Columbia County participates in the Elementary School Foreign Language (ESFL) Program, a state-funded model that is now in jeopardy due to state budget cuts. Dr. Lauren Williams, associate superintendent of student learning for Columbia County, recently presented a summary of the Board of Educations (BOE) concerns surrounding the language program to the School Council at Stevens Creek Elementary. I am writing to clarify some of the BOEs apparent misunderstandings regarding elementary foreign language instruction in order to show that this outstanding program is worthy of continued support.
Williams indicated that scheduling foreign language instruction is difficult, and that this is a primary concern of the BOE.
Williams suggested that other areas of instruction (e.g., physical education, art) might be marginalized if foreign language is added to the curriculum. It was mentioned that if regular foreign language instruction is implemented in our elementary schools then major changes, such as extending the school day, might have to be made. This is simply not true. Stevens Creek Elementary has successfully participated in the foreign language program for seven years. No subject area was ever eliminated or diluted to accommodate foreign language instruction, and no major changes, such as extending the school day or the school year, have been necessary.
Williams also noted that the BOE is unsure whether or not the foreign language program is actually successful because math and English standardized test scores increased at some schools with the program but stayed the same at others. Although the ESFL program is designed to reinforce the core curriculum, students are not learning Spanish to improve their math scores. A more relevant measure of the programs success would be a foreign language proficiency exam, which was not discussed. For example, several of our Stevens Creek students participated in a proficiency contest at the Foreign Language Association of Georgia competition in 2002 and were rated superior.
The Elementary School Foreign Language Program is bold, innovative and successful. It is one of the few unique programs that sets Columbia County apart from other schools in the state of Georgia, making it truly a world class public education system as it is so often advertised. In fact, Georgias ESFL model was rated the best in the nation by the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, D.C.
Please contact the Columbia County Board of Education and encourage its members to support the instruction of foreign language in our elementary schools.
Mark W. Hamrick, Ph.D.
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