Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hot topic: Public school language options

This from an SF K Files reader:
Anyone have a good easy list of the language options (whether it be immersion, bbp, enrichment)? I'm wondering, too, about Clarendon's Italian enrichment program; is Italian a useful language to know??


  1. There's a wonderful list that some dedicated volunteers at SF_AME (SF Advocates for Multilingual Excellence) put together on their yahoo group
    You might have to join the group to get access to it.
    Send mail to
    I believe someone was working on updating the list this year, but don't know what became of the project.

  2. If I understand correctly:

    Bilingual Education (BE in the program guide code I believe) is designed to get children who don't speak English at home fluent in English for school. It is NOT intended to teach English speakers another language.

    Immersion (IMM code) is designed to make children fluent in English and a target language (Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese or Korean). These programs combine a balance of target-language speakers and English-speakers in a classroom in which most activities, other than English language instruction, are conducted in the target language.

    BBP (bi-lingual/bicultural programs), offered in Japanese at Clarendon and Rosa Parks, are "language acquisition" programs. Most of the school day is conducted in English, but there is daily instructional time (I believe at least an hour a day at Rosa Parks, don't know about Clarendon) in the target language. The goal is familiarity, not fluency. Children do a number of activities in Japanese, including reading, writing, math, social studies, and music, but they also do those things in English. In contrast, in an immersion classroom , every subject except English is taught in the target language.

    Clarendon's General Ed program includes some Italian enricment, but I think it's just a few sessions a week. In kindergarten when I toured, they were singing and cooking.
    Most other public schools offer language enrichment on an after-school basis, usually Spanish or Chinese.

    Whether Italian is "useful" is a matter of opinion--probably not extremely useful unless you've got a budding opera singer on your hands or you anticipate strong professional or personal ties to Italy. Unlike the "big" romance languages, Spanish and French, it's not spoken all over the world. If I recall correctly, other than a brief foray into Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), the post-Roman Empire Italians were pretty much wash-outs as colonialists. However, most people will tell you that (a) studying any foreign language will give you a better understanding of how languages work and (b)studying one romance language gives you a big leg up learning others. There are some "don't bother unless it's immersion" people out there, but I disagree with that. I think Italian is a lovely language, and after many years of French, fun and relatively easy to learn. The pronunciation is straightforward. Most people enjoy travel in Italy. But no, it's probably not going to give your kid a big advantage in the world of 21st century business to know Italian.

  3. What needs to be offered is Arabic

  4. There are Italian families at Alvarado who decided Spanish was much more useful ;-)

  5. No doubt adding more languages to the district's offerings would prove very popular. Spanish and Chinese are obvious choices for immersion programs given the city's demographics. You need enough target language speakers for the programs to work. It's a big undertaking to launch new immersion programs especially if the available population of target speakers is an unknown variable.

    To even add more BBP programs would be great. Agreed Arabic might be of interest, also Russian and French. Other ideas? My impression of the JBBP programs is that the initiative is taken by parents who want to pass their cultural and linguistic heritage on to their children so I think some parent organization would be required to push the district.

    Sadly, with the budget cuts looming, it looks like just hanging on what the district already has without compromising instructional quality is going to be extremely difficult. It's probably asking too much of the district right now to take on new instructional initiatives.

  6. The following list (11/17/2009) comes from page 5 of the following PDF:

    One-Way Immersion Pathway
    - Alice Fong Yu....................................................... K to 8
    Foreign Language in Elementary School (FLES)
    - Argonne Elementary School (Russian)................. K to 3*
    - Clarendon Elementary School (Italian & Japanese).. K to 5
    - Leonard R. Flynn Elementary School (Spanish)....... K to 1
    - McKinley Elementary School (Spanish).................... K to 5
    - Rosa Parks Elementary School (Japanese)............. K to 5
    Secondary World Language Programs
    Middle Schools
    - Brown, Willie (Spanish)
    - Hoover, Herbert (Japanese)
    - International Studies Academy (Chinese, French, & Spanish)
    - King, Martin Luther Jr. (French)
    - Presidio (Japanese, Spanish)
    - Yu, Alice Fong (Mandarin)
    High Schools
    - Academy of Arts and Sciences (Italian & Spanish)
    - Balboa (Chinese, French & Spanish)
    - Burton (Chinese & Spanish)
    - Galileo (Chinese, French, Italian & Spanish)
    - International Studies Academy (Chinese, French & Spanish)
    - June Jordan (Spanish)
    - Lincoln (Chinese, French, Japanese & Spanish)
    - Lowell (Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Italian,
    Japanese, Korean, Latin & Spanish)
    - Marshall (Chinese, French & Spanish)
    - Mission (Spanish & Chinese)
    - O’Connell (French & Spanish)
    - School of the Arts (Chinese, French, Russian & Spanish)
    - Wallenberg (Chinese & Spanish)
    - Washington (Chinese, French, Japanese & Spanish)
    - Wells (Spanish)
    Note: Chinese in secondary schools is Mandarin unless otherwise specified.

  7. 3:53 back again:

    Sorry for bad editing. The list is on pages four and five of

    Although the pdf is addressed to English Learners, it contains a list ( a description) of all SFUSD language programs.

  8. It's a crime there is no french immersion. There are definitely enough french-speaking kids to have at least one french program.

  9. " There are definitely enough french-speaking kids to have at least one french program."

    I wouldn't think so. You've got only 2.3% of the city claiming French ancestry and only 0.4% Quebecquois, less than those claiming Irish or Italian or German ancestry, plus only a fraction of those claiming French ancestry are going to be French-speaking. Plus, you have two private French Immersion schools, one free to French citizens, drawing off the pool.

    By contrast, in the district, you have 41% Asian (mostly Chinese) and 24% Hispanic. There's no private Spanish immersion in the city after preschool-level, and there's only one private Chinese immersion program. I'd say Tagalog, Vietnamese, German or Russian would get dibs before French.

  10. There is a Russian "BBP" program at Argonne.

  11. I think that there is a lot of interest in a French program, but the two private schools (which aren't free for French citizens) do siphon off a lot of interested families.

  12. German has been dropped from schools all over the U.S. and also from European schools (thinking of England and Sweden in particular) in recent years. 15 years ago Lick-Wilmerding could barely fill its upper level German courses (its since dropped the program), so I doubt there's enough interest in German these days to justify a public school offering. Too bad, it's a wonderful language.