Making the Case

In a political and economic climate with competing priroties, administrators are often required to make a case for internationalization.  Through its Center for Internationalization and Global Engagement (CIGE), the American Council on Education provides a wealth of information on internationalizing at the campus level, including on making a case for internationalization.  The Center provides variety of resources and examples, which can guide this work in colleges of education. 

Internationalization is an important priority for colleges of education in the US. Educating for Global Competence: Preparing Our Youth to Engage the World, a report produced by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Asia Society Partnership for Global Learning, argues that youth are called on “to live, compete, and collaborate in a new global scenario.” This includes “unprecedented global migration and the changing nature of neighborhoods, identities, and citizenship” and “the flattened global economy and changing demands of work."  Recent research strongly supports these assertions.

A Growing Need for Global Competency Skills

​The United States is becoming increasingly more diverse.  According to a 2012 report from the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 70 percent of the population was non-minority in 2000, but that number is projected to shrink to 45% by 2050.  Data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) illustrates that these projections are becoming a reality.  In 2008, 67% of students in Washington, DC were minority children – primarily African-American.  School systems in California, Hawaii, New Mexico, and Texas were comprised of over 50% Hispanic and Asian children, largely due to increasing numbers of immigrants from Asia and Latin America.  In the same year, over 20% of students spoke a language other than English at home, 5% of whom reported difficulty speaking English.  Diversity, some of which can be attributed to migration, is changing the demographic fabric of our communities, bringing us in daily contact with people from different cultures and countries.


Americans are entering a workforce that is globalizing at a rapid pace, taking us outside our boundaries. In 2009, nearly 22% of jobs in the United States were tied to international trade, illustrating that the economy is highly interconnected with the rest of the world.  Employers in business, government, community, and non-profit organizations recognize that it is foolhardy, if not impossible, to work in isolation from the rest of the world, and take this into consideration in hiring practices.

In Becoming Citizens of the World, Vivien Stewart, former Vice President for Education at the Asia Society, outlines the importance of creating more globally competent citizens:  “Every major issue that people face—from environmental degradation and global warming, to pandemic diseases, to energy and water shortages, to terrorism and weapons proliferation—has an international dimension. Solving these problems will require international cooperation among governments, professional organizations, and corporations. Also, as the line between domestic and international affairs blurs, U.S. citizens will increasingly vote and act on issues—such as alternative energy sources or security measures linked to terrorism—that require a greater knowledge of the world.” 

Gaps in Global Learning

The American education system, however, is not preparing young people for this new reality – one in which they are required to be more globally competent at home and to interact with people from around the globe. Recent education reform efforts have focused heavily on improving reading, math, and science education. These efforts, while important, cannot ensure that students will develop the knowledge of world regions and global issues, languages and cross-cultural skills, and values of citizenship and collaboration that are so important to living and working in an increasingly interdependent world.

In a 2009 survey by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, 10% of school principles reported there was no opportunity at their school for students to develop global competency, and 46% said there was little opportunity for them to develop these skills.  Teachers in the same survey overwhelmingly reported that global competency development was not a priority in their schools.

The effects of these findings clearly play out in our nation’s schools.  Students in the United States, especially those in low-income and minority communities, leave high school without the knowledge and skills to engage in the world effectively and responsibly. According to a 2006 National Geographic-Roper Poll, only 37% of young Americans could find Iraq on a map, and 88% could not locate Afghanistan – even though the United States was engaged in conflicts with both countries at the time.

American students study foreign languages at a low rate, especially in the critical early years. The National Foreign Language Center reports that only 25% of elementary schools, 58% of middle schools, and 91% of high schools offer foreign language study.  As a result, only 18.5% of K-12 students in the United States studied foreign languages during the 2007-2008 academic year.  Further, despite the high percentage of high schools offering foreign language study, only 50% of high school students study a world language, and there is little or no connection to earlier study. Of the high school students who do study another language, 70% take only one year of introductory Spanish.

While they are not being offered the opportunity to study global issues or foreign languages, students themselves identify these opportunities as essential.  In World Savvy's 2012 Global Competency Poll of 500 high school graduates aged 18 to 24 in the United States, 80% of respondents agreed the jobs are becoming more international in nature, 79% identified the ability to interact with people from the other cultures as a necessary skill, and 60% said they would be better employees if they knew more about world affairs.  Despite the recognized importance of these skills, a vast majority reported that their 6-12 schools failed to teach them global competency skills, and three-quarters wished they had.

A Call to Action

Leaders from all sectors are calling for education to address these challenges.

  • The National Lieutenant Governor’s Association resolved to support establishment of a national policy on international education at its 2008 Annual Meeting.  
  • The Council of Chief State School Officers’ global education policy statement asserts, “Our children must be well prepared for...[the] global society they will inhabit and create.”
  • The National Education Association published a policy brief  “Global Competency is a 21st Century Imperative,” outlining the importance of global competency skills in our schools.
  • The National Association of State Boards of Education report, Citizens for the 21st Century: Revitalizing the Civic Mission of Schools, urged teacher training institutions to include global perspectives in the education of future teachers.  
  • The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a coalition of business leaders, academicians, and policymakers, has identified global awareness as a critical interdisciplinary theme.
  • The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), in partnership with the American Democracy Project’s Global Engagement Initiative, hosted an institute on “Educating Globally Competent Citizens."
  • In the report Education for Global Leadership, the Committee for Economic Development, a major business organization, recommends teaching international content across the curriculum at all levels, creating a training pipeline for language study—especially in less commonly taught languages—and calls for national leaders to inform the public about the importance of education in world languages and international studies.
  • The Longview Foundation has recently added internationalizing teacher education as one of its funding areas, leading to numerous projects that have facilitated lasting change in this field.

Individual teachers, a few schools, and isolated programs have long provided high-quality language instruction and a global education to some students. But too little has been done at a systemic or policy level to ensure that all students in all communities who graduate from high school are globally competent.

This is beginning to change.

Coalitions in more than 20 states, convened by the Asia Society and the Longview Foundation, are working to change policies and practices to ensure that students in all communities learn about the world and develop the skills they will need to engage with its people, cultures, and economies responsibly and effectively.

Putting the World into World-Class Education: State Innovations and Opportunities, a report from the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Asia Society, notes that states have created governors’ task forces, legislation, policy statements, summits, and public surveys. They have supported professional development programs and world language initiatives, and revised high school graduation requirements. They have promoted the use of technology and other innovations to infuse global knowledge and skills into all curriculum areas.

At the school level, there is a slow but steady rise in world language enrollments, a resurgence of programs at the elementary level, and a rapid increase in Mandarin Chinese programs.  According to Schools for the Global Age: Promising Practice in International Education, a growing number of P-12 schools, many in low-income communities in diverse cities such as Hartford, Los Angeles, San Antonio, and Charlotte, are increasing the breadth and depth of what students learn about the world.  

Students in these schools master world languages, study global geography and world history, and learn about the literature, arts, and cultures of peoples around the globe. They begin to understand the environmental, economic, and political systems that transcend national borders. They develop cross-cultural skills to relate effectively with people from a variety of backgrounds around the corner and around the world.

The Asia Society collected examples of how schools around the country are integrating global knowledge, skills, and perspectives across the curriculum in a handbook called Going Global: Preparing Our Students for an Interconnected World. The research in this report supports that high-quality, engaging, internationally themed schools such as these can improve overall student performance. Another study found that students in the International Studies Schools Network, secondary schools in low-income and minority communities with the mission of developing college-ready, globally competent graduates, have higher test scores than those in schools with similar demographic profiles in the same districts.

The Role of Colleges of Education

As schools change, however, colleges of education must respond. Stewart notes, “These new internationally themed schools will remain islands of innovation unless we attack the teacher capacity issue. We need to engage teachers with the world so that they foster in their students a curiosity about it.” According to the National Research Council, “One of the key deterrents to developing a pipeline of young people prepared to develop advanced language proficiency and deep knowledge of countries and cultures is a lack of trained teachers."

Ann Imlah Schneider, who has conducted extensive research on the internationalization of teacher preparation, noted “Despite significant attention to internationalization in higher education in recent years, teacher training programs are often among the least internationalized programs on American college and university campuses.” Some faculty may be involved in research outside the United States. Scholars from other countries may visit the campus. International students may take classes alongside their American peers. Courses on comparative education, multicultural education, peace education, and international topics may be available. Some students may participate in international travel or study experiences. These activities, however, aren’t always connected or integrated in an overall strategy, and they seldom reach all students in a teacher preparation program. Course requirements and student teaching take up significant space in most pre-service teachers’ schedules, leaving little room for study abroad, world language study, or internationally oriented electives.

Though few institutions have created comprehensive internationalization programs, more are exploring new ways to bring international elements to courses, activities, and even requirements. Visionary teacher educators have begun to recognize that the earlier teachers learn to infuse global knowledge and perspectives into their teaching, the more comfortable and skilled they will become at making this a natural and essential part of their teaching practice. Conversations with deans of education, teacher educators, teachers, and global education professionals suggest an emerging framework for comprehensive internationalization of teacher preparation.

In the forward to the book Intercultural Student Teaching: A Bridge to Global Competence, Craig Kissock, former Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota–Morris and a program director at Educators Abroad, has pointed out that the culture of teacher education is local and therefore has advanced policies that serve the neighborhood schools but not the needs of future citizens of today’s globalized world. Hence, most teachers begin their careers with little more than superficial knowledge of the world.

A Response Outside Higher Education

Leaders in many sectors now recognize the need for more and better world language instruction, but there are simply not enough world language teachers, particularly at the elementary level, and in the languages whose global significance is growing fastest, such as Mandarin and Arabic.

State governments are also beginning to respond.  According to the Asia Society, states across the nation are infusing teacher preparation and certification programs with a global focus through professional development, policy, and international experiences.  NAFSA:  The Association of International Educators hosts a colloquium on Internationalizing Teacher Education as a part of its national conference, one of several specialized colloquia that focus on internationalizing higher education curriculm in key disciplines.  Under the leadership of Betty Soppelsa, Deputy Executive Director for Conference Planning at NAFSA, the colloquium has brought together deans, professors, and other educators “[T]o explore ways to prepare globally competent teachers in colleges, schools, and departments of education” through presentations and collaborative discussion since 2009.

A study by the North Carolina Center for International Understanding aimed at deans and directors of education in the state’s higher education institutions found substantial concern about the lack of globally focused education for teachers.  The Center has partnered with leaders in business and government to create an internationally focused strategic plan that aims to set North Carolina apart as a globally engaged state. Schneider’s research also illustrates interest in schools, colleges, and departments of education in internationalizing the curriculum, supporting faculty, and strengthening advising to encourage students to take globally themed classes and participate in international experiences. But she found few resources to do so.

While educators and policymakers have made strides to prepare more globally competent teachers, significant efforts are still needed in order to impact the international knowledge, skills, and attitudes of future teachers in the United States.  

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