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).