One of Georgias top Democrats must have missed a memo. Just a few days after Gov. Roy Barnes floated the moronic idea of ending foreign language instruction in high schools, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor gleefully announced that his campaign Web site is now available in Spanish.
The coincidental timing couldnt have been better. With a press release that points out the importance of Georgias growing Hispanic population and commerce, Taylor perfectly undercuts any rationale Barnes might have for ending high school foreign language instruction.
Barnes did the same thing himself last year, when he spoke to a Georgia-based Hispanic business group and raved about cultural diversity. Pre-sumably he hasnt checked with those amigos about dumping foreign language instruction.
In any event, none of Georgias foreign language instruction should change without a top-to-bottom study of the best way to deliver the information to students.
olumbia County is way ahead of them: A committee is already intently studying the countys entire foreign language program.
What theyre finding at the early stages is a microcosm of the sort of hodgepodge approach the rest of the state uses to teach foreign language:
Two Columbia County elementary schools offer foreign language instruction under a state-approved model that is not just the envy of other county schools, but of the nation. The states program is a proven success in raising overall student achievement, and it has drawn nationwide attention.
But its expensive, and without Linda Schrenko to champion the program, its likely to fall to the budget ax. Barnes eliminated the programs funding this year, and the money was restored only after a fight in the Legislature. At the time, Barnes told me his intention was to deliver a balanced budget to lawmakers with the understanding that the program would be restored, and I took him at his word. Now, with all this talk about cutting high-school foreign language, Im not so sure.
All Columbia County middle schools now offer foreign language instruction in seventh and eighth grades for high-school credit. The program is too new to evaluate, and the only problem that has arisen is that kids coming from South Colum-bia and Stevens Creek elementary have an advantage over kids with no foreign language background.
All high schools offer foreign languages. This is the grade level Barnes is targeting because more time in the high school day is needed to teach not just the basics, but to offer SAT-prep classes so Georgia can get off the bottom in test scores. A foreign language background is required for students entering most universities, however, so boosting SAT scores wont help if the kids arent classroom-qualified.
Foreign languages are best learned at the youngest ages. But there are more than 1,000 elementary schools in Georgia compared to fewer than 350 high schools; the state would need at least three times as many foreign language instructors for an elementary program.
What good would it do? I found out recently when I hauled a minivan load of third-graders to the circus. One of the youngsters cracked a joke, and the rest jumped into an animated conversation - entirely in Spanish.
hose kids could speak Spanish because they have learned it since kindergarten at Stevens Creek Elementary. I couldnt understand it because foreign language wasnt required when I was at Harlem High School.
Thats a past we dont need to revisit - especially not when we can so clearly see and hear the future in those third-graders.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to bpaschal@ newstimesonline.com, or call 863-6165, extension 106.)
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