Students of Stevens Creek Elementary, and supporters of the elementary school foreign language program, got an early Christmas this past week.
Not only did state School Superintendent Linda Schrenko drop by to give hope for the salvation of the program, but she also dropped off a check for $50,000 to help pay for it.
Schrenkos visible and vocal support is far more valuable right now than the money, and both are certainly welcome. But she also dropped a little bomb while standing in the schools foyer, after all the reporters and TV cameras had long since departed.
That little bomb blows apart one of the claims made by those who say the foreign language program cant survive in Columbia Countys elementary schools because of the enormous projected cost of maintaining it.
Heres how that claim has been expressed: Stevens Creek and South Columbia elementary both run state-approved and partially state-funded elementary foreign language programs under a Georgia pilot program started by Schrenkos office.
The committee studying the amount and use of enrichment time in Columbia County elementary schools reported the end of foreign language as a fait accompli. They said to get foreign language instruction in every elementary school under the strict guidelines of the state program would require hiring 70 foreign language teachers at a cost of $3.6 million. Impossible, cant happen, foreign language RIP.
So heres the little bomb: Schrenko says if state money for the program is approved (which is, admittedly, iffy in a tight budget year), Columbia County schools could seek continued funding and a waiver from abiding by the state programs rules.
Give the committee the benefit of the doubt: Maybe they didnt know they could modify the program and still get funding. And previously, Schrenko says, they couldnt; while it was a pilot program, the guidelines for the states foreign language model were very strict, so that research on its success would be valid.
We have always known that there are needs for variances, Schrenko says. But now that the research is done, we can allow waivers. Other "models are available.
Well. What that means is the 70-teachers-and-$3.6 million estimate is just so much hyperbole, a drastically worst-case scenario horror-story meant to frighten small children and convince gullible adults - including, possibly, some school trustees who should know better - that Columbia County couldnt possibly afford to keep its foreign language program, much less expand it.
The truth is that Columbia County cant afford to not expand its foreign language program. Sure, there are some schools that just dont want it, and there are principals and teachers and parents who doubt their students ability to handle such enrichment - even though the State Department of Educations now-completed research proves elementary foreign language instruction boosts achievement in all subject areas.
What would it cost? We dont really know, because it has not been honestly assessed. The committee needed to feed the School Board an estimate, and delivered the equivalent of an exotic gourmet dinner. The school system hasnt offered to check the prices on the kids menu because trustees havent asked.
Trustees also havent asked for ideas on where additional money could come from. Lo and behold, the long-wasted federal Title I money - which has utterly failed to improve student achievement - could be used for elementary foreign language. And thanks to President Bush, pending changes to that bloated program will require school systems to show results, not just compliance with regulations.
Elementary foreign language instruction in Georgia has a track record of results, some of it from schools in Columbia County.
Our elected trustees, before considering any changes that would make the fledgling elementary school foreign program more difficult to offer, should demand to evaluate the states research and then make an informed decision about the programs future - not just at Stevens Creek, but all over our county.
(Barry L. Paschal is opinions editor of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barrypaschal@ yahoo.com.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.