Too costly, Pa. says. Schools vary widely in courses.

By Dan Hardy

Inquirer Staff Writer

In January, with much fanfare, Pennsylvania introduced a plan for students to pass graduation tests in math, reading, science and social studies so they could compete in the global economy.

A month later, the state Board of Education quietly dropped another proposed graduation requirement: that students take at least three years of a language.

The reasons?

Too much cost and not enough teachers.

But critics say the move is shortsighted because graduates will need to speak more languages to compete in an increasingly global economy.

“We are putting our children at a disadvantage,” said Thekla Fall, a retired Pittsburgh language supervisor and a leader in the campaign to require language study. She berated board members for “talking out of both sides of their faces,” dropping the language requirement while setting more rigorous standards in other subjects.

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Former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, who chairs Strong American Schools, a school-improvement group, said language ability was a key to the future.

“We are in global competition for jobs,” said Romer, a past Los Angeles school superintendent. “Most graduates from the high school systems throughout the world have two languages at least. That’s the competition our graduates are going to face.”

The board’s move leaves Pennsylvania behind New Jersey, where all students must study a language through eighth grade, and next year’s graduates must have passed one year in high school. New Jersey is one of only five states with a language graduation requirement for all students.

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