Foreign Language and International Studies High Schools

By — Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Jul 26, 2007

Although most Language and International Studies High Schools (LISHS) are a part of the public school system, they represent a departure from the tradition of attendance by geographic location. Most have been established as magnet schools, i.e., schools that reflect a central academic or vocational theme and are organized to encourage students to attend school outside their own neighborhood. LISHS usually stress voluntary enrollment, although they may choose to direct their programs to special students, perhaps those with a certain grade point average or those identified as gifted and talented.

Generally, the academic curriculum (of both public and private high schools) emphasizes foreign languages, social sciences, and communications. The purpose of all three curricular areas is to help students develop the competencies necessary for effective participation in an international environment. The development of a functional command of at least one modern foreign language is the single element that distinguishes this kind of school from that of a regular high school or one that stresses social science programs and offers foreign language study as an elective. The absolute centrality of foreign language study cannot be stressed enough. No successes in "international education" will make up for failure in this area.

Students are expected to graduate with a functional competence of a foreign language; the background papers to the 1979 President's Commission stressed that during the LISHS experience, students and teachers are to use the foreign language as the medium of instruction not only in the foreign language classroom but also in the social science oriented courses. In addition to a first foreign language that students study for a minimum of four years, a second foreign language, preferably one of the less commonly taught languages (like Chinese, Arabic, Japanese), is to be studied for at least two years.

In order to satisfy state graduation requirements, students also take courses found in a traditional secondary school curriculum. Whenever possible, teachers in these subject areas agree to stress global concerns. In home economics, for example, students may prepare menus of Japanese foods. In a freshman English course, students may learn how to write Japanese poetry, and in their art class, calligraphy and brush painting will be included.

Field trips, independent study in cooperation with international agencies located in the area, and cultural exchange programs usually round out the curriculum. The focus of these experiences is that students are actively encouraged and given the opportunity to live, work, and play in an environment where they can use any achieved second or third language competency.

How are These Schools Organized?

Foreign language and international studies programs can be designed and implemented on several models. One model involves one building in a single school district. This school draws teachers, resources, and students from the entire district (or, perhaps, the region) and is devoted exclusively to the study of foreign languages and international studies. This model is used by both public and private schools. A second model is a school-within-a-school. Due to space limitations or budgetary restraints, a certain portion of a school can be designated as a magnet school drawing students from the entire school district.

At the present time, the most prevalent magnet school model is the school-within-a-school concept. An example of such an organization is the North Fulton Center for International Studies in Atlanta, GA. The Center is located within the walls of North Fulton High School (NFHS). Of the 500 students enrolled at NFHS, approximately 200 are official participants in the Center. A unique feature of this magnet school is its racial mixture and cultural diversity: 52% of the students are black; 41% are white; and 7% are foreign-born. Applicants are admitted to the Center in grades 9 and 10. Criteria for admission are a reading score at grade level or above and a minimum grade-point average of 2.5 in social sciences, language arts, and any foreign language(s) studies. To remain enrolled in the Center, students must maintain an overall 2.5 grade-point average.

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