Friday, July 24, 2009

Mayor's school: A Spanish-only program in a Watts elementary school reported.

There is a summer program reported in the Wave local newspaper that John Ritter Elementary School in Watts, one of the Mayor's group of 10 schools that he's taken to improve, has a program of instruction conducted in Spanish exclusively. "The Bottom Line: At this summer session in Watts, Black students need not apply," By BETTY PLEASANT, Contributing Editor, Story Published: Jul 8, 2009.

The story mentions the fact that the local parents of Black children are left out and the teachers that do not speak Spanish were also left out of the picture. The idea of education to improve performance, to all of what I have seen over time, needs first to develop some competency in the English language to open the doors to the rest of achievement. This is not what they have in mind here at this school.

The Black parents say their children also need to be helped and it's pretty plain that they are not part of the scheme. Since the story was written, there has been a rebuttal, printed in the Wave, that defends the program. "Article is misleading on school’s summer program." Story Published: Jul 17, 2009, by a letter from Angela Bass, Superintendent of Instruction, Partnership for Los Angeles Schools.

The Mayor's involvement in the Parnership plan has appeared to be very slight, as a personal matter, and it's been heavy on delegation of authority. The enthusiasm for this takeover by the Mayor has ebbed over the many months and much of the early support by teachers, especially reported at Roosevelt High, has changed to disillusionment and frustruation, with no progress seen by these teachers. Part of the complaints there were that they were not included in what has been going on. "Roosevelt High teachers give the Education Mayor a failing grade," by Steve Lopez, May 20, 2009.

Well, you can read the stories and consider that the idea of "dual immersioin" in language reall amounts to "no immersion" in anything. The idea of learning language by "immersion" is a concept that is completely impossible in Los Angeles, and here's why: First, to be "immersed" you have to be completely surrounded by all communitcation done in the single language, which would be English, for example. The use of Spanish would not and really "could not" be done at all in classes or anything in the hypothetical school program if this were to be the true approach applied. This forces the actual use of the second language for the practical funciton of communicating and then result is an acquisition of that language skill, slowly but surely.

This is something possible where, for example, you travel to another country and find no one uses English, forcing some quick study of the necessary words and phrases to get along with your basic needs. Effectively, you have no choice, and the "immersion"part similarly forces you to sink or swim in that language.

Contrast that with life in Los Angeles where you don't have to venture far to find someone who speaks Spanish and English with at least a functional level to allow the language gap to be bridged. The student in an English immersion program would not be able to experience "forced" use of English since there are so many around to provide "help" with the English-Spanish communication difficulties, even unintentionally, thereby reducing the "discomfort" level of the situation, but also eliminating the effectiveness of the concept.

So "dual immersion" can be the reality with a source present for either language to assist, but the function of the "immersion" in a single language is entirely lost as a tool to achieve the potential possible in the language area.

And if you have doubts, consider that where there is a crutch to use in the language situation, or really, in any area where help is welcomed, you will use it. But with some things, the "learning" is enhanced in this style, yet in language, for a real push to learn, it's something different that does benefit from "toughing out" the communication obstacles and arriving at the answers that way. It's not the only way, but just a very intense style that can produce large gains.

If you notice, people who use others to help get around the language barrier will really reduce the rate of acquisition of skills in the second language. The other part that you might consider is that if your source of instruction has weak grammar, you will pick up that, too, but that's no different than what we learn from others in a single language environment.

Read the stories and remember that the rebuttal comes from somebody who is in the business of justifying their existence and since there's a very heavy connection to politics (as if the role of the spokesperson is not political all by itself), you have to realize that truth and honesty are not the primary goals, and survival and perpetuation of their jobs might be a reason for the comments you will see.

As a more cynical and pragmatic observation, you have to consider that parents often treat school as a form of day-care to account for some of their children's activity while they go to work, and some parents would have to find alternate means of child care for their children for the time there is no school, regardless of whether they speak English, Spanish, or both. But that's not the primary concern here, so let's move on.

And let's see, just whose program is this all about? Oh, that would be Antonio Villaraigosa, the "all-about me" mayor.