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August 31, 2007


My family's experience with dual-immersion Kindergarten was an unmitigated disaster. Our daughter, who came out of preschool reading, was completely overlooked in a classroom of 31(!). Making matters worse, the principal had decided to change the balance from 50-50 English/Spanish instruction to 25-75, without telling the families before-hand. There was a whopping 90 minutes a day in English, and there were some serious discipline problems in the class. The disruptive boys were typically removed from the classroom. So their actual instruction time was reduced to almost nil.

Of course, these are details of implementation which can be worked out, assuming competent administration and adequate funding (BIG ifs!). Still, I question the practicality of universal Spanish immersion (though I do not question the value of learning Spanish given demographic trends).

Sounds like lousy teaching and really poor classroom management skills to me which will torpedo any new program.

I've never been in an immersion program so I don't know how they work. But from what I've read, if implemented properly, they work remarkably well. As with any new program, of course, teacher and parent buy-in is an absolute must.

As far as practicality goes, we teach reading and writing in every school, but foreign languages in only a few. I see all three as complementary. If we're ever going to achieve educational equity, universality is a must.

I get where you're coming from. I'm just having a hard time wrapping my mind around PPS doing universal language immersion. Languages at every school, yes. But immersion? Sounds like a train wreck in the making, based on how I've seen it implemented in Portland.

I do think the dual immersion programs (in theory) are good, especially for areas with around 50% ELL. But right now, neither Beach nor Ainsworth are in heavily hispanic neighborhoods and have to draw their hispanic students from in-transfers. And Beach is a school-within-a-school, with a shared principal. Not a good arrangement. Etc., etc.

At one point I advocated no special focus schools, but I've come around to thinking there is a place for them, especially the dual immersion programs. But only if they are used to draw students to neighborhoods that need them, not as perks to neighborhoods that are already well-to-do.

Maybe you're right, so forget about dual immersion --just think language instruction in whatever form that makes it most effective. It just has to begin early, when the little brains are most supple.

Ainsworth can't be drawing too many Hispanic kids, maybe 50 at best. At Beach, on the other hand, Hispanic students easily outnumber other ethnicities. But if Spanish is only taught to students in the "school-within-the-school", that's not a particularly good solution either.

In the last four years the new immersion programs that have been added are at Clarendon/Portsmouth, Rigler, Lent, and Bridger - all Spanish. These are all dual immersion programs focused on neighborhoods with significant Spanish-speaking populations. This year a Russian program is starting at Kelly - again one focused on a local Slavic population.

Seems like Chinese is the wave of the future. So Spanish and Chinese seem to make the most sense at this point. I would imagine Russian and Japanese would be pretty helpful too. And what about Arabic? Africa, India, and Malaysia need conversant Americans also. I just think we often underestimate the role the schools play in helping the country work -- we can't predict exactly what will happen, but we can act on our best thinking.

I note with interest your proposal for language immersion (half day, I assume) for all. It does solve the inequity problem, except if more than one language is offered do parents/students get to pick language/school (and then the problem creeps back in). And I am sure there would be many transitional implementation problems (like finding enough qualified teachers). And I am a little reluctant to force any child into an immersion program, however much I think it is needed or good for them.

But, with those cautions, I am very supportive of the notion, and we do need to fundamentally rethink the role of foreign languages in our schools, giving them much more early emphasis.

I am a proponent of many more Mandarin programs (immersion and others) and sending many more grades 9-16 students to study aboard in China. I have my own website with proposals and other info on it at You can see there that I support more Mandarin for economic development, national security and world peace reasons. I have advocated a goal of 5% of high school graduates with at least 2 years of Mandarin by 2015. Immersion for all could be consistent with that goal.

Good luck!

Well said Terry: Immersion (early on when brains are supple) in every (elementary) school would also begin to eliminate the disparities between schools. No longer would wealthier and more motivated students be siphoned off to the handful of privileged immersion schools now in existence. Enrollment at poorer elementary schools should therefore increase, ending what Steve Rawley has called the "...self-fulfilling cycle of 'failing schools'."

In PPS this collides with hiring and assignment provisions in the teachers' collective bargaining agreement as detailed in Oregonian articles this week. The PAT is not going to expeditiously agree to transfer power in those areas to district or building administrators.

A few years ago (not that many...6 years?) the district's answer was to provide every classroom grades 1 thru 5 with a TV and cable access to the "wonderful" Spanish teaching program Hola!Hola! or they could choose the Japanese equivalent. These folks were working and producing the programs here for the District. Were you aware of this Terry? They also somehow had the money to fly teachers down to Mexico for a summer adventure in "learning" the language. Hola!Hola! was a waste of time and money...It entailed lots of extra meetings and prep for teachers, and the it was difficult to keep kids on task or involved when the program was on. It was also difficult to get teacher buy-in, especially in the upper grades. It was eventually scrapped. Our school did not do the Japanese version, so I can't comment on that one.

Something no one has mentioned here (shame on you, David W!) is that some of these programs are seeded with Federal grant money from the DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE. Yes, you read that correctly. That is why Chinese are Russian are among the newest immersion programs. PPS just got lucky in having a Russian neighborhood to put the Russian immersion program in. Federal $ is still supporting the Japanese program 20 years later.

Anyway, THAT is how the language to be offered is decided. As always, follow the money!

Oh, and I forgot to mention (and so did you, David!) that Rigler and Bridger have had to set up portable classrooms to alleviate the overcrowding caused in part by the addition of these new immersion programs. (The rest of it is caused by adding grades 6-8.) I don't know about Lents because I haven't been over there.

Meanwhile, neighboring schools like Clark and RCP have been shut down. How is this supposed to make sense again?

Oh yeah, I remember--Binnsmead and Gregory Hts. had to go because they were on the failing list. That makes closing schools and setting up portables OK because it's so much easier than fixing the problems at the middle schools. The parents won't mind and the kids will get used to it.

Interestingly, a similar plan is afoot over at Winterhaven. VP was hellbent on increasing enrollment there, although that may have been just an excuse to move it out to the eastern edge of the district. Either way, the parents refused to move, and the Board refused to back off expanding the program. So one possible outcome being considered is to bring in a double-wide portable at WH.

I should add that School Board Policy regarding the expansion of focus options has been violated in the process.

Who needs neighborhood schools when you can just set up portables at the magnets and put all the kids there? Shut the neighborhood schools down and all the problems will go away! Look how well it's been working out at Benson!

It doesn't make any sense, you are right. But obviously rational minds have not been in charge here. Our North Portland school is undergoing the K-8 reconfiguration, and we are applying for a portable as they squeeze in as many bodies as possible, while down the street they have closed how many schools? Not any rational thinking going on here that I can see.

I thought I would add additional info for your discussion. Minnesota this year issued a report to their legislature titled “Chinese Language Programs Curriculum Development Project” which on pages 10-12 listed the benefits of second language study. I copied a few here for you consideration:

“The More than 12 dozen studies conducted between 1960s and 1990s have shown that bilingual children exhibit greater mental flexibility, superiority in concept formation, and a more diversified set of mental abilities than monolingual children (Reynolds, 1991);”

“Children even in early stages of bilingual development outperform monolinguals in nonverbal problem-solving abilities (Bamford & Mizokawa, 1990);”

“Brain research suggests that the earlier and more intensively languages are introduced, the better (“Language learning and the developing brain”, 1996);”

“Research conducted in the 1960s, when foreign language was added to the curriculum post Sputnik, provided consistent evidence that there was no sacrifice to basic skills when time was given to language study (Donoghue, 1968);”

“Rafferty (1986), in a study of 13,000 grade 3-5 children, found that those who studied a language significantly outperformed students who were given extra English language arts instruction instead;”

“The College Entrance Examination Board (1992) consistently reports that students who average 4 or more years of foreign language study score higher on the verbal section of the SAT than those who study 4 or more years in any other subject area. Moreover students who take 4 or more years of foreign language do as well on the math section as those who study the same number of years of mathematics. Consequently, students who study foreign language and do well on math have the additional ability of proficiency in a foreign language as well as high math ability.”

There is more in the report here.

Thanks, Dave Porter, for providing research on the value of bilingualism. I note though that the benefits don't appear to be language specific, so Spanish should do as well as any other language to stimulate those little brains.

I read your piece on Blue Oregon (I think) touting the benefits of Mandarin Chinese. My only objection is that I don't think we ought to craft education policy solely on the basis on making America more "competitive" in the world economy. I also think an Indo-European language like Spanish is a better match for the structure and lexicon of English. Besides, a good chunk of our national history and heritage IS Hispanic.

And thanks to David Wynde for his clarification on the placement of language immersion programs. Still, early language instruction reaches only a small number of students. That remains a problem, as does deciding which languages should be taught.

Terry, I argue for more Mandarin (going from <1% to 5% of K-12 students by 2015) because of the growing importance of China. China will be the world's largest economic market sometime during the lifetime of today's students. But, more fundamanetally, it is whether today's students can find a way to live peacefully in this world with a much militarily stronger China and to solve many of the global problems (warming, energy, pandemics, terrorism, etc.) with China. It is the big challenge for the next several generations. We need to give those generations the basic skills they will need - Mandarin. I am less concerned with the opportunities given to individual students, than I am preparing a cohort of each generation for the challenges. I want to make sure our country is prepared for the world that is coming.

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