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    Spanish as the primary language of instruction…in California?

    I have been subbing in a small, rural school district with demographics reminiscent of the inner city, though less diverse. The student body is predominantly poor and Hispanic.

    At the elementary school, they use what is called a “Dual Language Immersion Program.” It’s not exactly “dual”, however, when you consider that the vast majority of the school day is spent learning Spanish and academic subjects in Spanish.

    For example, kindergarten students will spend about 90% of the school day using Spanish for their academic subjects and 10% of the school day using English. In 1st grade the ratio of Spanish to English becomes about 80/20; 2nd grade is 70/30; 3rd grade is 60/40; 4th grade is 50/50. It’s unclear what will happen in 5th grade as the program has not yet been implemented at that grade level.

    To be completely honest, I find this model ridiculous. Why would you take such young students–students who have the opportunity and advantage of learning English from the get-go–and train them in Spanish instead of English? It does not make any sense to me. Advocates in the school district claim that it takes many years to become fluent in English, so this instructional model makes for a smoother transition. I think when you are five years old you can soak up English like a sponge, so spending 90% of the school day in Spanish is counterproductive.

    Parents in the district choose whether they want their child in the “English Only” program or the “Dual Language” program. What truly baffles me is when white parents put their children in the “Dual Language” program here. I know they are hoping that their kids will be fluent in two languages, which is a great ambition, but I think the method is unsound and so the result is that their kids end up inadequate in both languages. Think about it: If your primary language is English and you are spending 90% of the school day learning Spanish in kindergarten, when will you learn English phonics, math vocabulary in English, writing in English?

    I think this is also a case of what happens when educators have “great ideas” and use parents and students as guinea pigs. Parents generally have a lot of faith in educators so when the dual language program is excitedly presented to them by a teacher or administrator, they tend to go along with it and decide to give it a try. Years later when their child’s understanding of English is far below grade level, they may or may not realize their optimism was misguided.

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