Monday, November 22, 2010

Bilingual vs. Regular School

School options here in Podunkville are extremely limited. When the time comes to enroll DS into K only 2 short years from now, there are 2 local public school districts we could select from; either of which are basically good enough for me & mine, but neither is perfect (alas, exactly as it is with most things in life!!)... There are also loads of Christian schools and one Catholic school that honestly don't provide a very good non-religious education, and there is also a strong homeschooling community - which I personally don't have the teaching skills nor the intestinal fortitude to manage. So public school it will almost certainly be.

We live in WA state, and there is a choice program through which you can apply to send your kids to a school outside of your home district. You provide the transport - not a problem, because we live close enough to Away District, where DH works. Here is our dilemma:

Away District has a robust bilingual elementary school (English/Spanish) that gets awesome reviews on the language instruction, but not very good reviews on any of the other subjects. But most disturbingly, the discipline program Away District uses is not one that is based upon any research whatsoever; it's not among the recommended programs approved by the Federal Department of Education, and it has gotten the panties of many of the local parents who are professionals so extremely bunched up as to make me think the people on the school board are actually trying to get voted out of office. In a nutshell, the way the discipline program works is that kids are incentivized to tell on each other and have other kids get sent to time out (they call it something else though) for "interfering with their learning." The discipline piece of the puzzle is a total shitshow that everyone hates... except the part where the kids are learning their non-native language so amazingly well tends to make up for it enough in some friends' minds.

Home District has a discipline program that nobody bitches about. Test scores are about the same, for whatever that is actually worth. Class sizes are much smaller. I like how they break up the grades into different schools, so there are elementary schools, an intermediate school, the jr high, then a high school with grades 10-12. The smaller Home District high school doesn't offer as many AP classes as the larger Away District 's high school does, but then again due to a smaller size, there are fewer kids falling through the proverbial cracks. There is no bilingual education for English-speaking students to learn Spanish, apart from standard high school Spanish classes which IMHO by then it is way too late to ideally start learning a foreign language. In short, it is more like a run of the mill, average suburban/rural American public school.

Why am I thinking about something I don't need to even think about until 2 years from now? Because if we want to choice in to Away District, I've been advised to meet right now with the very nice principal at the bilingual school so that he is familiar with our family, in case they decide in the future to no longer accept choice applications. (I'm told in a small town, it can't hurt to actually know someone, and that has always proven true for us so far.) That idea has been bounced around so they can appear more "selective"- because right now so many of the higher SES in-district students have opted-out of the school, either because ideologically, they are on the political right and don't want to encourage anyone to speak anything but English in this country, or they are afraid the discipline program is going to scar their children and/or cause the kids to hate school, or they are really religious or feeling like homeschooling is the way.

Oh, and I should also say that my kids' babysitter speaks to them in her native Spanish a lot of the time she watches them, which is 3 days/week.

Give a sister your thoughts, please.


Clare said...

While it is difficult to learn a second language later in life, it is not impossible. It is so much more difficult to undo dodgy discipline. If it were my children, I would sigh, wish I didn't have to make the best of a bad choice, and send them to the English-only school. They are being exposed to Spanish, and maybe you can arrange with their sitter to tutor them. But the school-encouraged tattling gives me the heebie jeebies.

If you feel strongly that you want them to get a bilingual education (and I would love for my kids to have the opportunity), talk to the principal about future enrollment, and hope that the school board changes its policy before your son starts there. There's no harm in keeping your options open!

mom2boy said...

Um, I'd run fast and far from dodgy disciplinary systems. Take a family vacation with a language immersion component sometime in the future. My two cents.

Melba said...

Yeah. I'd go for Home District too. I think the discipline system is more important than learning a second language. But that's just me, I know that the second language is important to some people... but still, you can probably learn a new language easier than you can un-learn poor life skills that can stem from an ass-backwards discipline system. Rewarding telling on each other? Whaaaa? It sounds like people who have never actually raised a child cooked that one up.

So if it were me, I'd ditch the second language in favour of better disciplinary methods. And this is coming from someone who lives in a country with two official languages, where every product you buy has English on one side and French on the other.

Cloud said...

Can't hurt to meet with the principal and ask some nice,non-confrontational questions about the discipline approach there.

But yeah, if the discipline approach doesn't make you happy, that is probably more important than the bilingual thing. Are you close at all to a university? Could you get a college kid to come tutor in the foreign language of your choice? Assuming you'll be working, you'll need to come up with some sort of plan for after school anyway. (Why yes, this is our back up plan for learning a second language if we don't like/can't get into the Spanish immersion program down the street....)

blue said...

I'd vote for the Home district, Hush. I agree with Clare that you really don't want to mess with discipline problems in schools. It could lead your kids down a path you can't undo.

When given the choice it's sometimes hard not to over think it, but this may be an opportunity for you to embracing the positive aspects of bilingual education even if it's not part of your child's school curriculum. Private tutoring, interactive videos, keeping your babysitter in your lives longer than the pre-school years--these are all ways you can continue the spanish language exposure, which is obviously very important to you. The best of both worlds?

hush said...

That's five unanimous votes for staying in our Home District! That's where I'm leaning, though I will have a meeting with the principal. If anyone is curious, the shitty discipline program the district uses is called Make Your Day. Hope no one else encounters such an untested, controversial discipline plan where they live.

Claudia said...

I agree with the safer option in terms of discipline.
I also think that there are some important factors that come into play when learning a foreign language at any age (I am going to assign myself as a resident expert on the subject, since I teach English to foreign speakers, and live in a non-English-speaking country): these are interest, natural ability, community support and opportunity. If all of these are present to some degree, anyone will learn a foreign language.
That said, there are some theories that brain activity is improved by learning a foreign language in the early years of life, but it seems that if the child only learns a bit, but grasps the facts of there being more languages than his native one; there are different rules of grammar for each language; and each language represents a culture, perhaps and ideology and way of life that are different to the one he knows.
All of these things help to expand their cognitive abilities in impressive ways, according to some research.

He's likely already gotten enough exposure to be well on his way to these benefits. If you can keep in in his life in some way, even tutoring and playdates with Spanish speakers, then he'll probably be good til the ritualistic school Spanish in the upper grades.

Claudia said...

Oh and duh, I am also raising a bilingual kid, so I've read some stuff about it.

Zenmoo said...

I'm for Home District too - I vote for small class sizes over language immersion - even without taking into account the dodgy discipline.

It's tough though, school choice is a BIG thing here in Perth. It's all about putting your baby on waiting lists asap. So - even though I've got 3 years before Moo starts 4 year old kindy - I'm going through the same process with the added complication of a religious dimension... Excellent private school for $8k/yr in first grade (increasing to $17k/yr in 12th!) or get Moo baptized and send her off to a Catholic school for $2k... I've got no issue with sending her to a Catholic school - as long as her daddy (the dirty Mick that he is) takes the religious aspects seriously. Otherwise -
getting my baby baptized to save money on school feed will probably result in me going straight to hell.

Zenmoo said...

Oh - and our local public elementary school - located at the end of our street - I'm still considering it and will review the options when Moo is 4 - but right now ... It's got split classes! One teacher for a combined 2/3 class and 4/5 class. That is ok in the country in a tiny school, but dude - we are inner suburbs of a city of 1million. It just seems wrong to me.

paola said...

Lets make that 11 out of 11. I'm for the home district school too. Your son will probably be miles ahead with Spanish anyway by the time he reaches kinder in 2 years. Honestly, almost nothing could be better than the full immersion program that you have him on right now (with the exception of it continuing until he leaves home himself, which I know, is not exactly possible.)

But discipline!! There is no way I would want my kids to be taught by some authoratitive figure to rat on one another. They already do that instinctively as it is and it's a bitch to change.

@Zenmoo. The public school system is so f..ked up here in Italy now that my friend's 6 y.o. daughter who is doing first grade actually has 8 teachers!!! And it is universal now after all the cuts and the fact that they are not replacing teacher who have retired. Unfortunately there is no other option for us. No private schools ( other than some catholic schools I refuse to send my kids to)or home teaching culture. ONly hope is a change in governemnt , which may actully happen by Sept.
Sorry about the rant!

hush said...

@Claudia, Zenmoo & Paola - thank you for your insights; I think 11 out of 11 ought to tell me something!

And, holy hell, I was not aware of the budget issues facing the Italian schools! Yikes. Silly of me to think the US had cornered the world market on education dysfunction! ;)

caramama said...

Add me to the list. There are other ways to learn languages, but that disipline policy? That could really screw some things up.

I bought a couple italian board books and an italian CD with my girl was a baby, and just lately she's expressed a lot of interest in other languages and italian specifically. So I went on amazon and just ordered more board books, another CD and a DVD in italian for Christmas presents. She might not become bilingual, but I will encourage interest in other languages and cultures in a hard core way!

NK said...

I've been going through the archives and reading your amazing blog. So much interesting discussion! I'm dying over here :)
Up North here in Canada, especially Ontario, especially in Ottawa there are two official languages: English and French. Add to that the fact that we speak Russian at home and you can see how this topic would be very close to my heart.

I would say: go talk to the principal. In the next two years things could change and that board COULD get voted out.

In the mean time, when the kids are older and for a "controled" amount of time, let them watch approved cartoons/movies in your second language of choice. This is the best way to learn conversational language for both adults and children. Proven time and time over. It will blow your mind with effectiveness :) I promise.