Dear Decaturish – Concerned about cuts in CSD’s foreign language programCity Schools of Decatur Administrative Offices. Photo by Dena Mellick
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As the City Schools of Decatur (CSD) navigate a period of remarkable growth and change, it is vitally important that we sustain our nationally-recognized commitment to Spanish education in our schools.
Like other Decatur parents, I am concerned about proposed cuts in our Foreign Language in Elementary Schools (FLES) program. After starting in 1998 with over 150 minutes of K-3 Spanish per week, the program was cut to 120 minutes in 2009, and a recent proposal would cut it further to 90 minutes per week beginning in fall 2017. Relative to 1998 levels, this would mean almost 150 fewer Spanish contact hours during the K-3 period, when children are best at language learning.
The original FLES program delivered impressive results. In 2005, the Center for Applied Linguistics found that CSD’s FLES program was producing optimal language proficiency results with its 150-minute curriculum. And in a 2013 study I conducted jointly with CSD leadership, we found that the percentage of high school Spanish students taking Spanish 3 or higher increased from less than 25 percent to over 50 percent after the 150-minute FLES students got to high school.
A strong commitment to Spanish education will allow our students to keep pace with remarkable state-wide trends in this area. Thirty-eight public schools in Georgia now go beyond FLES to offer dual-language immersion programs for elementary students, 29 of which are in Spanish. And, with strong support from Georgia’s business community, Governor Deal signed a bill last year to create a “Seal of Biliteracy” that will be placed on the high school diplomas of students who score 4 or higher on their Spanish AP test. Furthermore, there are many cognitive and social benefits to language learning. In addition to neuroscientists’ findings on how second language learning affects brain development (increased brain density and neural activity), research findings also show how second language learning helps foster the kinds of skills that are increasingly critical to 21st century college and career success—thinking flexibly, focusing attention when there is conflicting information, selecting relevant over irrelevant information, and switching strategies if a solution is not forthcoming (for more info, see https://www.actfl.org/advocacy/what-the-research-shows).
Strengthening our investment in elementary Spanish would also deliver major dividends for CSD as a whole. For example, CSD’s Strategic Plan includes goals for reducing disproportionality in our International Baccalaureate (IB) programs and for increasing IB course attendance and completion rates. Given the important role that language acquisition plays in the IB curriculum, starting our students early will increase our success rates.
CSD leaders are to be applauded for their proactive efforts to plan for unprecedented growth in our school-aged population, and for their efforts to do so in consultation with the community. And the recent announcement that CSD will be hiring a world languages coordinator is also very welcome news. I hope that as we move forward we can find ways to sustain our commitment to Spanish education.