France's government, fearing that inequality among schoolchildren threatens the education system and the country's future, is proposing an overhaul that would end elite bilingual programs in middle school and give individual schools more say in how students spend their time.

The plan from the Socialist-led government came after an international study ranked France among the developed world's most unequal school systems, with student performance highly dependent upon student's socio-economic status. But the plan has drawn criticism from both left-leaning teachers' unions and from French conservatives in a debate that mirrors discussions across the United States.

Middle-school teachers were striking Tuesday. The government wants to add multidisciplinary classes and cut a well-respected bilingual program in favor of expanding foreign language classes to a broader range of younger students.