Elementary Pupils Immersed in Foreign Language

When it comes to lessons in other tongues, Kevin Fitzgerald, the superintendent of the Caesar Rodney school district in northeastern Delaware, is never at a loss for words.

He speaks with pride about the fact that his district’s high school, Caesar Rodney High School, offers six foreign languages: French, Spanish, German, Latin, and, more recently, Arabic and Mandarin.

This school year, the district introduced a more novel and potentially more effective foreign-language initiative to talk up: a new Chinese-immersion program for 101 kindergartners, which the district plans to offer those children and successive kindergartners through 8th grade.

The immersion program, which provides instruction in math, science, and literacy in Chinese for half a day and in English for the remainder, is one of three such programs funded though Gov. Jack Markell’s recently created World Language Expansion InitiativeRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader. The initiative operates with $1.9 million annually from Delaware’s state budget.

At a time when school districts face constant budgetary constraints while also being charged with preparing students for jobs in a more global economy, proponents of foreign-language instruction say Delaware’s new immersion program represents an uncommon but welcome step toward introducing foreign language at an age that researchers say is optimal for students to become multilingual.

“We’d like to think it will become more common,” said William P. Rivers, the executive director of the Joint National Committee for Languages-National Council for Language and International Studies, a Washington-based nonprofit that advocates for languages and international education. (Read more.)

Via Jamaal Abdul-alim, Education Week.

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Common Core Thrusts Librarians Into Leadership Role

It’s the second week of the school year, and middle school librarian Kristen Hearne is pulling outdated nonfiction books from the shelves. She is showing one teacher how to track down primary-source documents from the Vietnam War and helping a group of other teachers design a project that uses folk tales to draw students into cross-cultural comparisons.

With the common standards on her doorstep, Ms. Hearne has a lot to do. Her library at Wren Middle School in Piedmont, S.C., is a nerve center in her school’s work to arm both teachers and students for a focus on new kinds of study. She’s working to build not only students’ skills in writing, reading, research, and analysis, but also teachers’ skills in teaching them. She and other librarians say they view the common core, with its emphasis on explanation, complex text, and cross-disciplinary synthesis, as an unprecedented opportunity for them to really strut their stuff.

“When it comes to the common core, librarians can be a school’s secret weapon,” said Ms. Hearne, who blogs as “The Librarian in the Middle.”

Like most school librarians, Ms. Hearne has been trained both as a teacher and a librarian, a combination she thinks is perfectly suited to helping students and teachers as the Common Core State Standards presses them into inquiry-based modes of learning and teaching. She helps them find a range of reading materials in printed or online form and collaborates to develop challenging cross-disciplinary projects. And like colleagues around the country, Ms. Hearne also plays important instructional roles often unrecognized by the public: as co-instructor alongside classroom teachers, and as professional-development provider for those teachers.

“The common standards are the best opportunity we’ve had to take an instructional-leadership role in the schools and really to support every classroom teacher substantively,” said Barbara Stripling, the president-elect of the American Library Association, and a professor of practice in library science at Syracuse University. (Read more.)

Via Catherine Gewertz, Education Week.

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Learning Communities Show Promise in Improving Student Success

One-semester learning communities can have long-term benefits for community college students and can even boost graduation rates, according to recently released studies from MDRC and the National Center for Postsecondary Research.

After six years, a one-semester learning community program at Kingsborough Community College(KCC) in New York boosted graduation rates by 4.6 percent, the study reported. That initiative was also found to be cost effective: The cost per degree earned was lower for students in that program than it was for KCC students not in the program.

Modest impact

Despite those figures, the results of a companion study evaluating a learning community demonstration project that targeted developmental education students found only a modest impact on credits earned in English or mathematics.

“Implementing learning communities at scale is challenging but possible,” MDRC said. “Learning communities with high levels of curricular integration are particularly hard to establish and maintain.”

Learning communities are aimed at boosting persistence by grouping small cohorts of students together in two or more thematically linked courses, usually for a single semester, while they are also given additional academic support. By giving students a chance to form stronger relationships with one another and their instructors, the premise is that they will engage more deeply in learning and thus will be more likely to pass their courses, and ultimately, graduate. (Read more.)

Via Times Staff, The Community College Times.

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Remedial College Classes Need Fixing

 Each year, an estimated 1.7 million U.S. college students are steered to remedial classes to catch them up and prepare them for regular coursework. But a growing body of research shows the courses are eating up time and money, often leading not to degrees, but student loan hangovers.

The expense of remedial courses, which typically cost students the same as regular classes but don’t fulfill degree requirements, run about $3 billion annually, according to new research by Complete College America, a Washington-based national nonprofit working to increase the number of students with a college degree.

The group says the classes are largely failing the nation’s higher education system at a time when student loan debt has become a presidential campaign issue. Meanwhile, lawmakers in at least two states have pushed through changes and numerous institutions are redesigning the courses.

“Simply putting (students) in three levels of remedial math is really taking their money and time with no hope of success,” said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America.

The group’s research shows just 1 in 10 remedial students graduate from community colleges within three years and a little more than a third complete bachelor’s degrees in six years. Yet the classes are widespread, with more than 50 percent of students entering two-year colleges and nearly 20 percent of those entering four-year universities put in at least one remedial course, the report said. (Read more.)

Via Heather Hollingsworth, The Associated Press on Diverse Issues in Higher Ed.

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LAUSD Board OKs College-Prep Plan

With just three months to go before a mandatory college-prep curriculum takes effect, the Los Angeles Unified board gave lukewarm support Tuesday to a policy that outlines how the program will be implemented.

The resolution written by East San Fernando Valley board member Nury Martinez orders Superintendent John Deasy to design and implement an instructional plan for rolling out the so-called A-G curriculum, a slate of 15 college-prep classes that every student will have to pass to graduate.

The curriculum takes effect with the Class of 2016 – students who will be entering ninth grade when the new semester begins in mid-August.

Members of the Class of 2017 will have to pass those A-G classes with a “C” rather than the current “D,” which will make graduates eligible for entry to the state’s public universities.

But lingering concerns that the more rigorous coursework will spark a flood of dropouts, along with worries about long-term financial impacts, prompted three board members to vote against Martinez’s resolution. They included Bennett Kayser, Richard Vladovic and Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, who cast the sole no vote when the A-G issue was first broached by the board back in 2005.

“We need a plan,” LaMotte said. “We don’t need a plan to make a plan.”

Kayser sought to bring more definition to the resolution, with an amendment that would have required Deasy to create a budget for implementing A-G, reduced class sizes in middle and high schools and provided more training for teachers. It also would have restored the number of credits needed for graduation back to 230, from the 210 units under the new plan. (Read more.)

Via Barbara Jones, Los Angeles Daily News.

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