Howard County schools should offer foreign language to sixth-graders and should give "serious consideration" to extending it to elementary schools, foreign language supervisor Celestine G. Carr told the school board Thursday.
Carr's recommendation met a noncommittal reception. The only response came from retiring board member Anne L. Dodd, who said she thought foreign language would enhance students' English skills, but called the idea "very ambitious."
Adding even an exploratory foreign language program for sixth-graders "will not be inexpensive," Joan M. Palmer, associate superintendent for curriculum and supervision, told the board.
James R. McGowan, associate superintendent for instruction and administration, added that space to house a foreign language program also will be an issue, with middle and high school populations expected to continue to grow.
Palmer said she hopes to have a formal proposal ready for the school board within two years. A staff study of costs, advantages and obstacles will be conducted in the interim.
Three Maryland school systems -- Baltimore City, Montgomery and Prince George's counties -- currently offer foreign language in elementary schools. Seventeen of the 24 school systems offer foreign language in middle schools; state education officials did not have information available on how many offer it to sixth-graders.
Howard's school system currently offers French and Spanish to seventh- and eighth-graders. This school year, approximately 23 percent, or 1,473 of the total 6,460 students enrolled in county middle schools, are taking a foreign language. Middle school students who do not take a foreign language have extra reading or other classes during that time period.
County high schools offer courses in French, German, Italian, Latin, Russian, Spanish and American Sign Language. More than half the 8,071 high school students are taking a foreign language in this school year.
Carr's proposal to teach foreign language to sixth-graders would be based on a British program called an "exploratory language model." The children study Latin not simply to learn the language but to learn how language works, the supervisor said.
She said that if foreign language classes are offered in elementary schools, the sixth-grade exploratory language program would not be offered to the students who took foreign language in elementary school. She suggested that elementary school foreign language classes should start in fourth grade.
Carr was unable to answer questions from Dodd on how another course could be added to an already crowded elementary school curriculum.
"I don't feel qualified to examine the elementary school curriculum and say, 'This must go to make room for foreign language,' " Carr said. "Maybe you could extend the school day."
The supervisor did not have cost estimates for the addition of foreign language. She said the exploratory program for sixth-graders would require addition of one teacher to each middle school.
Current average cost of adding one teacher to the school system is $33,900 in salary and fringe benefits, said Budget Officer Darrel E. Drown.
Using that average, it would cost the school system $372,900 to add a teacher at each of the 11 county middle schools.
In other action last week, the board:
* Heard a protest of its proposal to teach values from the Rev. Steward Frazier, a United Methodist minister. Frazier told the board that teaching values is the responsibility of families and religious institutions, not the school system.
He urged the board to beware of "New Age humanism," which he described as a philosophy that teaches responsibility to self, while churches teach responsibility to God.
"I hope this values education is not a form of New Age evangelism," he said.
The board's public hearing on the proposal to teach values such as compassion and responsibility attracted three other speakers who supported values education.
* Approved repeating the final exam schedule tried in 1989-1990 at Wilde Lake High School. To allow teachers to give more substantive final exams than the traditional multiple choice tests, Principal Bonnie S. Daniel shortened two school days and built time into the schedule for teachers and students to go over the tests.