After years of criticism from those who don’t get their top choices and others who prefer that their children have a secure spot at a neighborhood school, the San Francisco Unified School District has bowed to the pressure to redesign their controversial lottery system. The new system, which places a higher priority on neighborhood schools at all levels, while still offering families some choice, was revealed on August 18–along with the proposal for which elementary schools will feed into which middle schools. Traffic on immersion parent email lists has been quite busy lately, and most of these parents are less than thrilled with the district’s proposals.
In a nutshell, the district plans to relocate established programs at some middle schools while establishing new immersion programs at underperforming schools and spreading the programs across a wider geographic area. It’s complicated, to say the least, and it also raises the question for many families of whether or not to continue immersion beyond 5th grade.
According to the traditional plan for immersion, middle school instruction is reduced to two classes per day taught in the target language: a language arts class and social studies. It is assumed that immersion students who have been in a K-5 program have a strong foundation in both languages by this point, but in order to maintain high-level competency and academic skills in the target language, instruction must continue, just as it does in the dominant language, in this case English. In high school, kids who have steadily followed a K-8 immersion track are eligible to take Advance Placement and 300-level college courses in the target language, exempting them from language requirements when they enroll in college and in many cases giving them a head-start on credits toward their bachelor’s degrees.
But by the time a child is 11 or 12 years old, language immersion is not the only factor to consider when choosing a school. Consider this post on the SF Advocates for Multilingual Education list recently:
Middle school starts being less about the parents’ choice and more about the kids’ choice. We ended up going with immersion for middle school, but other factors we considered included:
- GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) designation: Our child was identified for GATE. Did we want to push for a school with GATE programming in place even if it wasn’t optimal for furthering her Spanish?
-Music and other extracurriculars: Our kid loved the flute and had a talent for it. Alas, the immersion school did not have a band where she could continue–and we had just finished paying off the flute we bought on an installment plan!
-Transportation: Whether or not your kid can ride public transit or walk home can affect choice. We ruled out one high-performing school in part because of location, though it did have a great band!
-After school programming: The ASP our daughter had attended since 1st grade had been a walk-to Boys & Girls Club, but a middle school far away made that no longer feasible. We considered yet another school because of its proximity to the same B&G Club where she would be able to continue in the ASP.
-How the kid is faring in the target language: Our elementary school did not use standards-based report cards at that time, and since no testing or assessments were done regularly in the target language, I felt VERY unclear in the fall of 5th grade whether this non-native speaker kid was strong enough in the target language to handle the demands of middle school academics. If a kid really is struggling in the target language in early 5th grade, a reasonable parent might want to cut their losses rather than have the kid continue!
-How the kid feels about it: My kid went through a period of being “sick of this” in 4th and early 5th grade but made the decision to continue. I think that was mostly a social decision in that her close friends were almost all continuing immersion at one particular middle school, and she wanted to stay with them. But if a kid’s best friends are going elsewhere, the kid might be better off not being forced to continue immersion if he/she has not really bought into the concept.
What do you think, parents? How does continuing immersion rank as a priority in your middle school preferences? Are there other considerations families need to keep in mind? Leave a comment below!