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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How to Fix the Mess We Call Middle School

Elementary schools and high schools are tough enough to run, but middle schools are a problem unto themselves. Nobody quite knows what to do with students who are of age to be in what we call middle school. What we know about the developmental profile of kids from age 11 to 14 tells us that a traditional academic classroom experience is not the best option.

Puzzled educators have experimented for decades with the K-8 model, junior highs, middle schools (different from junior highs because they have earlier grades), and then back to the K-8 model. Nothing seems quite right.

In recent years many school districts have returned to the K-8 model,including in Washington D.C., where former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee promoted the model in part, she said, because kids performed better academically, though the research she cited is widely disputed.

In 2008, she created 17 PreK-8 schools, but, alas, the standardized test scores are no better than they were before, my colleague Bill Turquenotes in this story. (Yet another Rhee reform that didn’t quite turn out as great as all that.) Now D.C. schools officials are trying to solve, yet again, the middle school puzzle.

Here’s some of what we know about kids in this age group — and why it is past time to do something radically different:

* Students in this age group are known to be egocentric, argumentative, and — this is not small thing — utterly preoccupied with social concerns rather than academic goals, driven by the swirling of their hormones.

* They don’t always have solid judgment, but they find themselves in position to make decisions that can affect them throughout their lives.

* They enjoy solving real life problems with skills.

Via Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post.

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