January 2010.  This is a reconstruction of events connected to our efforts to start a two-way Spanish-English school in Miami.  It starts at my return from Wales last summer till now.  I hope to catch up with the present. (Some arguments in favor of Two-Way Immersion schooling (TWI) have been posted already. I have plenty more!)

The Prequel: Soon after my book was published (in 2008), the Friends of Jones Library sponsored a panel discussion with three experts on children and languages: the principal of the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion School, Kathleen Wang; a professor of bilingual education at Lesley College in Cambridge, Lissa Pierce Bonifaz; and me.  In the audience was Liz Rosenberg, owner of the Toy Box, a great toy store in the center of “downtown” Amherst.  There was already a story hour at the toy store for American Sign Language.  After the program, Liz and Lissa expanded that program to capitalize on the energy and interest we found among the people who attended the library event.


The Research I know about “World Languages” in Elementary School

As usual, CAL.org (Center for Applied Linguistics) will be your first stop in researching available programs. http://www.cal.org/resources/digest/rosenb01.html

I also went to the Miami-Dade County schools, and made the report below for the international listserv on language acquisition that I subscribe to.  It’s called “Infochildes”, moderated by The CHILDES Project at Carnegie Mellon, a wonderful resource for language acquisition research. My posting was in response to a query from someone in Shanghai about how to introduce English in the preschools and elementary schools there.

BZP on Infochildes 12/17/2009

Young children can learn *about* English, and they can enjoy some songs and games in English from casual programs, but they will not learn to use the language without a serious and continuous commitment to create an immersion situation for at least part of their day, several days a week.  My own children participated in Spanish for English speakers when they were in elementary school in Miami (in the 1970s and 80s).  Classes were 20 minutes or so per day, three or four times a week.  I am not aware of any studies evaluating them, but children who took them were given no credit for them when it came to language classes in junior high school, and within a month or so, children who didn’t take them seemed to know as much as those who did.  In my daughter’s words: “We learned the colors and the days of the week every year.”

More recently, the Miami-Dade Public Schools had a program called “World Languages.” I called the Office of Educational Accountability to see if there has been any official evaluation of the learning that takes place in those programs—and I got through to Toni Miranda, currently an administrator in their Office of Bilingual Education and World Languates.  (She just happens to have been the lead teacher at Coral Way (Dual Language) Elementary School when we were doing the “Language and Literacy in Bilingual Children” project in 1992-1997.  Link to book.)  The director said that the program 20 minutes a day, 4 times a week was a disaster.  It might have worked, but no one ever did the whole program.  Children were always being pulled out for something else.  She sent me a study of a slightly different model, however, which was done in-house

by Schneyderman and Abella and was just published on line in a Taylor & Francis journal:  Bilingual Research Journal, 32: 241–259, 2009. Available at



BZP Summary of the Schneyderman and Abella article:

This newer program is called “Extended Foreign Language” with two models: Program A with 1 hour of Spanish language arts per day, or Program B with 1 hour of Spanish language arts plus 1/2 hour of science or social studies in Spanish.  The research followed a sample of children from kindergarten to 3rd grade, some native Spanish speakers, but the more interesting ones for your purposes were the non-Hispanic children.  One analysis compared the two programs to each other [FN].

The two models of the program were not very different in outcome for the native Spanish speakers (and the students were above the national averages for the normed reading tests in Spanish). The native speakers went from 61% to 91% fluent speakers in that time.)  By 3rd grade, native Spanish speakers had no “non-speakers” according to the LAS-O.

Not surprisingly, the non-native Spanish speakers did somewhat better with the extra half-hour per day than with just one hour.  One chart shows that 4 years into the program, by 3rd grade, 53% with 1 hour a day, and 61% with 1.5 hours a day scored “fluent” on the LAS-O. Program B (1.5 hours/day) had 9% “non-speakers” but Program A (1-hour a day) had 31% non-speakers.

Bottom line:  In a one-hour/day program that is probably more extensive than the current World Languages proposal for Amherst, one-third of the children had learned essentially nothing in 4 years. In fairness, another third had learned enough to be rated “fluent.”  (That’s 53% fluent at 3rd grade, compared to 20% fluent for the same cohort at K.)

Is that an acceptable success rate?

FN: Another analysis compared the participants’ English and Math standardized (FCAT) scores to a carefully matched control sample to evaluate whether the programs took away from, or perhaps enhanced, the children’s other academic performance. In the second analysis, all the program children did as well as or better than the controls in their state testing.

I reiterate:  The Amherst World Languages is a voluntary program, and an expense.  Compare it to TWI, where programming for dual language learners is mandatory.  TWI has a much better track-record, and no new resources are required.



Why do I support Two-Way Immersion and not a “World Languages” program for (Amherst’s) elementary schools.

This has become a timely topic because a world languages program (that I know little about) had been running at Wildwood Elementary School, one of the Amherst public schools.  Apparently, there was a grant for this program, but it expired.  The School Committee was ready to let it drop, among other reasons because they felt it was “unfair to have a program at one school that wasn’t offered at all schools.”  Please file that away for later discussion. I think it is a dead-wrong concept of equity, but I’m not against dropping the recent program.

For now, I’m concerned that new proposals will siphon off the district’s allocation of “language initiative” from the two-way proposal.  Here is an excerpt of a note I wrote to the head of the School Committee, Andy Churchill:

Pearson’s note to Churchill 1/8/2010

I see that the School Committee is going to take up the question of a World Languages program.  While I am an advocate for children’s language learning, world language programs seem to me expensive, not terribly effective–and voluntary.  The only research I know about such programs (see below) is not very flattering–and personal experience in Miami would not make such a program a priority, especially in a time of budget crunch.

BY CONTRAST, the district is required to have programming for dual language learners.  Our two-way proposal is an effort to make what the district is already doing more successful.  It calls for using the resources and personnel that we already have and deploying them differently. It seems to me the very kind of program improvement that one can and should consider in a time of budget crunch.


FAIR—Bilingual Activism (SUMMER 2009)

FAIR is formed.  Familias en Amherst para Inmersión Reciproca. We’ve introduced Lissa Pierce Bonifaz and Laurie Davidson.  Craig McDonnell, a Spanish teacher at a high school Charter School in Greenfield, and father of two bilingual-learning daughters joins on.  (He’s the author of our FAQs.)  I’m next. Then Zulma Rivera, Heyda Martinez, Frank Gatti, and Manuel Frau-Ramos.  <link to the bios on Fair Roster, and the Fair logo>

By late summer, we take on a political dimension.  We are joined by “the Vs,”  Vince O’Connor, veteran of Town Meeting and school committee business, and Vladimir Morales, former School Committee member, and Jim Oldham (an active community member, regular columnist in the Gazette, fluent Spanish speaker, and parent of children redistricted from Wildwood School to Crocker Farm).  With their encouragement and advice, we adopt a strategy.  1)  We need to finish the proposal for the School Committee to discuss (modeled on the successful application of the PVCICS to the state). 2) We need to get the support of the Latin parents. 3) We begin to seek potential allies outside the school committee (including the Spanish Ministry of Education in Washington DC, Mass DoE, and more).


Yet to come:  The needs (and vision) statement/  The summer and fall parent programs for Latino parents at Food for Thought books and the Jones Library/  Door to door visits in the Latino neighborhoods with Vladimir and Vince/  Conversations with Crocker Farm teachers/  Learning more about Crocker Farm/  The Crocker Farm School Governance Council, of which I become a member/  Fall Forums of the ARPS School Committee/ Speaking up in September and October/  Letters to the editor/  Newspaper coverage of Zulma Rivera’s contributions/  The translator at the Crocker Farm forum—and the atmosphere of the meeting/ Sonia Nieto’s letter/  Outcry of racism against the school redistricting proposal—Nelson Acosta, Laura Valdivieso, Theresa Austin/  Lissa’s article on racist education of dual language learners (and how to avoid it)/   Silence from the School Committee/  Being taped for the Isaac Ben Ezra radio show/  ACTV/ Misleading statements by Sanderson—misquoting their legal advice/  Powerful letters in the Gazette by Ken Pransky/  Ken Pransky’s book/  New directions for FAIR/  etc. etc.


The Language Lounge (FALL 2008)

Liz and Lissa’s new language programs for children were dubbed the “Language Lounge.” These were free, 45-minute sessions of songs, games, and stories in different languages that took place in a playspace downstairs at the Toy Box.  The room was carpeted, but essentially bare, so activities could take up the whole space, as needed.  There were a couple of chairs, a changing table, and very crucially—a small bathroom. In Fall 2008 and Winter 2009, there were lounges in Spanish, French, ASL, and eventually German and Chinese. (Link to the poster on my website.)

The programs were organized as series of five sessions. The idea was to have a coordinator for each language and rotating volunteer leaders.  Laurie Davidson, a talented teacher and performer based in Montague, who runs a (fee-based) program in Spanish called “Mucho Gusto,” ran training sessions for the leaders.

Some weeks of the Language Lounges, there were as many as 40 families, coming from Easthampton, Holyoke, Florence, and Greenfield, among other places.  The interest from the Language Lounges, as well as an after school program at Crocker Farm Elementary, and some parent programming at the University of Massachusetts, Dinner on Us and a Spanish playgroup at the Amherst Family Center, encouraged Lissa to bring together interested people around the idea of starting a Two-Way School.