Global Learning Scales Up

Districts build on the success of private, internationally oriented schools and foreign language programs.

By Ron Schachter

March 2011



District Administration




Becoming more global is a familiar refrain for many a school administrator or curriculum developer wrestling with delivering 21st century skills. Over the past decade, districts have expanded their foreign language programs, added Mandarin Chinese to the mix, and in some cases launched language immersion classes in their elementary schools. Others have opened entire schools designed around international education.

Not only do these schools promote proficiency in one or more foreign languages, but they also embed international perspectives in all content areas, from social studies to the arts, and they make extensive use of online learning to interact with students and teachers in other countries.

But while initiatives like these were often regarded as experimental or, at best, unique just a few years ago, a growing number of school districts are taking global learning to the next level by replicating schools with a global bent. The increasing emphasis on globally oriented education is welcome but overdue, says Sarah Jerome, superintendent of the Arlington Heights (Ill.) School District 25 and a former president of the American Association of School Administrators. “I think we’ve been a pretty complacent bunch as school leaders, especially with not encouraging language courses and even letting languages drop from the curriculum,” she observes.

During her AASA tenure in 2007-2008, Jerome advocated for internationally oriented curricula in schools and forged a relationship with the Asia Society, which has helped districts around the country “go global” over the past decade. It’s a nonpartisan, nonprofit educational institution with a goal to promote understanding among the people, leaders and institutions of the United States and Asia.

There have been some early adopters. The Seattle Public Schools started thinking about global learning before the turn of the 21st century. In 2000, the district opened the John Stanford International School after several years of consultations with parents, educators and local business leaders, as well as extensive redesign of the elementary curriculum to contain international perspectives and professional development for the school’s teachers. The K5 school also launched language immersion programs in Japanese and Spanish, chosen because of Seattle’s substantial Japanese and Hispanic populations.

A similarly designed middle school, the Hamilton International School, opened in 2001. Propelled by Stanford and Hamilton’s success in academic achievement and foreign language proficiency, and by strong public interest (the 250-student waiting list on opening day made it the most popular school in Seattle), the district announced in 2007 that it would convert 10 more of its 97 schools to international public schools over the next five years. “There was demand from parents and the business community for us to go into another geographical area beyond Seattle’s north end,” explains Karen Kodama, Stanford’s first principal.


Kodama now serves as the city’s international educational administrator overseeing the expansion program, which has added ...


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