The Houston Independent School District (ISD) will be adding its first Arabic Language Immersion Magnet School in Fall 2015. The district’s Board of Education voted unanimously to approve plans for the new specialty public school campus at its November 13 meeting.
In response to the vote, Houston ISD Superintendent Dr. Terry Griersaid in a district news release, “Houston is one of the world’s leading energy capitals and it has strong economic ties to the Middle East.”
He added, “Those factors combine to create a significant demand in our city for Arabic language fluency — and we want to meet that demand.”
The new Arabic language-immersion magnet will have two pre-kindergarten and two kindergarten classes “that focus on Modern Standard Arabic,” KPRC-2 Houston reported.
The district told the news outlet it intended to add a new grade level each year as students move up to the fifth grade.
Arabic is the second most common foreign language spoken at home in the school district, according to KPRC-2.
The Approval of Arabic Immersion Magnet School (E-1) document in the board meeting packet underscored a “significant demand for Arabic language training, both from families with Arabic ethnic cities and from members of other ethnic groups who simply want their children to grow up fully bilingual with valuable and rare language skills in an increasingly competitive global economy.”
It stated, “Houston is home to more than 75,000 Arab-Americans.”
Houston ranked ninth in cities with vibrant Arab-American populations in 2010, according to the Houston Chronicle, although the newspaper recently reported more conservative numbers than what was presented at the board meeting.
“The greater Houston region has seen its Arabic-speaking population grow by more than a third since 2009, to 23,300 people last year,” according to the Houston Chronicle on November 13.
Also, in Top 10 Home Languages of HISD Students, the Houston Chronicle reported Arabic reflected 1.3% or 855 students. Spanish topped the list at 92% or 58,365 students.
KRTK-13 also reported lower statistics in late August when the school district was “working in conjunction with the Arab American Cultural and Community Center to recruit Arabic-speaking volunteers for the district’s 754 students whose first language was Arabic to serve an influx of “refugees from Iraq, Egypt and Syria, whose families fled violence and ongoing conflict.”
The 2014 Social, Economic and Demographic Characteristics of Metro Houston prepared by the Greater Houston Partnership Research Department did not account for Arabic as a language spoken at home in its report (p. 13) nor did it address Arab-American population growth. It did project that by 2044, Hispanic growth would eclipse all other ethnic groups combined.
The report identified Arab as an ancestry for 0.7% or 41,653 people as part of the current Houston-Sugar Land- Baytown, TX Metro area based on the 2013 American Community Survey of a 6,313,158 total population. By comparison, 51,145 people of Czech ancestry were listed as 0.8% of the population.
Their findings were based on statistics from the US Census Bureau, the Texas State Data Center, and the Houston-Galveston Area Council.
Mandarin Chinese Language Immersion Magnet School at full capacity with an even smaller demographic of native language speakers. The Houston Chronicle’s Top 10 Home Languages of HISD Students identified Mandarin Chinese speakers as 0.5% or 319 members of the student population.
Similarly, Dallas ISD serves its diverse population with Spanish bilingual learning pre-K to grade 5.
The Houston ISD release said that research showed long-term academic and social benefits from students learning new languages. They claimed that studying a foreign language enhances students’ analytical skills, memory and creativity.
“It also helps students gain a more profound understanding of their own culture and develop a more positive attitude toward other cultures. Speaking more than one language also make students more valuable in the workforce,” the district added.
Preliminary Arabic language immersion magnet partners may include the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Houston, and “other key community groups such as the US/Arab Chamber of Commerce” noted in the board meeting agenda documents.
Magnet schools are public school programs. Houston ISD applied for and was awarded Magnet School Assistance Program (MSAP) three-year grants from the US Department of Education including $11.4 million grant in 2010 and $12 million in 2013 for language immersion and STEM-centric learning, all part of the workforce ready, college and career tracks to build “human capital in the classroom” according to theHouston ISD 2012-13 Annual Report.
Houston ISD is the largest school district in Texas and the seventh largest in the United States. The district website lists student demographics as 61.9% Hispanic, 25.2% African American, 3.5% Asian, and 8.2% White; 80.4% are economically disadvantaged and 100 languages are spoken.
In 2013, Houston ISD applied for and won the Fed Led Ed competitionRace To the Top – District (RTTT-D), a backdoor for school districts to participate in states like Texas which did not apply for RTTT funding.
Houston ISD’s five-year, $30 million grant is from the US Department of Education, which promotes workforce readiness through College and Career Readiness Standards & Assessments and the Common Core, the latter which Texas did not adopt, although Breitbart Texas hasreported on incidences of Common Core materials coming into Texas classrooms.
The district won RTTT-D for Linked Learning, a college and career driven project and TEKS-based learning program that brings “the career into the classroom” according to the district’s annual report.
Breitbart Texas contacted Houston ISD to inquire further about language immersion magnets. An interim PR spokeswoman was not able to answer our questions before press time.