Whatever Happened To Language Labs?

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

I began teaching high school in the mid-1950s in Pittsburgh (PA), taught in Cleveland (OH), and Washington (D.C.) through the early 1970s. Then I was a superintendent of schools in the Arlington (VA) district until the early 1980s. In every high school I either taught in or observed in those years, there was a language lab to learn Spanish, French, German and, more recently English as a Second Language (ESL). Occasionally I would drop by the room and see students wearing earphones and listening to tape-recorders with a teacher at a large console monitoring students’ pronunciation and fluency. It was one of the sterling examples of schools embracing new technologies to their fullest. Nowadays, while many high schools have these labs (there are nearly 24,000 public high schools in the U.S.), most do not. How come?

When did language labs begin?

While occasional language labs were established to learn a…

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