immersion nixed by Shoreline task force


The contentious question of whether Shoreline Unified School District should implement a dual language immersion program appeared to have been laid to rest last week, when a task force convened in 2012 to look at the issue recommended against it at last Thursday’s school board meeting at Tomales High School. 

The opt-in program would have offered a class in which students would entirely be taught in Spanish beginning in first grade, with additional English added progressively until at least fifth grade, in the hopes of achieving bilingualism and biliteracy. 

In a survey released in November that asked parents of kindergarten-age children whether they would like to enroll their child, of 57 respondents with an eligible kid, nearly three-quarters expressed interest. 

But in large part, the demographics were not ideal for launching a program, said Kegan Stedwell, the chair of the task force and a school board trustee. To maximize the approach, a 50-50 split of native Spanish and English speakers is optimal—almost exactly the demographics of the district. But interest among Latino parents was far below what is necessary, Ms. Stedwell said. 

In individual responses to the survey, some Latino parents expressed concern that the immersion Spanish would be taught too informally. “As a Latino, perfect Spanish should be taught,” one parent wrote.

Ms. Stedwell said there was not yet enough data on whether the program would be sustainable beyond the first year. Nine parents did say they would transfer into the district for dual immersion, and one even wrote that she wanted it “because I have a baby on the way.” 

The survey also asked these parents whether they would be willing to bus or drive their child to another location, an obstacle in a large but sparsely populated district. Slightly more than half said they would be willing to use the bus and another quarter said maybe. 

A large contingent of parents worried the program would detract funds from older grades or from those who opted out. One was leery of an “elitist program for those ‘special enough’ to be enrolled. We would rather see the money spent on sustainable after-school programs.” Another worried the teaching quality would diminish if a teacher were prioritized only for being bilingual. “I would like classes to stay regular,” was a common answer. And one parent worried her son learning entirely in Spanish during his early years could potentially prevent her from being involved in his education. 

So, instead, the task force “made recommendations that we think will be achievable and could have profound change,” Ms. Stedwell said. The task force suggested four alternative recommendations: hosting classes for Pre-K children and after-school immersion classes, teaching Spanish together instead of separating into two groups, reviewing methods at other schools in the area and reviewing policies on students’ English language abilities. These could enhance current instruction, while avoiding what one parent deemed an “expensive experiment.” 

One parent said she disagreed with dual immersion, but wrote, “I do believe the task force has raised critical issues that must be addressed in our district… I thank them for that.”