Last spring, Montclair residents mobilized to protest the district’s failure to provide the elementary school world language instruction mandated by NJ State Law. Superintendent MacCormack quickly acknowledged the problem and made it a cornerstone of the new strategic plan that “By September 2013, a K-5 World Language program is offered in all Elementary schools.” In a letter to parents she also acknowledged that “The district values a quality World Language program to prepare students for an increasingly growing global community. Please note that our district offers a variety of World Language instruction and will work to not only meet regulations, but to do so in a quality way.”
We are now three weeks into the semester. Are your children receiving a “quality World Language program” taught in a “quality way?” The NJ State Model Curriculum for World Languages is quite clear about what students should be receiving:
“All students should be given the opportunity to learn a world language in a program that offers appropriate time allocations and quality instruction.”
“A program that does not offer a sufficient amount of contact time and frequency of instruction assumes less student proficiency from the outset and denies district students access to excellence and equity in achieving the standards.”
Standard 7.1.A stipulates “interpersonal modes” of communication (ie direct communication with speakers of the target language) and authentic materials (ie produced in the country or countries where those languages are spoken). It is not possible to achieve this with people who do not speak the target language and with materials written in English.
While Nishuane/Hillside have live language teachers, other elementary schools do not. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this summer the district purchased tens of thousands of dollars of materials made in the USA (non-authentic videos, flashcards, workbooks), which they are handing out to non-Spanish speaking classroom teachers and telling them to “teach” Spanish (which they don’t speak). In K-2 this is the Salsa program, where students sit in front of a television screen to watch 15-20 minute video clips of puppets chattering in Spanish. Even where teachers speak Spanish or have Spanish-speaking assistants who could provide more interactive feedback, they have been mandated to let the videos run. This often takes place without any commentary or interpretation of the Spanish videos.
The Rosetta Stone program, which was licensed for grades 3-5, but did not work for several years, has been replaced by a new program called Spanish for Kids, which seems to be targeted more to the K-3 level than 3-5. Although the program’s web site strongly recommends its implementation by a certified teacher of Spanish (and all the video clips show activities run by Spanish teachers), third through fifth grade teachers are being asked to teach it whether they know Spanish or not. At some schools these materials haven’t even arrived yet so teachers are unsure as to what and how they will be teaching.
So what’s happening in your classroom this fall? Are your children receiving a “quality World Language program” taught in a “quality way?” Have your children been “given the opportunity to learn a world language in a program that offers appropriate time allocations and quality instruction?”
E.N. Emery is a parent of children in Montclair Public Schools.