shout to hit the brakes and calculate the exact implications that update will have on their day-to-day operations.
It is no secret that school districts face big challenges every year when it comes to balancing a budget. Stories throughout the region crop up every new year about a school extracurricular at risk of being cut, or a beloved teacher at risk of being let go because their program is being trimmed due to lack of enrollment. These stories are an unfortunate reality of our property tax-based funding system for public schools, but they are problems we must face and try to solve nonetheless.
In this situation, the state’s new regulations remain mostly the same aside from an increased emphasis on teaching kids foreign languages. Under the proposed graduation requirements, students will need two credits of the same foreign language to graduate. This is already the standard in Massachusetts. Considering that the number of Spanish-speaking people in America grew by nearly 25 percent in the past decade — up to 62.1 million people in 2020 according to Pew — we would argue this is a very wise, forward-thinking decision. Being able to understand and speak the basics of a different language is one of the most valuable skills a young professional can possess going into the increasingly multicultural workforce today.
Of course, aspirational vision and what is realistic are two different things entirely. RIDE officials should be prepared to demonstrate an ability to attract world language teachers to the state before committing to such a requirement. Districts have shown real apprehension at the ability to hire and pay foreign language teachers amid existing shoestring budgets, and that is a worthy concern.
At the same time, assuming that students simply might “not be interested” in a foreign language — as has been levied — is lazy logic, and honestly not good enough. Students may not be interested in a lot of educational topics, but this does not make their value any less important. Foreign language knowledge will only become more important as our country becomes more diverse, and the state must prepare for that reality to remain competitive with its regional peers.
At the same time, local districts’ concerns over a dearth of available teachers is a legitimate one that the state should help alleviate before these requirements become set in stone.
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