My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Elementary World Language Programs

There has been lots of discussion on my blog (and some at SC meetings over the last few months) about the possibility of world language in all elementary schools. This discussion, like all others, involves trade-offs of time and money. Adding world language means we do less of something else, and it means we spend more money on this (teachers) than on something else. Reasonable people can disagree about whether these trade-offs are worth it, but I thought it would be helpful to have a description of the different world language options used in elementary school programs (all of which involve their own trade-offs). (You can also read a useful summary of the research behind these models at:

There are three basic models of world language instruction at the elementary level (and in use across the country in other districts). On one end of the spectrum are total immersion programs, in which most or virtually all classroom instruction is in the foreign language (the Chinese Charter School is this type of program). At the other end of the spectrum are foreign language experience (FLEX) programs, in which classes may meet only once or twice a week and where the goal is not to develop language proficiency, but rather to introduce children to one or more foreign languages and cultures (this is the type of program I proposed at the March SC meeting). Then, there are programs that fall in-between these two programs, which are content-based FLES (foreign language in the elementary school) programs (this is the type of program that was in use at Wildwood School, in which children received consistent instruction several times a week in Chinese that was integrated as part of other content areas).

These are the basic three models, and they all have different goals.
  • Total immersion programs are designed to help kids reach full fluency in a language. This type of program is not currently feasible in the Amherst schools, for multiple reasons (time, cost, logistics, equality of experience in the schools, etc.), and is not commonly used in public schools (other than in charter schools).
  • FLES programs focus on learning listening/speaking skills as well as on cultural awareness. These programs typically lead to some level of fluency, depending on how much time is spent learning the foreign language (perhaps kids would arrive in 7th grade one year ahead). We would do this type of program in the Amherst schools, as we did in Wildwood with Chinese, but it requires a lot of time (30 to 45 minutes several times a week) and it requires a lot of staff (2 to 3 staff members dedicated per building). It isn't clear to me that we have the time or resources to do this type of program at all, unless we were to decide to eliminate art/music/PE (which I'm not suggesting and don't think would be a good idea).
  • FLEX programs are designed to introduce students to a foreign language and culture, and to motivate them to pursue further language study. Fluency in the language is NOT an objective, but these programs can help create enthusiasm for language study in general. This is the type of program I've suggested for the elementary schools - world language (and I believe Spanish is the right choice, given our community) once a week, K to 6, to provide some exposure to the language and culture, at a minimal cost in terms of time/resources (one teacher per school, a total of $150,000).
So, those are the options, and again, there are pros/cons to all of them. The FLEX program I've proposed would not lead to great fluency ... and that is a con. But it isn't possible to provide a program that does lead to great fluency without taking a lot of time and resources away from other things, and I can't think of other things we could do without at that level that wouldn't lead to overall negative effects (e.g., no music/art/PE?). A FLEX program would operate like a "special" (art/music/PD), and thus give classroom teachers a bit of a break during the day (to grade/prepare lessons/have meetings), and could be done at very little cost (a total of $150,000). This seems like a good way to introduce kids to the study of world language, increase understanding of different cultures, and provide some challenge/engagement that benefits ALL kids K to 6. Such a program for the upcoming year (again, which the superintendent has ALREADY funded one position across the whole district for - and could be expanded to a person in each school for a total cost of $85,000!), could then, if time/resources permitted, be expanded to a FLES program that would lead to greater fluency in a subsequent year.


Caren Rotello said...

You mentioned elsewhere on this blog that alternatives to providing an ES world language (such as spending the money on teacher development) haven't been proposed. One thing that HAS been proposed (begged for!) is a better ES math curriculum. Personally, I would much rather see the $85k put towards replacing the Investigations curriculum. There's a desperate need, and the ongoing costs of a new curriculum are surely lower than the annual costs of an additional teacher or two. For that reason, we could have better math soon, and potentially still add a world language later if the budget situation improves.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Hi, Caren,

Ummm, if you are following this blog, you know that we are doing a review of K to 12 math (including K to 5 math) RIGHT NOW ... and that review could well result in a recommendation for a new curriculum. Steve pushed this hard as one of the district goals for the year. However, the SC can't just say "here's a new curriculum, let's buy it" -- we have to wait for the results of the review, and see what that person says. In addition, that is a capital expense (one time), and the estimate is quite low ($40,000 for all students K to 5). So, that is a one time budget need, but we have a curriculum line for this type of thing already ... which is different from a staff hiring line (as would be the case for hiring Spanish teachers). Again, I'm in favor of a new math curriculum -- and spending capital funds that way -- but that doesn't impact our ability to offer K to 6 world language.

Anonymous said...

Why is this proposal under such challenge? Wildwood had a Chinese language program, supported by a grant, for years, with the idea that the other schools would eventually add foreign language instruction. The only criticism I heard of this program was that only Wildwood had it and the other schools didn't. Teaching a foreign language is very common in good school districts. What's up?

Rick said...

Great post Catherine. I like how it starts out too:
"This discussion, like all others, involves trade-offs of time and money... Reasonable people can disagree about whether these trade-offs are worth it..."

Putting out idea like this and having a conversation about them is great.

Anon 9:14
I think it’s just the trade off thing. Some people want chocolate, some want vanilla.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 9:14 - I've been asking myself the same question! There hasn't exactly been a flood of WW parents demanding the removal of the Chinese program ... and last fall, we heard a ton from CF families AND staff about the value of the language clusters in maintaining a focus on Spanish. It hardly seems that adding K to 6 world language is so controversial.

Rick - thanks for the kind words! And truly, this is the type of discussion I believe we should have all the time at SC ... if people want to come in and say instead of Spanish, extra science once a week, I'd be glad to talk about this. But world language is something that has been discussed on and off in this district for over 10 years -- and I think there is a lot of interest in adding this type of program.

Anonymous said...

what about using the money to bring back reading recovery which has helped so many kids?

Abbie said...

I understand your preference here and you are suggesting that we invest in WL. Others have others preferences in how we could invest $150K in our kids education. It's a discussion, right? I understand that right now the only thing on the table is WL but isn't that because it was placed there by the SC but alternatives could also be placed on the table.

Given the problems with ES math (and how that affects future math success), we could wait until the assessment is complete and use that money if needed to improve the math curriculum. The money doesn't have to spent this year, does it?

Personally, I'd think an entirely new way of thinking about how we provide math to our ES students needs to be rethought. For example, could we have a dedicated 'Math' teacher teaching math? In sixth grade, one of the 3/4 teachers could be the expert and teach math to all the 6th grade classrooms. One dedicated math teacher could teach all the 4th and 5th classes (a new position) and our current math intervention teacher (whose current role seems very mysterious) could teach 3rd grade classrooms and help with 1st and 2nd grade classrooms (no new position needed).

I just read a brief article about how Finland succeeds so well in education... can't remember where but all the math classes had helpers to help the struggling students (that could be the classroom teachers in the model that I propose).

It is clear to me that the current system is simply broken and can't be fixed because the teacher's union. It is impossible to replace a deficient teacher that has tenure and there are no incentives for teachers with tenure to improve and no disincentives/consequences for those that refuse or are unable to improve. I think those teachers are the minority but there are enough who don't teach math well to cause problems...

My two cents which I offer in the spirit of discussion...

Anonymous said...

Adding more science has been discussed for years, too.

Rick said...

So, for everyone reading out there, this is a great example of how things should work and what I think is an OK role for SC members to take:

a. Make suggestions to ARPS, usually based on what they have heard from their “constituents” (parents).

b. Have discussions about these ideas with ARPS administration, staff and teachers.

We did that a bit at the last SC meeting, which is great.

Unfortunately regular SC meetings are so formal and time constrained that it’s hard to get a good conversation going. We need to think of better ways of having these conversations.

It’s very important that these conversations be all about listening and understanding, and not just trying to get an outcome that is wanted. That is part of what is needed in the “better ways of having these conversations”.

Likewise it’s important that these conversations have a “can do” attitude about them, which means “let’s look hard at seeing if we can do this” as opposed to “there is no way we can do this”.

In this case (Spanish) I pretty much see all of that happening, which is great.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 12:05 - the decision to have a particular intervention program isn't in the domain of the SC - that's in the domain of the superintendent. So, we can't say "we need Reading Recovery." We could say "we need more ELA intervention" - but the current budget adds 5 more intervention teachers than the initial budget, in which Reading Recovery was cut. So, intervention support next year is at precisely the same level as it is now.

Abbie - yes, this is on the table -- and my fear is that if the SC/community doesn't express some preference, we lose our right to choose, because the money WILL be spent. At the Feb. 8th meeting, the Amherst SC voted to add $400,000 to the budget ABOVE what the superintendent/principals said was needed to manage the schools, and our goal in doing that was so that IF the override passed (which it did), we could ADD something new. Then the SC met, and two ideas were proposed: I suggested K to 6 world language (an idea that has been discussed by the SC for over two years -- including a report that the superintendent asked for in 2008) and Rob suggested moving instrumental music down one grade. I believe both of these ideas are really value-added, and I support them both.

Then, at the next meeting, we received a budget in which there was additional instrumental music (although it isn't clear whether this will allow a full return of music at one earlier grade), one Spanish teacher across the whole district (which strikes me as pretty much useless), an additional instruction technology (computer) teacher -- meaning an increasing from 2 teachers in the district now to 3 next year, and an additional intervention teacher -- meaning 12.7 intervention teachers instead of 11.7. Those are all choices, and these are the administration's recommendations. If we are comfortable with these recommendations, then that's great. If we aren't, parents/community members need to speak up now, because these funds are going to be allocated for the upcoming year -- and once they are allocated, it is harder to make changes in the future.

Now, in terms of your idea of doing math in a new way -- I think that is creative, and it could be attempted -- but that is something that is complicated for MANY reasons, and I don't see it happening soon (or perhaps ever). So, my focus is on benefitting kids RIGHT NOW who are in our schools, and doing something value-added that benefits all kids. That is my preference. If people thought a dedicated "extra science" class once a week made more sense than Spanish, I would certainly be receptive to that -- though I don't know of other districts that do that, nor have we investigated such an idea (as we have investigated K to 6 world language).

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 12:14 - I've only been on the SC for two years, but in that time, I have certainly heard concerns about science. But I don't think an approach in which an extra 45 minutes of science once a week has been studied in other places -- nor am I sure how easy it would be to find three elementary school teachers who specialize in science who could do this (whereas we have dedicated Spanish teachers now). So, this is a good idea, but I'm just not sure how easy it would be to implement, especially since classroom teachers ALSO teach science (and I know, some teach this more than others).

Rick - good points all around! The key thing I keep coming back to is that the SC (before you were on) voted to add $400,000 to the override amount in order to be able to do something NEW and VALUE ADDED. Language K to 6 was specifically mentioned as an option ... and I guess I'd like to be able to tell parents this was money well spent. Perhaps parents feel like one Spanish teacher in the whole district, some earlier instrumental music, an extra intervention teacher, and an extra computer teacher is exactly what they wanted, but this seems to me to be much less impactful than adding a new program that has intellectual and community-building advantages.

Anonymous said...

I think the money could be better spent training the current teachers (or adding math coaches to help the teachers on a continual basis) - because the true problem (at WW at least) is that most of the teachers are not very excited about math. They are all really excited about reading and writing. They spend their own money and time getting extra training at Teacher's College in NY. And the reading/writing that my kids get at WW is truly amazing. And there are frequent "writer's celebrations" but never a "math celebration." So when the teacher is not excited or motivated about teaching math, that translates into minimal math at WW. Math classes are always scheduled in the afternoons, (vs reading and writing in the morning, when a child's focus is better). Teachers do not know how to differentiate math teaching, whereas they will let children read books of different levels in a single class.

Let's not just blame the lack of interest in math on the curriculum. Let's not pin our hopes on some miraculous change in the math program in our ES if and when a new math curriculum is adopted. It boils down to the teacher's interest and skills - and we need to boost their math interest and skills. I have my issues (as do many) with the Investigations Curriculum - but the real issue is what happens when you ask a teacher to put a little effort into teaching more math, better math, differentiated math. The real issue is that nothing ever happens when you approach a teacher about math - and in fact you usually get a defensive response.

I don't know if the math programs are generally viewed as poor in the other elementary schools.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:43

I think you expressed the problem very well, in regards to elementary Math. So few of the elementary teachers are well trained in teaching math, and, as you say, many are not very interested in teaching it. There is a huge range of Math ability among the students who enter the secondary schools, and then it becomes an even bigger challenge trying to differentiate to heterogeneous Math classes at that level.

One reason, I believe, that the middle school should not track math classes in 7th grade is because of the varied and sometimes inadequate preparation students received in the elementary classrooms. It feels unfair to separate students based on what they learned in the ES since so many of them were poorly taught there.

I would agree with those that have suggested there are better ways to spend money at the elementary level than adding language studies.

Anonymous said...

Sad to say, but if there is money floating around why can't it be used to keep MM open? This is a model school and one that succeeds in teaching its students. I think math and science need to come long before world languages... and this 'discussion' has been going for years (at least 25 that I know of)--One might conclude it is a waste of time... Actions need to be taken not discussions.

Rick said...

I just need to say that there is not “money floating around”.

Cuts were to be $1,286,885, and would have been $840,554 higher than that without closing Marks Meadow.

The $1,286,885 is now reduced by $400,000, due to $162,000 in teacher givebacks (THANK YOU TEACHERS!) and $238,000 from override money (THANK YOU VOTERS!).

Ken said...

When adding things to school schedules, the devil is always in the details. The more variables there are in a schedule (e.g., part time teachers with inflexible blocks of availability either for certain days or hours within a day), the more challenging it becomes. The WL program as proposed is a "squeeze in" program, complicating scheduling, thereby impacting more essential academic services, especially those for struggling learners. Without very heavy teacher involvement in the consideration stages of a WL program, there will be many negative unintended consequences.

For children to learn a World Language is a wonderful thing. But everyone should be quite clear that what is being proposed for Amherst has very little to do with "learning" a WL, whether it's Spanish or Chinese or Swahili. Just using the phrase "learning a WL" here is very misleading. Maybe if everyone said, "dabbling in a WL" instead, it would make the conversation more accurate, and the trade-offs that Catherine and Rick mentioned more accurately understood and evaluated. For example, spending, ay, $100K on teachers so children can "dabble in a WL" feels a lot different than
spending $100K on teachers so children can "learn a WL."

Finally, I wish people would stop talking about the ES math program as if something awful had been proven about it--because NOTHING has. But I became too exhausted combatting this myth in previous columns to start up again. It is amazing how, after all the data that was posted and all that was said, people just pop up with the same stuff as "fact."

Anonymous said...

Rick, I question the amount of the savings from the closure of MM. Please--why has this figure continuously been distorted and inflated? And if 'discussions' can be had to implement a WL program then surely, you must agree, that there must be some funds, somewhere, to back the ones having these talks??
I mean one can only conclude that if the discussion on WL takes off then $$ needs to had to put it in place? So when you say there isn't 'money floating around', then okay--it must be stashed somewhere in a secret compartment?!

Rick said...

That number ($840,554) is the latest from the administration. It’s higher now than before because the original number was conservative. Is this number exactly correct? Probably not, but it’s a lot of money regardless of the exact amount. Not sure why you say its “distorted and inflated”.

There is no “extra money” here. There is reprioritizing of what the money is spent on, which is what we wanted them to do. This is all in the right direction - a good thing not a bad thing.

Rick said...


On WL, what I heard at the meeting – from Catherine and others – is that this is in fact "dabbling in a WL" and it was specifically said that kids are not going to totally learn Spanish from this, but isn’t that really true for other things, like art? And it’s not $100,000 it’s $50,000. If it were expanded to 3 teachers from 1, then it probably would really be learning Spanish, but would take away from something else and would cost $150,000.

There are limited funds so somebody is not going to get what they want. All we can do is the best we can on hearing all views and trying to hit it right.

Anonymous said...


Obviously the people who are posting comments that the ES math program is weak/inconsistent/inadequate are parents whose children have gone through the system. Rather than try to defend and deny and negate their comments - maybe it would be better to acknowledge these comments as based on the experience of some families. I think this is the problem: parents say one thing and the schools deny and defend rather than address the issue.

Looking to spend $400,000 from the override said...

if you really want equity, rigor and music instruction, why not consider another option: instead of restoring music instrument instruction to a younger grade, project how much it would cost to provide music instrument instruction to every 4th grader (or 5th grader) in Amherst schools? Then all Amherst elementary students, regardless of their family's ability to pay for instrument rental and/or private lessons, would get the educational benefits of music instrument instruction. And instead of it being a pull-out program, make it a class for everyone. If we wanted every child to benefit from the advantages that music instruction has on learning overall, this would seem to be an option worth looking into.

Anonymous said...

It seems there is resistance to the Spanish once-a-week proposal on this blog. I'm not sure why. But it will be interesting to see what the SC does as a way to "hear" these concerns and address them - one way or another.

Anonymous said...

You stated that parents need to "speak up now" about the funds being allocated for the coming year. I have to say that I see the value in keeping the proposed intervention teachers at 12.7 and increasing the technology teachers to 3 (one for each school). We need to focus our attentions on interventions for children having difficulty and provide them the support necessary to succeed-gotta prep for MCAS. As far as the tech teachers, not only do they teach classes but they are often "in house" resources for staff and work to maintain the up keep and managing of tech support school wide. I would love to see the tech curriculum begin to address internet safety/etiquette to students and include information about cyber bullying at appropriate age levels. As a district focused on social justice, the value of intervention support and access to technological programming is of importance. Children that may not have computers in their homes need to have exposure to developing skills at school or they will be at a distinct disadvantage as they progress in their education and need to perform research tasks etc.

Anonymous said...

Not every child can or wants to play an instrument. In some cases the focus isn't there, in some cases the interest isn't there, and in some cases the parents aren't there (or any or all of the above).

Although this is rare, you do see instruments sitting untouched on top of the cubbies literally gathering dust all year. The instruments never go home, the music books are lost, the lessons are abandoned, and that's that.

Thus I am not in favor of universal lessons. There has to be some parent-guardian buy-in/commitment. Some rational taking stock of where the kid is at: can this child handle another learning task/pull-out/responsibility?

Otherwise it's just another unaccomplished task the kid has to feel badly about.

Anonymous said...

We came from a district that had a once-a-week language program from grade 1 on. Then we moved here. My kids, who are bright and like school, retained nothing - zero - no vocab, no pronunciation, no understanding of the culture, and so on, of that language. I don't see the value of such a tepid effort. Do it every day if you mean it.

ken said...

Anonymous 4:43--I am not "the schools": a) I don't even work for the Amherst schools any more and b) even if I did, I would still just be me, not "the schools." People can have whatever opinions they want, about anything--and in Amherst, they certainly do. I can certainly understand how parents who think of math in very traditional ways are quite upset about Investigations when their understanding is filtered through that lens. But saying "I don't like Investigations philosophically" is quite different from saying, "The program is objectively weak or in dire need of changing (i.e., because I don't like it)."

Rick--Thanks for that clarification, and please continue to make that differentiation publically. Catherine's article makes the same point and I appreciate the clarity of her presentation. But I still hear people describe the WL proposal as a program where kids will "learn Spanish."

I also hope that the SC realizes that good will and an interest in establishing a theoretically nice (if superficial) program does NOT solve scheduling problems, or outweigh the impact of unsolvable or negative repercussions on the staff, as well as on some needy students.

Finally, Catherine, if I understood your point, the interest in many Spanish-speaking families at CF to maintain the language cluster program (an issue of maintaining their children's cultural and linguistic identity in a school setting) is quite different than establishing a "dabbling in" Spanish program. The 2 things should be uncoupled.

Anonymous said...

More math and consistency in math in the elementary schools, and more opportunities for physical exercise!

Anonymous said...

After school programs that are consistent throughout the district, in every school, would get my vote. Let's find out what after school programming yields the most and see if we can afford it with the MM savings.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure about weekly one hour Spanish. I think I agree with the prior poster:if we're serious about world language development we should do it in a more serious and productive way.

Would Wildwood get to continue its Chinese program?

Anonymous said...

Does the money have to be used next year or can it be saved in reserve if we decided to study our options?

Anonymous said...

Does the money need to be spent next year or can it be saved? In other words, do we need to find a program quickly that uses the funds, or can we take our time to decide where it should go?

Anonymous said...

Only in Amherst would people ask for more time to study where they could use funds after years of complaining for more this and more that. The time has come to decide. Some people will be satisfied, and some will not. Hopefully the School Committee will act and make the decisions we elected it to make. And please don't spend it on more studies.

Rick said...

The Elementary Schools cannot legally have a reserve - unused money goes back to the town. The regional school system does hold reserves.

Anonymous said...

1. restore music instruction
2. more professional development on differentiated instruction in math
3. more math coaches
4. after-school programming for mentoring and physical exercise
5. world language

My top 5 priorities as an Amherst parent and voter.

Anonymous said...

My initial reaction to the idea of Spanish was what a wonderful idea. As I've read other posts, though, I come to the conclusion that it is less appealing.

I think we should consider restoring things that have been lost, such as reading recovery and instruments in earlier grades.

The money would be well spent in areas that benefit both students and families. If the teachers' contract makes it impossible for them to teach on Wednesdays after 1:20, maybe we can get other instruction for that time. There should be full-day preschool so that taxpayers who work have the option of sending their children to the town preschool.

Is there any research showing the benefits of of the FLES approach and have WW families been systematically surveyed about the Chinese program? Why not spend the money for something that has been shown to positively impact learning and behavior and that our schools don't meet minimal recommendations for - more physical education.

Anonymous said...

How about spending some money to bus 6th graders who are being redistricted to the school where they are now, so that they don't need to make a transition the year before they transition to middle school. (There is research indicating that more transitions before middle and high school are associated with worse academic and behavioral outcomes.)

Anonymous said...

Catherine, I'm seeing a lot of thoughtful reasoning about why weekly Spanish isn't necessarily what parents want or the kids need.

Can you discuss if your point of view on WL is shifting as a result of the comments here?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses - I'll be quick here, but let me make a few points.

1. This blog is useful for me to discuss various issues with parents/teachers/community members -- but it actually isn't the way in which I judge how the community feels about a given topic. If one were to read this blog this time last year, one would believe that the community strongly opposed closing Marks Meadow. That is particularly true when very, very few people are willing to sign their names to their comments -- which honestly, I can't understand! If you are opposed to offering Spanish, why not just state your name -- this isn't highly controversial! I've certainly heard from many parents (who have used their own names) who are thrilled with this idea. I encourage all parents with feelings (pro or con) about adding Spanish to contact the SC and the superintendent in an official capacity.

2. Ken - I have three children in elementary school and they all "dabble" in things in their specials. They dabble in art with Teri Magner, and have learned a TON. They dabble in PE with Dianna Spaulding and have learned a TON. They dabble in music with Anne White and have learned a TON. They dabble in computers with Joan Gallinaro and have learned a TON. So, sure, Spanish once a week is another way to dabble -- and I would be delighted if they had this opportunity to learn as much in Spanish as they have in art/music/PE/computers.

3. We are a school district in which there are simultaneously many goals. Right now, we are working on a review of the middle school, a review of special education, redistricting our elementary schools, examining high school graduation requirements, examining the K to 12 math curriculum, etc.

I agree that there are many things that could be worked on in the elementary schools - adding instrumental music a year earlier (this is already on the table), reviewing the math curriculum (this is already underway), increasing focus on science (I will bring this up at the next meeting). But if we insist on fixing a particular issue BEFORE we do any other work (e.g., we can't possible add world language until we have perfect vertical/horizontal alignment), we aren't going to make much progress. We can afford to do Spanish next year K to 6 if we want to. If we don't want to, I hope we are using those funds wisely, because we do have the funds, and I believe funding decisions should be thoughtful -- and just adding something back because that's how we've always done it isn't thoughtful. I can't think of a better way to spend an extra $85,000 next year than having K to 6 Spanish. But again, I'm one vote on SC, and unless a majority of other members agree, it won't happen. This blog is just my way of sharing my thoughts and rationale with the community.

ken said...

A more apt comparison would be if you thought your kids dabbled in language arts, math or science, and were satisfied if they were. Anon 4/11 7pm summed up their family's experience quite succinctly about what dabbling in language learning gets you. I would add that because kids are involved in art, computers, physical activity and music to a greater or lesser degree beyond just what they do in school, it is not really "dabbling" in school when they do those things, either.


Anonymous said... you're not shifting your opinion based on comments on this blog?

Anonymous said...

Here's a new one - how about if we forego the income from the vending machines (like ice cream) in the MS if we have some alternative money issues. I think it is appalling how many kids have french fries and ice cream for lunch - all options provided for by the school - instead of healthy food. But even more appalling is the number of parents who don't care!!

Anonymous said...

Is there a way to find out what WW teachers have done an hour less of each week,compared to CF, FR, MM teachers, to accomodate Chinese?
Anybody out there know?

Anonymous said...

I'm confused here--Is there or isn't there money lying around to fuel these discussions about having a WL program? Rick--I've heard the amount "saved" by the closure of MM go from $400,000 to 5 to 6 to 7 to now present $800,000... Of course the amount has continued to be inflated--It makes it look better that this awful decision was ever makes those sitting in the sidelines able to cheer on, guilt free... How can EWLP be the topic at hand here if there isn't money to pay for it??

Anonymous said...

I suppose with MM's actual closing coming soon there will be some replaying of grief, anger and disappointment about its demise.

But surely it had to be done -- it is neither fair nor sensible to have three schools with 350+ kids and one with less than 150. No district can afford that luxury anymore.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Ken -- activities like phys ed, art, and music are often reinforced outside of school while foreign language instruction rarely is. My child's old school offered Spanish once a week for 40 minutes and while those 40 minutes were fun for the kids there was essentially no retention of the material.

Anonymous said...

I don't know where the other posters are living but I live in Amherst and hear Spanish spoken almost every day -- by other parents, in the schools, in stores, on TV, on the sidelines of my kids' games. There are several Spanish language stations on cable, restaurants where the workers speaks Spanish, nearby cities with large Spanish populations. Travel outside the valley and you will find even more Spanish speaking people -- really all over the place. If the elementary schools rallied around teaching Spanish, this could be a great program and really help our kids deal with the world around them.

Janet McGowan

Anonymous said...

Janet, A while back I took three semesters of Spanish at a local CC because I wanted to connect with those people around me who were speaking Spanish.

Guess what. Mostly our Spanish-speaking neighbors speak a kind of Spanish that is not taught in classrooms (Caribbean vs Castilian).

After a year and a half, I still couldn't understand 99% of what I was hearing nor could these Spanish-speakers understand me.

The kids will pick up numbers, colors and a few words -- Hola, Hasta luego -- and if we're lucky they'll remember one or two of those words a year later.

If done right WL exposure does foster a respect for and interest in other languages/cultures, but if not it does nothing at all or may even creative negative feelings, much as lousy PE, art or music education leaves a person frustrated and convinced he or she has no talent for sports, music or art.

While Amherst is fortunate to have excellent art and music in each bulding, what will the Spanish be like, spread across three big schools and taught by one person?

I can't see that being ANYthing at all like the quality of our art and music and PE.

(I left out computers because that's not really enrichment -- it's more like a necessity).

Anonymous said...

To Anon 11:29.

I don't play clarinet now and am not in band anymore. Nor do I play field hockey, volleyball or go out for recess. I haven't painted on a canvass or sang in chorus for more than 30 years. Does any of this mean that our elementary school kids shouldn't have art, music, PE and chorus?

Did doing all those things help me as a student and person? Yes.

How often have I had to refer to European history or agebra to get through my day? Am I glad I took these courses? Yes.

Did my 5 years of Spanish make me fluent? No, but I still use it and even if I didn't it helped me.

Brain research shows that learning a language, playing sports, doing math, art, music, etc. all help you learn and your brain develop. And you use different parts of the brain in all these tasks. Running helps you remember what you learned that day. Music helps math thinking. In fact, learning itself makes you smarter.

I don't care if elementary school kids are taught Castilian Spanish or German or Mayan. Just teach them a language. Let's give our kids the richest educational expericences we can.

Janet McGowan