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.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Research on Elementary World Language

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.
Source: 1986
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.
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.
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.


Ed said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Give me a minute......I'll figure out some way to knock this down, perhaps with some ad hominem argument or one comparing apples and oranges.

Gavin Andresen said...

Skimming through a dozen or two research papers and cherry-picking the ones that show negative effects is another good tactic for muddying the waters...

Anonymous said...

You people are too much. Blog posters have pointed out some issues that could be problematic, have asked good questions. A thought that was what a blog was for...discussion. Comments like Anon 8:14 and Gavin's do nothing but shut down discussion. They don't contribute anything useful.

Reasonable people can disagree about whether this is a good time to be adding World Language. Just because someone disagrees with Catherine does not mean they are attacking her personally. It means they disagree.

Personally, I am not sure where I fall in terms of whether this is a good time to be adding WL. It will be added in September and then evaluated..and then we'll see how it goes. But I have appreciated the back and forth discussion and have found it useful.

And Gavin - people can do the same thing with skimming through a dozen or two research papers and cherry-picking the ones that show postive effects. Does that muddy the water? Make the water clearer?
People in gengeral can use research papers and statistics to prove opposite sides of a position.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous posters post, and get all affronted, and claim that things haven't been discussed enough.

Elected officials have a limited amount of time to get things done, with their names and their personalities and their strengths and weaknesses out there for all to see. It's not a seminar; it's public service. Every day spent hemming and hawing about what to do is another day for a child in schools that could be better in some way.

There's a degree of impatience built into a progressive way of looking at the world. We're tired of the various techniques and excuses for maintaining a status quo that we know can be improved.

So discuss all you want, just as long as the train is leaving the station........finally after all of these years of asking "mother, may I" regarding language instruction in elementary schools.

Anonymous said...

I thought the purpose of this blog was to discuss. No?

Anon 12:11 seems to be implying that there is too much discussion here. How odd.

Gavin Andresen said...

"People in gengeral can use research papers and statistics to prove opposite sides of a position."

No, you can't-- science isn't black and white (especially social science). But if you go in with an open mind, you can get a sense for the "current scientific consensus" answer to a question like "does reducing instruction in other subjects for foreign language instruction harm student performance in those other subjects?" or "is the earth warming due to our use of fossil fuels?"

If there IS general consensus on a question, then I think us non-experts should accept that consensus and move on.

I agree that reasonable people might disagree that now is the right time to add world language, or that reasonable people might disagree on the priority of adding world language over doing something else right now.

Anonymous said...

I for one appreciate the dialog found on this blog. Thank you Catherine.

Previous threads on this topic did not resolve or provide a basic answer:

What 'social justice' aim is specifically served by learning a second language; and is 'social justice' equally served by learning Spanish, French, German, Russian, or Hebrew?

Anonymous said...

also curious about discussion of 8:19's questions...also wondering about social justice of one preschool classroom that is only for children from low-income homes instead of a balance like with the elementary schools?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 8:14 - good strategies to suggest!

Gavin - indeed. Although, interestingly, I can't even find a single study showing a negative effect -- some studies show positive effects (on other areas -- such as math), and other studies show no effects (meaning no negative or positive effects on other disciplines). But I can't find any research showing that teaching elementary world language has destrimental consequences.

Anonymous 11:02 - I think some of the comments have focused on discussing world language. I think others have been about personal attacks and haven't been at all constructive ("this is the worst idea ever"). And although I agree that reasonable people can disagree about whether we should add Spanish (ever, or this year), those who have followed this blog over time have seen the pattern that occurs in which my ideas are often attacked using precisely the strategies suggested by Anonymous 6:14 and Gavin.

Anonymous 12:11 - well said. Thanks.

Anonymous 12:45 - I think Anonymous 12:11 was pointing out that while you discuss things, things don't change - the status quo is maintained. We've been discussing world language for 10 years -- and that means kids now in HS could have had it, and didn't, because we were stilling discussing it. We could have kept discussing closing Marks Meadow for a few more years -- and in the meantime, watch as programs were cut and class sizes increased to pay for it. There are consequences of simply discussing and not acting.

Gavin - exactly. Thank you.

Anonymous 8:19 - thanks for the appreciation. I believe that social justice is served by teaching world language because I believe it isn't just about creating fluency - but about helping kids learn about different cultures, which to me is in line with our district's commitment to social justice. I believe that is particularly true when we teach a language that helps kids (and families) feel included in our schools who may not feel so included now. Thus teaching Spanish (which is by far the most popular language other than English spoken at home in Amherst) seems to me to make sense.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 1:38 - the goal of this preschool was to provide low income kids with the type of high quality preschool that families from wealthier backgrounds provide. We could aim for the same mix as in elementary schools, but that would mean 5 low income kids would have preschool instead of 15, which I really would not support. Given the vast amounts of research on the benefits of preschool education at helping reduce the achievement gap, this strikes me as an essential step towards creating social justice in our schools. I just wish it could be more than 1 classroom.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised that 100% of the slots for the new PK classroom are reserved for low-income.

Integrated classrooms (as in a mix of backgrounds and school readiness skills) are proven to be more valuable to children with limited vocabularies and life experiences. Integrated classrooms provide exposure to other peers' larger vocabs and wider range of experiences. Actually all the children benefit from a mixed grouping because every child is "an expert" in what he or she has learned.

Maybe it should be 50/50? 100% low income kind of flies in the face of early childhood education research.

Anonymous said...

There is no greater deterrent to seeking elective office in Amherst than reading this blog.

Anonymous said...

CS and 7:12 - I worry that students and families in this classroom would feel marginalized. It strikes me as being something like making kids who get reduced lunch sit together apart from kids who brought a lunch or bought lunch. I'm not sure why there would be fewer slots for kids with low-incomes if they were distributed among the preschool classes vs. all being in one room. Or is this other classroom going to be a different location?

Curious observer wonders said...

Kids in Head Start are all from a lower income groups and sit in classrooms together -- how do those kids feel? Probably happy, like most kids. Their parents likely are happy too that their kids are having a high quality educational experience in preschool, learning to be in groups, running around on play equipment, listening to stories, etc. And happy that Head Start will help their kids do better in school.

How do you feel about this -- unahppy? Should we all stop Head Start programs and any program to help poor people just because you feel bad or that the poor might feel stigmatized. Why not stop giving people Food Stamps because we don't want them to feel like they can't afford food. Maybe poor kids should skip free public education because being around wealthier kids also makes them feel like they have fewer things.

If you are really worried about this issue, why not ask poor parents if they would rather not put their kids in a quality free preschool because there will be other poor kids there?

Do you think poor people don't know that they are poor and that their kids don't get what other kids get? Do you think they don't want a good education for their kids? Do you think 3 to 5 year old kids, poor or not, really think about their economic status or that they are being stigmatized or privileged? Do you think middle class people feel stigmatized when they apply to schools for financial aid? Funny how people apply for financial aid in droves -- and how Head Start has an unforgivably long waitlist.

Does pointing out how poor people or children might feel makes you feel righteous?

Low income people can speak for themselves and decide whether not to put their kids into a free preschool.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

I agree with Curious Observer's comments completely. But in addition, I don't know of any research (as suggested by Anonymous 7:12) showing that integrated by socioeconomic status PRESCHOOL education is more effective than other approaches. In fact, I've read a lot of the research on preschool, and this work overwhelmingly indicates that what is important is high quality preschool -- which lower income kids are less likely to have. So, we have 15 spaces next year in a new preschool class. We could give 15 of them to low income kids, or we could give 5 or 10 of them to low income kids -- meaning that 10 or 5 low income kids who WANT those spaces can't have them so we can give them to non-low-income kids (who I'm sure would be thrilled with this option). The choice is thus NOT whether all low income preschool is better or worse than mixed income preschool. The choice is whether we'd like to offer high quality preschool to 5 low income kids, or 10, or 15 -- because the kids who are low income and don't get a space in this classroom will likely not have such a high quality preschool experience.

Gavin Andresen said...

Here's a link to what looks to my skeptical but non-expert eyes like a good summary of what is really known about what works-- "Improving student achievement: what state NAEP test scores tell us"
By David Waltz Grissmer:

... and, even better, rough estimates of HOW MUCH and FOR WHOM various policies work.

If you don't feel like following the link and reading it for yourself, it says what Catherine says; high-quality preschool is long-term cost-effective for disadvantaged kids (but not for "advantaged" kids).

Anonymous said...

CS- My only question is Why can't the two groups of preschool children be in the same classroom?

Curious Observer- Using your example, having the kids in separate classrooms is like having people who use food stamps have to check out in a different lane, kids who use financial aid take different classes or classes in different buildings. Taking issue with kids being segregated on the basis of income has nothing to do with thinking that any family wouldn't appreciate a good education. AT the very least I hope that there is some logistical reason why the classrooms are organized this way.

Anonymous said...

Didn't we just go through a big upheaval in this town redisticting the elementary schools to balance the low-income kids throughout the schools in order to AVOID having them concentrated together?!?!?

Wasn't the justification that these kids would do better in integrated settings with higher achieving peers?

Seems like the opposite argument is now being made.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Gavin - thanks for the link, and for continuing to provide valuable research assistance!

Anonymous 7:40 - the preschool spaces that are currently available are largely for those with some type of special need (e.g., speech, language, etc.) and thus such services are required by the state. This new preschool class is optional, and is designed specifically for low income kids. The superintendent would make the decision about how to assign kids within the different rooms - that is not the purview of the SC.

Anonymous 8:44 - the distinction between this classroom and the redistricting of the elementary schools is that in the case of preschool, only SOME kids are going to get a space in this preschool -- and my belief is that we should offer those spaces to low income kids, who otherwise be less likely to have a high quality preschool experience which prepares them for kindergarten. In the case of the elementary redistricting, ALL kids were going to be able to attend an elementary school. This is a pretty crucial difference. So, if we had preschool classes to serve each and every child in Amherst, I certainly would support having all classes integrated by socioeconomic class. But in this case, we are only going to provide a small number of spaces -- so, the choice is whether we deprive some low income kids of those spaces.

Anonymous said...

Hasn't anyone on this blog heard of Head Start Preshool? This ONE preschool class room for low-income kids is similar to head start preschools, of which there is ONE in Amherst, with the space for 2 classrooms.

There are many more low-income kids who could benefit from the preschool experience than one classroom's worth.

This is a HUGE step in the right direction for Amherst to offer this one pre-school classroom for low income kids. I hope we'll be able to find a way to expand to more classrooms in the future. This is one of the BEST ideas put forth by Dr. Rodriquez.

Confused said...

Why aren't all the current preschool slots in the already-existing classrooms reserved for low income kids if access is a problem? Or reserved for kids who are either low-income or kids with some sort of "special need" as Catherine indicated? There are quite a few kids in the classrooms now who are neither low income or special needs. Is that because there is no interest in the preschool among the parents of kids with low income/special needs? I am truly curious, not critical. Just looking for answers because I don't really understand the system.

Anonymous said...

Nobody should worry about this "segregation" because we're talking about preschool. Once they reach kindergarten, all the kids will be mixed together. The kids don't care and probably won't even notice the socioeconomic class of their peers. The only important thing here is providing a quality preschool education for those who want one.

Anonymous said...

Just FYI, the current prek classes by law can not be 50% children w/spec nds. They can have up to 15 students with no more than 7 on IEP's per class. For those that get caught up in percentages, that's very close but not 50%. There are a large # of children in the prek program that are "at risk" but not receiving spec. ed. services per se. A significant # of these children are in the low income category. These children receive free/reduced breakfast and lunch. As an early childhood educator (in another district), I always see the value in prek and support the extension of these services, but lets not put forth the notion that these children have not been able to have access to prek in Amherst. It simply is not the case.

Anonymous said...

Can it just be said again that children who are strong in pre-reading skills model those skills for the kids who aren't there yet?

Can you imagine what a powerful tool this is for the teacher? (I hope you can.) This is why "integrated" classrooms are a desirable model for a literacy-improvement PK program.

Nothing against Head Start, but it's not a school district program. We are talking here about a SCHOOL DISTRICT created PK program whose stated goal (I thought) was to bring district kids' pre-literacy and school readiness skills up to speed before kindergarten.

The troubling situation in Amherst that this new classroom is supposed to address, I assume, is the kids who show up for their kindergarten screening and that's the first time anyone in the district has seen this kid. They may or may not have attended (some) preschool. Often they've had none (literally) or their attendance was so erratic that they didn't get much out of it.

And they are so far behind it's scary.

I'd love to see this new classroom serve that population -- approx 50/50, using the integrated model. And by the way not all kids who are language-rich are SES advantaged. There would have to be some assessing.

Anonymous said...

And if we make this school 50/50 low income, we have just cut in half the number of low income pre-K kids we can help.

Anonymous said...

anon 8:45- the number wouldn't be cut in half if there are children from both groups in each/all of the classrooms. There is more than one preschool class. Why would the at risk all be grouped in one classroom?

Is this preschool class going to be at the highschool or Crocker or some other spot?

Anonymous said...

And if we make this school 50/50 low income, we have just cut in half the number of low income pre-K kids we can help.

But the ones who do get helped get far more out of it. This is research-based info I'm explaining here.

Assessment is key.