K-12 Iowa Students Below National Average in Foreign Language Enrollment

AMES, Iowa – Iowa students are below the national average when learning a foreign language.

According to a recent study published by The American Councils for International Education, only 15 percent of k-12 graders in Iowa take a foreign language.

The national average is 20 percent.

World Languages and Culture Department Chair for Iowa State University Chad Gasta said learning a foreign language can help students in the real world.

“When we are teaching another language, we are teaching one to be prepared for their career, but we are also teaching them to be prepared for the career that comes in seven years, because they are changing that fast. Language study and language learning certainly puts one on the road to success,” Gasta said.

Gasta said in a perfect world, children could do a dual language in school as early as kindergarten.

“It would be a dual language program, where half the time it is completely in one language and half the time is in completely English. They do their regular course work. Whether it is social sciences, or sciences, or math, or whatever, it is  done in that target language at that time of the day or one day on one day off,” Gasta said.

Gasta said it is unfortunate that, "Iowa doesn't offer a lot of elementary programs."

Des Moines elementary schools that offer a language as early as kindergarten include:

  • Hubbell Elementary: Spanish
  • Moore Elementary: Spanish
  • Park Avenue Elementary: Spanish
  • Stowe Elementary: Spanish
  • Walnut Street School: Chinese

Des Moines middle schools that offer a language include:

  • Brody Middle School: Spanish
  • Goodrell Middle School: Spanish
  • Meredith Middle School: Spanish and Chinese
  • Merrill Middle School: Spanish

The high schools in Des Moines offer a variety of languages at select schools, which include: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish.

Waukee schools start an introduction to world language in sixth and seventh grade. Once students start eighth grade they have an option of learning either Spanish or German. In high school students have a variety of options when it comes to taking a language.

Ankeny schools begin the language process in sixth and seventh grade with an introduction class. In eighth grade, students have the option to take either Spanish, French or Chinese as an elective before going to high school.

Johnston schools have French and Spanish classes starting at eighth grade. Summit Middle School offers a Spanish class, but it is not a requirement. Johnston High School does not require a foreign language to graduate. Their eighth grade world language course are recognized for college administration, but students don’t earn high school credit until ninth grade.

At 51 percent, New Jersey has the highest enrollment of students in a foreign language, while New Mexico is at the lowest with eight percent enrollment.