A controversial French language program at Crofton Woods Elementary School should be moved to a magnet school and standardized tests should be given to measure progress, according to a report the Anne Arundel County School Board reviewed this week.
Those were two of the six recommendations a foreign language consultant made after evaluating the French Immersion Program.
The voluntary classes immerse children in French all day. Kindergarten, first- and second-graders are involved now, but the goal of the six-year pilot program is to keep hiring teachers until there is one for each grade through fifth.
From its start three years ago, the French-only classes polarized the parents with opponents saying that it would change their school from a neighborhood facility to a magnet school and that the pupils -- less than 10 percent of Crofton Woods' 600-plus enrollment -- get privileges others didn't.
While the French class supporters spoke out during the two-hour review, the critics who attended the meeting were silent.
"We are trying to come together and rise above our disagreements to address other issues at the school," Brenda Reiber said after the meeting. "I would like to see a magnet system in Anne Arundel County, but not in our school."
Some parents have said the pupils are getting a skill that sets them apart from others, builds self-esteem and allows them to learn a foreign language at a young age when research shows they are most receptive.
"The children in the classes have become risk-takers, and risk-takers have the whole world open to them," said Nancy Hands, who has a second-grader in the program. "Early language learning is not an extra, it is an essential."
The debate during the meeting was among foreign language coordinator Patricia Orndorff, Gladys Lipton, who conducted the evaluation, and the board who questioned the validity of the program.
"What exactly are we trying to prove here?" asked board member Paul Rudolph. "We know that French immersion works. The Peace Corps does it, Berlitz does it, and what exactly are we as a school system getting out of this program?"
Orndorff said, "It's what the kids get out of it. They are learning new skills and a global skill. And it is giving us the opportunity to create a model program. I am feeling good about starting this in another language. We will have a very good instructional model to put in place somewhere else."
Board member Vaughn Brown said he would like to see not only how the pupils are performing in French, but also how they are doing in other classes.
"We need more time to gather data about this," he said.
Michael McNelly, another board member, said Spanish might be a better language to use in this type of program. He also said the cost could be cheating other pupils out of services.
"We have 72,000 students to educate here," he said. "We have to make difficult decisions every day about how to educate our children."
The program has cost the school system about $250,000 so far and is expected to cost a total of $543,800.
Schools Superintendent Carol S. Parham supported the project and said employers are looking for people with language skills.
"My vision is that this is a six-year project aimed at instructional benefits for our children," she said. "As we move along in this, we will have to address the other issues in the report. It may be that after we administer standardized tests we will find out that it is of no benefit to our children."
Other recommendations in the report were:
Hiring a program coordinator to work full time at the school.
Allow immersion pupils to develop relationships with others by taking art, music and physical education classes with pupils not in the program.
A French test that would include listening, reading, speaking, writing and culture.
Build walls or move the students to a self-contained classroom to reduce distractions.
Pub Date: 4/17/98