Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Trophy school or middling immersion program?

An SF K Files visitor would like to get your input on the following dilemma:

My daughter received an 11th-hour assignment to a so-called "trophy" public. It is a school that many would give their left arm to have gotten. That said, it was not on our original list, in part because there were other impossible-to-get-into schools I actually preferred available to fill out the list. Long story short, our original intent, like a lot of families', was to get into a language immersion program, ideally in our neighborhood. That goal has not changed. So we remain waitlisted at an immersion program walking distance from our house (the "trophy" school is inaccessible by public transport and only somewhat reachable by school bus). The school we're waitlisted at...it's just feels so right for us. Simple. Neighborhoody. Not showy. Warm. Just easy and normal and nice. Our people. The other one? Nice people also, but different somehow. Less "right," if that makes any sense.

We have a successful hardship appeal and thus have quite a good chance of getting a call about the "middling" immersion school -- in terms of reputation, test scores, safety -- so I struggle with what to do. We started our daughter at her assigned school and she is absolutely bonding with her teacher, the school, the kids...in short, she loves it all. Now, I suspect she was just ready to love kindergarten and would love the other school too...but I cannot be 100% sure. Are we crazy to stay on the waitlist for this immersion school? To value bilingualism and neighborhood walkability so highly that we'd give up a school our daughter not only seems to love already, but is attaching to more every day (not to mention a school known for academic excellence and peacefulness)? I feel a little crazy...it has been very hard to commit not knowing how it will turn out. Immersion was our goal from the very beginning and only the weird twists and turns of this nutty system landed us elsewhere. Your advice much appreciated....


  1. Go with your instincts, go with your gut, go with your funky neighborhood school that felt "right" to you.

    Nothing beats that "feeling".

    Your kid will be Ok with a switch, remember, Elementary School lasts 6 years, and the longer you wait to switch, the harder it will be.

    I know so many people who got into the "trophy" school I think you are talking about (and other supposed trophy schools) and they were very disappointed with them.

  2. Yes, go with your gut. i love the idea of a neighborhood school. and isn't it nice to have your kid close to home?

  3. There is only one area in which SFUSD schools beat all but 2-3 privates and that is when it comes to foreign languages.

    While most chi-chi privates let the kids "dabble" in a foreign language mostly to please parents, none of the kids emerge bilingual.

    Meanwhile, SFUSD immersion programs are turning out kids who are bilingual, bicultural citizens of the world, with all the doors that that opens and hard core cognitive benefits that private schools cannot deliver (balanced bilinguals are more creative problem solvers, better at abstract thinking, stronger at math, etc.)

  4. I say go with your gut, and that includes how your child will best handle this change. Is she the type of kid who needs a few days to adjust to the idea? Or can you just break the news and she is able to adapt? To me, that's the key piece. Kids are very adaptable, but it's a lot easier for them and us if we assist them by offering the news in the way they respond to best.

  5. I concur with the intuition advice. That said, word at EPC is that it will be tough for an English-speaking kid to get into most immersion programs this year, except perhaps for Marshall or Revere. I don't know if that pertains to you but it is worth keeping in mind, even with the appeal.

    The right decision will present itself, no doubt. And you are really in a good situation - your daughter loves the school she is in, and would likely be just fine with a transfer since she has a good feeling about K overall.

    Bon chance!

  6. I have to agree, i would stick with your guns especially with you getting the chance to get in before anyone else. You know what you want and it's up for the taking should you get the call. I have known people who have switched even as late as Halloween in the past, for that very reason of not following their gut feeling in the beginning. It's definitely a tough decision but kids are so adaptable, we really don't give them enough credit.

  7. Question: how did you manage to land a (probably highly desirable) spot at the "trophy school" without using your hardship appeal? I imagine this school had a long waitlist?

  8. Better question - when did you get this 11th hour assignment? I was under the impression that if you didn't get a call by last Friday, then you, like everyone else, had to wait for the next run.

  9. I suspect this is a Flynarado who landed Rooftop or Clarendon after the debacle, but really wants Flynn or Alvarado (although from the description more likely to be Flynn or perhaps Fairmount), could this even be someone in Kim Green's situation..regardless, I would absolutely without question stick with your gut, if you get the waitlist call you run to your immersion school and thank the stars. Your kid will adjust in no time. If the call does not come then it was not meant to be - but you can rest easy knowing your kid is in a place that may not be the best for you (or even them) but it's a great place where they are happy and will flourish. A nice problem to have, I think/hope the call WILL come (it will free up a place for someone who is praying for it) and wish you the very best of luck.

  10. I imagine that the poster is one of the Flynn/Alvarado families.

    I am surprised that no one is speaking up for the other side, so here goes:

    I do think it's important if your child loves the school he or she is in, and has started to bond with the teacher and other kids.

    I wouldn't think about reputations at this point (of either school), but really look at the reasons why this school is the trophy school it is. Also look at the downsides of the school (including its distance from you etc.). Think about what you love about your neighborhood school and weigh what you've heard or felt that isn't good about it.

    And think: is your daughter's experience a barometer of something positive about her current school? What is that positive thing, and what value does it have to you?

    We are in a similar situation, except that our current school is not popular at all, and it is the one with a language component. Our son is thriving there, but we're still waitpooled for our neighborhood school, which we are ambivalent about!

    Good luck with whatever you decide! Hopefully you'll have a little while longer to think more about the fit!

  11. I'm the original poster. Thanks so much for your thoughtful replies. Full disclosure: Yes, we are indeed one of the Alvarado/Flynn families, so we got this assignment during the special lottery they held for us (and which, I think, has been amply discussed before -- it was crazy and stressful and it left me with the overwhelming feeling that EPC cannot be trusted to follow its own rules). We are waitlisted at an immersion school that did not have the buzz of Alvarado or Flynn this year.

    Such an avoidable situation, too: I BEGGED EPC to overenroll us at another immersion school (as opposed to overenrolling us at the trophy school, which is what I believe they did). I mean, why one and not the other (except for the imbalance issue, I guess, which has never been assessed publicly at the school in question). Only one of the other 22 families was even remotely interested in this school, so the question of fairness within the group wasn't much of an issue.

    It drives me crazy that an 0-15 family could have our spot right now, and that all this has to happen after school started. Your advice is heartfelt and on-point. Thank you.

  12. 7:12 PM wrote: Meanwhile, SFUSD immersion programs are turning out kids who are bilingual, bicultural citizens of the world, with all the doors that that opens and hard core cognitive benefits that private schools cannot deliver (balanced bilinguals are more creative problem solvers, better at abstract thinking, stronger at math, etc.)

    They may be "bicultural citizens of the world" but if they have poor grammar in two languages, can't pull their pants up over their underpants, smack gum with their mouths open, they are going nowhere.

  13. Oh, is that something your own kids are struggling with?

    Actually: Kids who speak multiple languages are usually more conscious of the grammatical structure of their native language than monolinguals.

  14. "Meanwhile, SFUSD immersion programs are turning out kids who are bilingual, bicultural citizens of the world, with all the doors that that opens and hard core cognitive benefits that private schools cannot deliver (balanced bilinguals are more creative problem solvers, better at abstract thinking, stronger at math, etc.)"

    yeah, yeah yeah...I've heard it all before. Same elitist argument.

    Also know plenty of kids who didn't get language instruction until middle school and are now fluent. I also know graduates of private schools who are also "citizens of the world" and do amazing things in their lives. I really don't think just because you attend SFUSD's Immersion language schools that you are automatically a more creative person. Plenty of incredibly creative, artistic folks are also monolingual. Yes, it is an advantage being bi or trilingual but spare me the crap about those kids being the only real true "citizens of the world".

  15. Can we please get back to the advice to the poster and not get sidetracked into this same (boring by now) argument? Please?

  16. As someone who was raised overseas, I've got to tell you that we joked about how Americans were quick to claim fluency if they could string 3-4 sentences together.

    I don't know any balanced bilinguals -- people who are equally comfortable, literate and articulate in two languages -- who didn't learn a language until middle school.

    If you don't speak a language as well as your own, you might be able to claim competency, but not fluency. Sorry.

  17. I used to do a lot of hiring and was amazed by how many people would list that they were "fluent" in Spanish on their resumes.

    They weren't. Not by a longshot.

    I'd test them by doing the interview in Spanish. They were so lost. No way they could have conducted a business meeting, let alone a contract negotiation, in Spanish if they couldn't handle a job interview.

    People in this country are very quick to say they are fluent in another language.

  18. The question isn't whether there are creative, monolingual citizens of the world... but whether those same individuals would have been even more creative and had an even more global perspective had they had the advantage of learning another language at an early age.

  19. I guess we'll never know, will we.


  20. "balanced bilinguals are more creative problem solvers, better at abstract thinking, stronger at math, etc"

    Oh really?? Please share with us the data.

  21. Please, please please stop hijacking this thread!

    This is supposed to be about a dilemma between two schools!

  22. You're right, 10:30 PM, but it is so difficult to try and NOT take some air out of these bloviating windbags sometimes.

  23. If you continue to stay on the waitlist and do get your waitlist school, do you automatically have to accept it? If not, why not just stay on the waitlist and cross that bridge if and when you come to it?

  24. There are still a few spots at Daniel Webster for (I think) English-speakers. After having what I would describe as 'receptive fluency' in Spanish (early productive), learned from our babysitter, my daughter came home after school on Monday speaking Spanish in full sentences. Like a switch had been flipped. While it is a new program, things are off to a great start. I was also really impressed when the principal phoned me this afternoon to discuss some of my concerns. Anyway, to the poster, I agree with holding to your original choice. It's an embarrassment of riches, of course, but still a tough decision. And if you really want immersion and don't get your waitpool, come on over to DW if that can work for you.

  25. but it is so difficult to try and NOT take some air out of these bloviating windbags sometimes.

    okay, but please...try to overcome this difficulty. restraint can be a wonderful thing. one of those great life lessons every kid should learn: not everything has to be said, not everything needs a response. trust me, you are only contributing to the hot air with the constant sniping.

  26. Original poster here again: Thanks for the observations, everyone. I'm so pleased to hear about Daniel Webster looking good! Unfortunately, due to its early start/end time and distance from our home, it was not an option for our family. You have given me so much food for thought!

  27. 11:21 PM - LOVE the backhanded smarmy insult! You prove my point so very well. If you are going to make passive-aggressive condescending digs at someone, you need to take what you get. Cause = effect; teach your children about THAT.

  28. With the exception of Clarendon, the so called "trophy" schools don't seem much better at all than the neighborhood schools.

    I see the district as top half schools and bottom half schools. If you are in the top half, and you're happy, and IT IS NEAR YOUR HOUSE!!!!! then that's aplenty.

  29. Which schools are the trophy schools?

    Alice Fong Yu?
    Claire Lilienthal


  30. I guess just the super-overenrolled ones...? I'm curious as to why the earlier poster felt Clarendon was not overrated like the others (relative to other schools, I'm presuming).

  31. I know two families who left Clarendon. One left for Buena Vista because they speak Spanish at home and their children were starting to answer in English and lose their Spanish. They say the math was more rigorous at Clarendon, but that otherwise they are very happy. Clarendon felt very over-crowded to them.

    The other family left Clarendon because their child is gifted and was bored in class. When they talked to the teacher about finding ways to challenge the girl, the teacher told them not to worry because the girl had great test scores and a little boredom never hurt anyone. They decided to homeschool for a while.

    So, while Clarendon is a great school, it is by no means the perfect solution for everyone.

  32. According to a study in the U.S.
    bilinguals earn 7 percent more than monolinguals.

    Peal and Lambert found that bilinguals have higher IQ’s than
    monolinguals. Their study found that bilinguals have greater mental
    flexibility, greater abstract thinking, greater lexical independence,
    superior concept formulation and higher verbal IQ than monolinguals.

    Bilinguals are more creative, better at solving complex problems, they
    outperform monolinguals on verbal and nonverbal intelligence tests.
    They communicate more with people, read more literature, and travel

    Bilingual children understand written languages faster than
    monolingual children.

    The comparitive advantages of bilingualism on the job market.

    There are a number advantages that bilingual children have over
    monolingual children. Learning a second language benefits a child’s
    cognitive development. Bilingual children also tend to perform better
    in other subjects like mathematics and science. Children who are
    bilingual also have an increased capacity for learning languages as

    A great deal of research has been carried out on bilingualism. An
    excellent source of this research can be found by following the link
    given below to ‘Database of bilingualism’ where details of the latest
    research in this field can be found. The Bilingual Research Journal is
    a good source for recent research into bilingualism. They have an
    online archive of research published in the last 10 years. In order to
    read the studies in the Bilingual Research Journal, you need an Adobe
    PDF reader installed on your computer. You can download a free copy at
    the link given below.

    The following are extracts from The National Languages Institute of
    Australia’s publication ‘Bilingualism and Bilingual Education. This
    publication gives an overview of the research carried out in
    Australia and overseas:

    "Controlled groups of monolinguals and balanced bilinguals were
    compared and the bilinguals were found to be significantly ahead of
    their monolingual counterparts in verbal and non verbal reasoning,
    divergent thinking and subject matter attainment."

    "..a number of studies (...) have shown bilinguals to be more
    creative, cognitively more flexible and to perform better on tests of
    verbal and non-verbal intelligence."

    "Sixth grade bilingual children were found to perform significantly
    better on all tests than monolinguals (..)."

    "They found that bilinguals demonstrated greater verbal ability,
    performed better on measures of concept formation and scored higher on
    tests of verbal originality than did monolinguals."

    "(...) bilingual children, by virtue of their two languages, are
    exposed to a more complex environment and to a greater amount of
    social interaction compared to children acquiring only one language."

    "(..) code switching means the switching from one language (or a
    variety of a language) to another part of a sentence or conversation.
    Many outsiders see code switching as a sign of linguistic decay, the
    unsystematic results of not knowing at least one of the languages
    involved very well. A wide range of research into bilingualism
    indicate that the opposite is really the case (Appel & Muysken

    "(..) bilingual children appear to pass through similar sequences in
    the development of both their languages as do monolingual children".

    "Lambert and Tucker (1972) indicate that children who learn a second
    language at school experience positive social development. These
    children tend to adopt a dual reference group maintaining anchors to
    the primary reference group of their original language and culture and
    at the same time developing anchors in the secondary reference group
    of the new language and culture. Children who learn a second language
    can, therefore, add to their existing social repertoire without
    compromising their existing social integration".

    "Genesse (1987) has shown that children who acquire a second language
    tend to be more open-minded and more tolerant than their monolingual

  33. Just let the SFUSD show you how!

  34. Hey, I love all that stuff about bilingual education, but may I ask a whiny question?

    Why did you post that, knowing that there are 0/15 families out here with nothing, and no chance nohow no way no mccain of getting into a bilingual program? or even a spot in a school at this point?

    And that one of the bilingual schools screwed over parents big time, and the others are full except for Webster, which doesn't look so hot, and so many of don't got no chance no how mccain of gettin into a bilingual program anyway, even if we try next year?

    Sorry. I'm desperate for a school. I honestly thought that people were right when they told me that things would open up by this time, and I'd get something the first week, but according to the district, it's full enrollment and there won't be anything for my child.

    At this point, it's out of the City we go, for at least a year. No spots in privates now. No spots in the tranny k's. No way. No how. No mccain.

    We'll try it again next year, but honestly, this has f'ing sucked.

    Yes, I want bilingual education. I want a place in a school I could like. And I also want a big back yard, a big house, a new car, a full time nanny, a personal trainer and sex twice a week with my overworked stressed out husband.

    None of which seem to be happening.

  35. Because this particular thread was started by a poster asking whether they should accept a trophy school or go for a "middling immersion program", so this research has direct bearing on the decision she has asked posters' help with...

    And because other posters have disputed the assertions that bilingual kids excel in certain areas.

  36. 7:17---enough, already!

    Should we all now bow down to all the bilinguals since you are obviously superior in every way to the rest of us? sheesh!...what elitism.

    Not every family has immersion language as a goal.
    Some of us have other areas we are more interested in like science, art, music, math, etc. Our child is incredibly creative and really struggles with verbal communication. She expresses herself through body language, art and dance. I highly doubt she'd feel comfortable having a second language thrown at her and be expected to keep up. I don't appreciate your condescending "proof" that my child is somehow "inferior" to a bilingual one.

  37. 12:08 -- no one said it's for everyone. You seem overly touchy in this issue. Chill out.

  38. 12:08 -- There are clear advantages to bilingualism.

    But there is also substantive research on the value of arts and music education.

    This particular thread, if you read the original post, is about choosing a trophy school vs. an immersion program and this research is of interest to anyone making that particular decision.

    It is not directed at you in particular.

    Relax, have a glass of wine, or take a chill pill... Defensive, much?

  39. I think it's rude and insensitive to site "proof" that one group is superior to another because of a particular focus of their education. Especially in light of the fact that many who tried for immersion did not get their choice.

  40. 12:32: Your comments are very condescending. I am entitled to express how I feel.

    It's like private vs. public. Very annoying and pointless argument.


  41. Except that there is NO research ANYWHERE to show that private school kids do better than public school kids once you take socioeconomic status and the parents' educational background into account.

    Why are people so sensitive to this research?

    If there were a study on how students who master math end up earning more money long term, would people consider it insensitive to share that information if their kid's math teacher happened to be weak?

    BTW: READ THE TOPIC OF THIS THREAD. It was kicked off by a parent asking whether there was value in holding out for an opportunity at immersion... so the research is relevant to her in particular.

    Why are you even reading a thread that is clearly about immersion if you are so down on it?

  42. I smell a troll, or at least someone with a severe, probably undiagnosed, mental disorder.

    Ignore them.

  43. "Why are you even reading a thread that is clearly about immersion if you are so down on it?"

    I'm actually not down on it.
    I'm just in agreement with this poster:

    "Why did you post that, knowing that there are 0/15 families out here with nothing, and no chance nohow no way no mccain of getting into a bilingual program? or even a spot in a school at this point?"

    Your endless list of data to prove your point struck me as insensitive and obnoxious, that's all. Perhaps I did take it too personally and for that I apologize.

  44. Regardless of whether two languages makes you smarter (or smarter people more readily acquire two languages), if you choose an immersion education here, you are going to be doing it SFUSD's way. Results may vary. Also, you pretty much have to commit to the program, if not the school or the city, through 5th grade, since you will be behind in English until then. Big factors to consider.

  45. It isn't insensitive if you bear in mind that the person who posted the research was directing her post at the person who started the thread...

    RE: committing through 5th grade -- or better yet 8th grade... that is not just at SFUSD but in any immersion program. If you want your kid to have the cognitive advantages of being a balanced bilingual, they can't study a language for a few years and then consider it "mastered."

  46. My immersion kids have not been behind in English, but they come from a highly educated, well-read, talkative family; their English-language skills have likely been acquired as much at home as at school.

    Certainly, for kids whose primary language is not English or those who are not learning high-level English language skills at home, the expectation in immersion classrooms is that they reach profiency (or better) in English language arts by the 5th grade, but not before. That might be a factor to consider for a family planning to move away during the elementary years, especially if that family is ELL and sees the high importance of their kids learning English in order to succeed in this country.

  47. I think that's a really good point, 1:40, and one which not many have discussed on this blog (or did I miss something?): The idea of a language COMMITMENT.

    What is SFUSD doing to support language Immersion programs in middle school? I imagine many families would want to continue to strengthen their child's abilities and knowledge of (for example) Spanish-speaking cultures.

  48. ^There is a group working on this topic. I believe it originated in PPS and is now independent of them. They have a yahoo group: SF_AME@yahoogroups.com.

    There is a huge need to support middle school (and high school) immersion as programs are expanding at the elementary level. Alice Fong Yu is K-8, of course. James Lick is "up-and-coming" for SI and I know lots of parents taking the plunge....there are still problems being worked out. Hoover, unfortunately, recently dropped the use of its "zero period" funding for the Chinese (Cantonese) and Spanish immersion kids in favor of kids with remedial learning needs, meaning that the SI and CI kids now use their arts period for the extra period of instruction in Spanish or Chinese. This was a big bummer for immersion families. It is a tough choice--2nd language vs. arts. We know families that chose the honors program at Hoover over SI for the reason of wanting arts more than language.

    James Lick still has the zero period, so most kids there get to have both, but again, it is still up-and-coming as a school and in terms of income diversity, and not everyone's cup of tea. Hopefully will be more so--high-achieving, a bit less rough around the edges--in a few years. There has been talk of making Everett, another high-poverty school, an immersion middle school in Spanish (also). Again, using immersion as a magnet to diversify the student body in terms of income.

    On the high school level, rumors abound about Mission High for Spanish. Galileo already does the Chinese (Cantonese).

    So far, nothing has been planned for Mandarin immersion at middle or high school levels. I know folks are agitating already.

    This is all separate, of course, from the language classes-- introductory, "heritage," and AP--that are offered at some of the middle and high school levels. Immersion kids come in at a higher level in the non-English language and need a different set of classes.

    I would check out the SF_AME list for more info.

  49. ^ Great info! :) Thanks.

  50. I liked the point about children having many different gifts. Not every person's intelligence is necessarily well-suited to learning in two languages. Others appear to acquire languages with little effort. For example my husband, with a graduate degree, has a miserable time learning languages. His high-school dropout sister went to Japan at age 20 and picked up Japanese easily with no prior study. (Her fluency was confirmed by my husband's Japanese ex-girlfriend.) While this is anecdotal and not based on academic research, I have also known a number of people who are not perfect but VERY functional--professional translators in fact--despite not starting second language study until junior high or high school. I'm not saying that young immersion does not give people a huge advantage in developing bilingualism. What I'm saying is that a monolingual elementary school education does not necessarily doom a determined person's ability to develop a high degree of competence in a second language.

    I would go with your own feelings about which school will provide the best education for your child. Acquiring limited substantive knowledge and skills in two languages does not necessarily seem like an advantage to me. At the same time, if the curriculum or approach of the "trophy school" seems like a bad fit for your child, your child may not get a particularly great substantive education there either.

    Good luck.

  51. I have two relatives who worked as interpreters in the UN Security Council and General Assembly -- the cream of the crop, if you will, of professional translators.

    ALL of their colleagues were raised speaking more than one language. None of them attained that level of fluency by starting in middle or high school.

    Also: There are a lot of researchers who dispute that there is an innate gift for learning languages. AFter all, everyone seems to learn their native language just fine. Our brains are *wired* to learn languages automatically, without formal study. Children who grow up in multilingual environments grow up speaking multiple languages because of the environment in which they grew up, not because they were born with some innate special intelligence for learning a language.

    Some people *are* better than others at learning languages later on in life, but as babies the playing field is pretty level.

  52. I think some (though not all) of the cognitive benefits of bilingualism come from being a balanced bilingual, not just from acquiring later competency in another language(s). It has to do with how your brain is wired.

    Here's an example.

    Kids who are bilingual from early on excel at abstract thinking. One of the reasons may be that from a very early age they are able to make a clear distinction between an object itself and its various labels or symbols. For example, a monolingual kid looks at a chair and thinks "chair", that is what that is. A bilingual kids looks at the same object and knows that it is what it is, and that it has multiple names. This level of abstraction is required for working with symbols like letters and words, among other things.

    Another way of thinking about it is that a fish doesn't realize it is in water until it is outside of it. IN that sense, a monolingual kid views his world and structures his thoughts based on the language he knows. Whereas a bilingual or multilingual kid has multiple ways of describing and structuring his/her world and can look at a language as an insider *or* an outsider.

  53. I have a friend who is a simultaneous intrepreter in Brussels for the EU and did not grow up bilingual. The EU requires two primary langages to become a EU interpreter that is able to go to and from their first language and back into two languages. Imagine Audrey Hepburn in Charade with the headsets in the sound box. This gentleman grew up monolingual in Germany and started on French and English in school. English in the 4th grade and French in 8th or so. He then add Italian at University as you need a third/secondary language from which you can interpret out of that is for him hearing Italian and doing simultaneous interp. into German) My point is you can achieve incredible levels of bilingualism even if you do not start as a baby. Some people are gift in this way. For parents who value science and math and art over immersion it is presumptive to say that their child will never achieve second language fluency. Teaching a second language earlier on for non immersion students and raising the level of that instruction would serve more children. Immersion is not the only one but certainly easier.

  54. Abstract thinking is key for math, science and art.

    It is wrong to think that you can *either* be bilingual or be good at math, science and art. Your grasp of all three of these is enhanced if you excel at abstract thinking.

    BTW, I'd bet money that your German interpreter friend interprets into German, not so much *into" the languages he learned in later years.

    The success rate of language programs started in later grades is abysmal compared to immersion. That doesn't mean there aren't exceptions like your friend in Brussels. But most kids who started taking a second language in elementary school for a couple of hours a week are NOT competent in that language, let alone fluent, even after 5-6 years of "studying" that language.

    Most private school kids in SF start foreign language study in kinder, first or fourth grade, depending on the school. Most place in second year French or Spanish when they get to high school after YEARS of foreign language instruction.

  55. There is a study out of Canada that found that balanced bilinguals delayed the onset of dementia by an average of 4 years compared to monolingual counterparts.

    How's that for a return on investment ;-)

  56. Thank you Marlowe's mom. I always enjoy your thoughtful posts. I found myself nodding in agreement with you in that last one.

  57. 'And that one of the bilingual schools screwed over parents big time, and the others are full except for Webster, which doesn't look so hot, and so many of don't got no chance no how mccain of gettin into a bilingual program anyway, even if we try next year?'

    Yes, there are spots at Daniel Webster. While things are not perfect there yet, many, many exciting things are coming along very soon. As the first immersion class at DW, we are pioneers by definition. You are right to assume that means a lot of work and parent participation. But that is not all bad, and has its own very real benefits both to the school and to the involved families. It's actually pretty exciting. The full support of the school administration and teachers, the district and PreFund are extremely evident.

    So any of you folks who are still looking for a school, please consider Daniel Webster--it's easier now, because you can actually see the school in action and judge for yourself. We are planning a get-together for the immersion families, probably next Thursday evening--you can contact the principal, Ms. Machado for details if you are interested in checking out the program.

  58. "There is a study out of Canada that found that balanced bilinguals delayed the onset of dementia by an average of 4 years compared to monolingual counterparts."

    Perhaps, but they still get dementia.

  59. I'm guessing you're one of those who will get it four years earlier?

  60. re: Daniel Webster

    The district seems to be giving us a lot of support. Kevin Chavez of Flynn/Paul Revere immersion turn-arounds is there every single day. The prefund people are amazing fundraisers. We just need the motivated parents. Come join us and have Spanish speaking kids!

  61. Agreed that a few hours of study a week starting in junior high won't get you too far in a foreign language in and of itself. A lot of initiative is required to push yourself to a high degree of competence when you start late. It IS far more likely that one will become a "true bilingual" if immersed in both languages from a very early age.

    Also agreed that bilingualism enhances cognitive functions (though some argue music has a similar effect).

    But the poster was not asking, "How do I maximize my child's foreign language skills?" The poster was asking, "Trophy school or middling immersion program?" If the non-immersion school is really stronger in substantive subjects, the parents have to decide what's most important to them: "true bilingualism" that will give their child a better chance of becoming a UN interpreter, or more solid foundations in other subjects followed by later opportunities to study foreign language without necessarily attaining "true bilingualism." Although the benefits are not the same, even later study of foreign language does have advantages, such as an enhanced (though imperfect) ability to communicate with people from other cultures and an improved understanding of parts of speech in both the foreign language and the native language.

    Unless one is planning to emigrate to a target-language country in the near future, I don't believe that one should underestimate the value of a solid foundation in other substantive subjects. Elementary school is the place to lay that foundation. I've tutored inner-city sixth-graders who struggled to sound out one-syllable words. I would have thought that by sixth grade . . . but never mind. Some immersion schools offer both language and quality substantive instruction and the choice seems obvious in that case. Other immersion schools, judging from the comments on this blog, provide language opportunity but questionable instruction on other subjects so the parents do have to set priorities. The original poster was asking for help in setting those priorities and grappling with the fact that the child is thriving in the "trophy school."

    Query to 3:53 on 8/28: If our brains are all hard-wired to learn language and "we all seem to learn our native languages just fine," why do so many of my native-English-speaker, executive-level clients send me drafts of letters, contracts and advertising copy that demonstrate an abysmal grasp of English grammar, punctuation and spelling? I am not a copy editor or proofreader by trade (obviously not a proofreader from my typos on this blog:)), yet I must fulfill that function in addition to providing substantive recommendations. Just wondering . . .

  62. BEcause being able to speak a language is not the same as being able to write well in that language ;-)

    Also, btw, I think a balanced bilingual's ability to grasp "substantive" subjects later in life is probably better than an average student's ability to grasp a foreign language "later in life".

    I went to an Ivy League college, and while the graduates of hard-core private boarding schools (St. Paul's, Exeter, Andover, etc) were *much* better prepared academically that kids from mediocre public schools, by junior year the playing field was level academically speaking. Now, those kids from public schools were not bilingual, but they were bright, and were able to make up for lack of solid prep in substantive academic areas. If being bilingual enhances the way your brain works -- especially abstract thinking -- it stands to reason it might help your brain master other subjects well when you are finally exposed to good teaching in them.

  63. Query to 3:53 on 8/28: If our brains are all hard-wired to learn language and "we all seem to learn our native languages just fine," why do so many of my native-English-speaker, executive-level clients send me drafts of letters, contracts and advertising copy that demonstrate an abysmal grasp of English grammar, punctuation and spelling? I am not a copy editor or proofreader by trade (obviously not a proofreader from my typos on this blog:)), yet I must fulfill that function in addition to providing substantive recommendations. Just wondering . . .

    I'm not 3:53, but I'll answer this anyway. Language (as defined by linguists) is an oral medium. A written code is not necessary, and there are many languages that have no written form. Spelling is an issue of written language and is really more of a convention in English - the system is (sort of) phonetic but hugely influenced by history/etymology/the phonology of English at the time written English was codified. Punctuation is similar and it varies among languages. So these aren't linguistic skills.

    "Grammar" is a little different. There is a grammar to any language that all fluent speakers share - this is descriptive grammar. It just states the rules that all speakers follow. For instance, every speaker of American English would agree that "For crayons go store he tomorrow" is an ungrammatical utterance, and no native speaker would ever use it.

    Then there's prescriptive grammar, which is a set of style rules one has to be taught. An example would be something like the distinction between who and whom (not all speakers know this one because it's not "live" in all English dialects) or the splitting infinitives issue (the "Star Trek" 'to boldly go' may sound bad to English teachers but I know I say things like that all the time. A formal, written English register requires that these rules be followed, but they're not exactly intrinsic rules to English syntax. So unless speakers learn them, they "misuse" them. They're not really mistakes per se, since they don't imperil understanding.

    (That said, some of the prescriptive errors still drive me insane - the "it's"/"its" distinction is NOT THAT HARD, PEOPLE and it sets my teeth on edge to see it used incorrectly. Nor should any of this be taken to mean that prescriptive grammar should not be taught - if children are to be successful they need to know these rules.)

    Apparently an early morning wake up makes me a pendant.

  64. Wow. Thanks for the interesting and instructive post.

  65. 6:59 Thanks for making the important distinction between descriptive and prescriptive grammar! I've been listening to the Grammar Girl podcast and even some of the "hard and fast" prescriptive rules I learned turn out to be more complex. Love this subject!

  66. 6:59 the one that really gets me is the death of the adverb -- esp listening to sports broadcasters and they will say, he did good, or they'll drop the "ly" off the adjective. Ugh.

  67. Yeah, he did goodly.

  68. ha ha. No, more like "He ran quick", or "He played real solid today". Ouch ouch.

  69. Off-topic alert: My last "real" career, as in on staff with a regular paycheck, was as a newspaper copy editor. This doesn't actually require a highly trained grammarian, since so much of the work is about writing sharp and accurate headlines, and issues like catching the error when the reporter spells the subject's name three different ways in the story -- you get the idea.

    But of course we did work to make the copy conform to basic grammar and style rules. It was as I was preparing to retire (or take a long sabbatical* to stay home with my kids) that I started getting some perspective. I began to recognize how how rapidly language organically changes to meet the users' needs, and how much of our work seemed to be resisting those natural changes. One example is verb formations such as "criticize" and "hospitalize," which used to be considered illiterate barbarisms. Replacing "he" with "they" to convey "he or she" is an example that's still considered an atrocity, of course.

    My moment of epiphany was when I learned that the verb "to edit" -- a backformation of "editor" -- also used to be considered barbaric. (This program says "backformation" isn't a word, for that matter.) The etymology of the perfectly legitimate, grammatically correct contraction "ain't" is another eye-opener. It simply fell out of fashion, became viewed as "low-class" and is now viewed as unspeakable.

    I have a tougher time with errors that become so common that they are no longer viewed as errors. Scrupulous spellers know that the correct spelling is "supersede," for example, but now "supercede" is in newer dictionaries as an alternate spelling, just because it's such a common error. Maybe that'll happen to its/it's too.

    *this long sabbatical is now permanent, at least from THAT career, as the newspaper business is in its final death throes.

  70. Yes, yes, language is organic and changes. Otherwise it will die out.
    I think I better get used to saying he played real solid, and drop those ungainly "ly"'s that maybe sound too girly.

    Anyway, I think our kids will soon be selling you as "u" and are as "r" because that is the way they text and afterall, why shouldn't you be "u"!

    Thanks for the interesting post.

  71. I think the good/well distinction is more or less dead in spoken American English. More and more I don't see it observed in print either.

  72. We are talking about school. Am I wrong, or is school supposed to teach literacy as well as spoken language? Am I wrong, or
    will it be a struggle for all but the brightest children to catch up in later grades if they missed the fundamentals of math and English in elementary school, even if they speak two languages? If an immersion program does not do an adequate job instilling basics, you can't convince me that a parent should not take that into consideration. Perhaps the program in question does do an adequate job; it was characterized as "middling," not horrible. Perhaps the child in question is so bright that it will not matter. The point is that the quality of substantive instruction in the immersion program should be a factor in the parent's decision.

    I would not expect many people to write beautifully or even well. We can't all be Jane Austen or George Orwell. It would be nice if high-level managers writing for publication could string together a few coherent sentences that do not contain glaring errors. I know that usage and spelling evolve. I'm not talking about fine points like split infinitives or the correct use of "hopefully." I'm just hoping, too often in vain, for clear, correct writing that makes the writer look competent and professional.

  73. True bilinguals are often better at grammar than monolinguals because they can understand a language from the inside *and* the outside.

    I went to a dual immersion school (albeit overseas). It was an English-immersion program in Latin America. Spanish-speakers were only admitted in kinder or first grade. After that you had to have some ENglish, but native English-speakers could join the school in any grade.

    Surprise, surprise, which kids scored highest on the verbal portion of the SAT? The Spanish-speakers who started speaking English in kindergarten and the English-speakers who started learning Spanish in kinder -- *not* the native English speakers who joined the school in middle or high school and only took basic Spanish for an hour a day.

    The bilingual kids had more of an appreciation for language, I guess...

  74. Jane Austen's writing has lots of misplaced modifiers -- a pretty good example of a great writer whose command of the mechanics was imperfect. Unless, of course, that particular sentence structure rule has evolved since 1810.

  75. " If an immersion program does not do an adequate job instilling basics, you can't convince me that a parent should not take that into consideration. "

    YES! Thank you, Marlowe's Mom. Your thoughtful posts are always a breath of fresh air. :)

  76. On the other hand, I can easily help supplement some of those "basics" at home. Piece of cake.

    Another language, on the other hand, is beyond what I can provide "on the side."

  77. True--but why should you have to supplement the basics?

  78. I think the parents' ability to supplement basics at home is a valid consideration. However, ability to "supplement basics at home" varies from family to family. I can usually see the answer to a question, but I am not good at showing my child the steps that must be followed to arrive at that answer. If I can't teach my child the process, I'm feeding them answers rather than teaching them the skills they need to work independently. It's a fundamental flaw in my own learning style that made me a strong student but a lousy teacher. The best I can do is watch my child work independently and see if his process is giving him the right answers. Of course the hard thing in all this is that until the child is in the school, I won't know if he's learning processes that work for him, or if his teachers are able or willing to try a different approach for him.

  79. Should have said "feeding him answers rather than teaching him the skills he needs to work independently" for consistent construction. Oops . . . not a proofreader:)

  80. Math is not my strong suit. I really want my child to learn it well in school. (Just an example of one of the basics I'd like not to have to supplement) Of course it would be wonderful to have a fully bilingual child, but that's not my family's priority.

    On the other hand, nothing beats the idea of walking to your cozy neighborhood school. Now that's something worth fighting for!

  81. Wow. What kind of schooling left you unprepared to help your kid with kinder and elementary school math?


    Convenience is important to us. *Love* the idea of walking to school with other neighborhood families.

    But ultimately, the more doors and opportunities I can open for my child long term, the better. Providing the strongest educational background we can give him -- preferably with the economic opportunities (and cognitive benefits) of bilingualism - is more important than short-term "convenience." At least for us.

  82. Yes, better your kid to be bilingual than to worry about global warming and oil wars.

  83. "Wow. What kind of schooling left you unprepared to help your kid with kinder and elementary school math?Frightening"

    What a rude comment!

  84. Well, if it were middle school or high school math, that would be something else entirely.

    But kinder?

  85. 10:41am - I have a child who has been through Kinder and 1st grade math.
    Like the poster, I know the answer to K math problems! Duh!! We can see a pattern, count by 5's. I can explain to some extent but when my child didn't "get" it, sometimes after several explanations, I realized I would never make a good teacher. (Of course, I should have used manipulatives but geez, who has time when you are working outside the home. Pictographs was about the best I could do).

    Teaching is definitely a skill and I believe that is what was the point of the post!!

    I'm surprise actually that you did not grasp the point of the post. I'm wondering what kind of schooling you had that didn't prepare you to understand the vocabulary used in the post.

  86. ^ thank you, 10:56. That was exactly the point of my post.


  87. Does anyone have statistics on language instruction in primary school other than immersion? We are at Flynn GE (I applied to all the local immersion programs and didn't get any) and they are giving the English language speakers 45 minutes of Spanish instruction every morning. I think it's great but would love it if anyone knew of any research that showed it was beneficial. Thanks.

    Also, there are only 17 kids in my son's class so for those who were really hoping for immersion Flynn GE might be the next best thing. The only other Kindergarten Spanish instruction I remember hearing about was at a school in the Castro and it was only offered once a week.

  88. Some schools have language clubs in the after school program. One that comes to mind is at McKinley--I believe they offer Spanish. I'm sure there's many others as I'm certain the demand is there. No, it isn't immersion, but at least it's an introduction to a language. My daughter's school (Creative Arts) offers Mandarin for K thru 8th graders after school.