Given the considerable concern expressed by some commenters on this blog about adding world language, I've now conducted a search of relevant literature. I'm providing abstracts from several research studies.
Title: Second Language Study and Basic Skills in Louisiana.
Author(s): Rafferty, Eileen A.
Abstract: A statewide study in Louisiana revealed that third, fourth, and fifth graders who participated in 30-minute elementary school foreign language programs in the public schools showed significantly higher scores on the 1985 Basic Skills Language Arts Test than did a similar group that did not study a foreign language. Further, by fifth grade, the math scores of language students were also higher than those of students not studying a foreign language. Both groups were matched for race, sex, and grade level, and the academic levels of students in both groups were estimated by their previous Basic Skills Test results and statistically equated. The 13,200 students studied were randomly chosen from those who had not been exposed to a foreign language at home, were fluent in English, had not repeated a grade in 1985, and whose 1984 and 1985 test scores were available. The results of the analysis suggest that foreign language study in the lower grades helps students acquire English language arts skills and, by extension, math skills.
Title: Basic Skills Revisited: The Effects of Foreign Language Instruction on Reading, Math and Language Arts.
Authors: Armstrong, P. W. and J. D. Rogers. (1997).
Source: Learning Languages, Spring, 20-31.
Abstact: Examines the effect of foreign language education on the basic skills of elementary school students. A group of third-grade students given three 30-minute Spanish language lessons per week performed as well as or better than a control group (given no second-language instruction) on academic achievement tests. The results of this study are particularly interesting since one class of students in the experimental group had actually received one-and-one-half fewer hours of math instruction per week, yet still outperformed the students in the control classes in math.
Title: Effects of FLES on Reading Comprehension and Vocabulary Achievement: A Multi-Method Longitudinal Study
Author: Taylor, Gregory; Feyten, Carine; Meros, John; Nutta, Joyce
Source: Learning Languages, v13 n2 p30-37 Spr 2008.
Abstract: Historically, school officials, parents, teachers and others have expressed concerns about the implementation of foreign language in the elementary school (FLES) programs believing that precious time was sacrificed from the rest of the curriculum to make room for foreign language study. Some wondered if second language instruction made sense for monolinguals, who at times struggled with their other elementary subjects. This study attempts to allay these fears by showing that, far from detracting from the rest of the curriculum, foreign language study can enhance it, reinforce it, and help students to achieve in all scholastic areas. This study attempts to answer the following questions: (1) What effect will FLES instruction have on participants' aural/oral L2 (Spanish) skills?; (2) What effect will FLES instruction have on participants' Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS) reading comprehension scores in their native language?; (3) What effect will FLES instruction have on participants' CTBS vocabulary scores in their native language?; (4) What effect will FLES instruction have on participants' motivation at school generally as perceived by parents and classroom teachers?; (5) What effect will FLES instruction have on participants' cultural awareness of the L2?; and (6) What effect will FLES instruction have on participants' achievement in reading, vocabulary, and language arts? The FLES program began as a pilot in four elementary schools in Pinellas County School District, Florida. For three years, the approximately 500 kindergarten students in these schools began receiving Spanish instruction for 20 minutes a day, four days a week. A total of 21 classrooms participated in the study.
In sum, the research I've been able to find shows clear benefits (in terms of standardized test scores) to kids even from studying as little as 1 1/2 hours a week of a world language, and the addition of language study appears to have either no effect or a positive effect on math scores. I imagine the Foreign Language Committee appointed by Jere Hochman in 2008 conducted a thorough review of this literature, which is what led to their recommendation of 1 1/2 hours of language instruction in elementary schools.
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.