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I'm Just Sayin': Dual immersion sounds a lot like ESL

January 27, 2011

I am a natural born skeptic, questioning pretty much everything that has crossed my path since I was a kid. Reading an article about one of Glendale Unified School District's dual immersion language programs fanned the flames of this doubting Thomas.

The article profiled the five-month-old Japanese language program at Verdugo Woodlands Elementary School, the newest of the six Foreign Language Academies, known as FLAG.

Under the FLAG program, students are taught either at a 90-10 or 50-50 ratio of the target language to English. In the 90-10 scenario, this means that out of the 1,400 instructional minutes per week in first grade, 140 minutes are taught in English. That averages to just 28 minutes a day.


According to the article, FLAG administrators seek to have a student breakdown of one-third target language-speaking, one-third English-speaking and one-third bilingual.

With so many of the students being English learners, how can these children be expected to get the fundamentals of English in such a short amount of time? Even for the students who already speak English, it's hard to believe that they could keep up with their peers, who are instructed in English the full school day.

Children do not just learn to speak, read and write in English during language arts period. They learn grammar and vocabulary during math, science, social studies, and even art and P.E.

Everywhere that I read about dual immersion language programs, including on the Glendale Unified website, I saw the words "research based." Their research shows that children in these programs tend to do as well as their peers on standardized tests.

This flies in the face of common sense. If we turn the program on its head, then English learners who are immersed in primarily all English classrooms should also test as well as their classmates, but we've been told for years that this isn't the case. The high amount of English learners in some schools in our district has always been given as one reason for the school's poor performance on California Standard Tests and their Academic Performance Index.

Our children are in first grade in a Glendale Unified school and have a reading goal of 600 minutes a month outside of class time. We've all heard the advice for parents to read to their children and we're told that reading, and being read to, helps kids to broaden their vocabulary and learn proper pronunciation. Are the kids in these dual immersion programs reading and being read to in English or in the target language?

For years, schools in California had English as a Second Language (ESL) programs, but they fell out of favor because the students often didn't ever become fully proficient in English. For the children who don't speak English well, are these dual immersion programs not just a reworking of the old ESL programs?

The goal of the FLAG programs, as stated on the school district's website, "is that all participating children will be bilingual and bi-literate at the end of elementary school."

That certainly is a high standard, but is it truly achievable?


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