Monday, June 2, 2014

PPS foreign language options shrinking

On another post Anonymous wrote:

"nonymous has left a new comment on your post "Domestic partner benefits":

OMG! This article tells a sad, sad story; but SPINS it as an “expansion” . . .

Foreign language clubs expand students' horizons during lunch BUT, PPS is ELIMINATING Foreign Languages across schools and grades . . .

"Like most elementary schools in the city, Pittsburgh Concord K-5 in Carrick doesn't have time or money for world language instruction.
It uses ingenuity to help children learn a language.

Marty Abbott, executive director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, said research shows an early start on language learning is valuable.
She said learning a second language "is actually working a different part of the brain than the native language. When the brain gets that kind of a workout, it develops a lot more flexibility and ability to function in a better way."
She said learning another language can boost reading and math scores, enhance students' openness to other cultures; and develop skills necessary for an international economy. However, she said some districts across the nation are cutting language programs in elementary schools as they face difficult budgets and staffing.
"We're going to be left behind if we don't start raising our children to be ready for this global environment in which they're going to live and work," she said. . . .
As Pittsburgh Public Schools has expanded time spent on English language arts, math and other core subjects, opportunities for students to learn a world language have shrunk.
Marsha Plotkin, curriculum supervisor for world languages, said more cuts are expected this fall.
Pittsburgh Sterrett 6-8 in Point Breeze won't offer any world languages although, as a classical academy, it used to offer a Latin-based course as well as French and Spanish.
Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12 in Downtown plans to eliminate Spanish in grades 6-8, the only world language offered this year in those grades at that school.
Pittsburgh South Brook 6-8 in Brookline plans to discontinue its Spanish classes this fall.
This school year, most K-8 and 6-8 schools in Pittsburgh Public Schools do NOT offer a world language. Only Colfax K-8 in Squirrel Hill offers it in the elementary grades, with Spanish beginning in grade 3.
Among K-5 schools, only five have a world language class. Four of them are world language magnet schools; the fifth, Allegheny K-5 on the North Side, a traditional academy magnet, started Spanish this school year and plans to continue it in the fall.
Not counting the upcoming reductions, in recent years, 17 schools -- K-5, K-8 and 6-8 -- have ELIMINATED world languages, the result of tight schedules, reduced budgets and limited supply for world language teachers for part-time positions

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Questioner said...

On foreign languages, PPS is waving a white flag to surrender. Not just PPS but most schools had a really hard time teaching languages effectively. When asked about the French they took, for example, most adults will say they remember little- about as much as they might learn in a lunchtime club! At the same time, other countries manage to teach English fairly effectively. And private schools are using foreign language as a way to justify the cost of private schooling. Rather than take advantage of new tools for language learning made possible by technological advances, PPS is likely to cut and cut those areas not mandated and measured by the state.

Anonymous said...

Yes, and if they had researchers, PPS would know that cutting everything but Reading and Math (because they are measured) leads to the rapidly deteriorating capacity of children's minds to learn reading and math; THUS, the equally rapid decline of the reading and math scores that they claim to value.

The lack of Central Office administrators' ability to think logically, practically, philosophically, psychologically, and creatively would seem to indicate that they too lacked mind-expanding opportunities such as foreign language, arts, music, and a host of extracurricular activities when they were in school.

Without rich and expanded learning opportunities, math and reading have no context for real life application and meaning, and therefore the sought -after scores will continue to fall rather than rise.

True EDUCATORs KNOW THIS! So, what is the problem? Hmmmmmmmm

Anonymous said...

Questioner, your last sentence says it all. PPS has little interest in what students want, or need.

It's all about doing well on the state tests. Because if scores improve, central administrators receive bonuses. And they are able to pad their resumes for future jobs.

Back in the pre-Roosevelt days, we teachers would discuss things like: What's a better why to get this math topic across to our students? How can we increase student understanding of this science topic?

Now it's all about: How can we raise district test scores?

Students have gone from being the focus of the district to being just pawns of the district.

Anonymous said...

8:16, yes, but, yes, but, yes, but, please read 7:52 and the article. PPS is getting the opposite result!

Scores are falling, falling, falling, because cutting everything but reading and math is lowering the scores in reading and math for many, many, many reasons.

Readers, Central Office people, please do not miss the point here!

Questioner said...

The lack of good foreign language options at most 6-8 schools may be used as a selling point for the Obama IB program- ie, a school that allows a focus on a foreign language, the same way that CAPA allows a focus on an art form or sci tech allows a focus on science. Of course, the "focus" on a language used to come standard in every school. And not enough 6-8 IB students continue on to fill the 9-12 IB program; students from other PPS schools must be added as well, and that raises an issue. Does PPS disclose that for students entering at grade 9 without a foreign language background, it will be very difficult to have a realistic shot at an IB diploma. It has been done, but students need to be very motivated to play catch up when many are already trying to catch up in English and math. The "inability of the district to afford elementary and middle school world language instruction" may be offered as a reason for scaling back the IB program.

Anonymous said...

This is the same outfit that "found" $26 million last fall. Just where is the effort to make our students "world class?"
Let's face it, Linda Lane is much more concerned with keeping her administration intact than in funding worthwhile programs for the students. This is a clear example of a district that has its priorities out of whack. Save your people who aren't in the classroom and especially save those shoe work on the claptrap which IS RISE, rather than care for the kids.
This is an administration that has placed all of its eggs in the basket of philanthropists who know nothing about education and children but instead have a strategic agenda.

The lack of courage in people like Lane is chilling. While Roosevelt was nothing more than a carpetbagger who sold his integrity for Gates dollars, we are now faced with individuals who are more concerned with saving face at all costs than admitting complete failure.

Anonymous said...

It's really a question of equity. Look at who has a decent foreign language program and who doesn't. Prep and Westinghouse? Few options. Alderdice? Lots of options. Same song, different verse.

The middle schools in this district used to all have French and Spanish at least. Some had more. NCLB pushed foreign languages out to make room for more reading and math time --- but our scores have gone down anyway.

It's time to take a different approach. Make middle school the enriching experience it used to be: foreign languages, music, art, home ec, better options for gym (yoga?). All of these "related arts" involve reading and many involve math.

Anonymous said...

Yes, 12:15 as has been said over and over on this blog, narrowing the curriculum to Reading and Math, 'shrinks' minds. It does not expand them. NCLB didn't do this, however, it is so-called educators/administrators/whatever that didn't understand that more drill and practice on irrelevant reading and math lessons have the opposite effect. It does NOT improve skills, as we have known forever.

If we took the time to understand that the "standards" Common Core or PA Core are "thinking skills" that must be taught in real-life, practical, culturally-congruent, interesting and engaging ways whether through every-day situations, problem-solving, creative, relevant projects, internships, or through quality textual materials. Drill and kill squelches all interest and motivation-- and its simply unbelievable that we still don't get it!

Its is not the "Standards" that are the problem but how they are taught and mastered by students who have opportunities to acquire the standards/skills in ways that advance their goals. Assessments and practice materials are BIG BUSINESS and are created to make BIG MONEY.
Good teachers and educators do NOT need either to teach standards-based thinking skills!

How to we get those responsible for "education" to understand how to effective and successful in doing the work?

Anonymous said...

it wasn't all that many years ago that there was talk about infusing the art and music and elective classes with math and language arts lessons. what happened to those ideas? i know i did not dream this and it was discussed at length at many district level parent meetings. we were convinced that this could be done. a similar approach must exist to include LA lessons at least in foreign language.

Anonymous said...


You are correct. I'm a PPS teacher, and there was a move to infuse the music and elective classes with math and English (and don't recall the language part, but it might have present as well).

As a math/science teacher, I was very uncomfortable with the idea. That's because the music and elective teachers were being forced to artificially modify their lessons. Music teachers should teach music, and elective teachers should teach their electives. Any math or English connection should come naturally.

We math/science teachers faced the same problem. We were told to infuse our classes with the English language arts. Trust me, I'm no expert in that field. So my attempts were probably minimally successful, at best.

Plus, it took valuable time away from my core instruction.

The whole idea was silly, counterproductive, and demoralizing.

And one final thought. Math, science, and English are all important subjects. But music and the electives are no less important.

Many of my best science students were in the band. The electives do more than make well-rounded students. They motivate students!

Anonymous said...

12:38 - It needn't, in fact shouldn't be an artificial infusion. It could and should be natural and completely relevant connection to the "thinking skills" that are teachable moments in every content area! A significant part of the problem is that teachers of "other" content or skills areas do not have a clue about what the standards are nor how they apply quite naturally to all situation, including what they teach. Unfortunately, they are ignorant of the connections so they cannot assist children in seeing how "thinking skills" are applicable across subjects, content, arts, music, drama, phys ed, foreign language, extra-curricular and, in fact, ALL SITUATIONS BEYOND SCHOOLS.

Anonymous said...

I find this all interesting. Teachers not knowing how to infuse language arts, math skills and real life situations. What is happenenig on professional development days? I would think that this was being discussed and how to apply all standards in their fields. What happens on those days?

Anonymous said...

What happens is were told about the new changes to the rise process, what evidence we will be required to provide and what nee paperwork that will involve. Many teachers, most I would even say, know how to make connections to other disciplines and infuse real life content into lessons. We could benefit from having real time to collaborTe and work on this but more often than not that is not what is happening. What I think of as the real purpose of education, equipping students with meaningful skills and knowledge and fostering an appreciation for learning that is not confined to the classroom, is under attack in many ways. There is a real obsession with testing and scores. Preparing students for a standardized test is not synonymous with preparing them for a successful or fulfilling life. It does not necessarily mean that they are even receiving a quality education. In practice teachers are being pushed to teach to the test, to narrow the focus to a pin point in the desperate hope that scores will go up. The reality is that the quality of their education is going down. And scores are going down. Why? One reason is that this is not a good practice. Beating them over the head with the tested material is not helping and it is sucking the joy out of learning. Standardized tests are not the only or best predictor of success. We need to stop being a slave to them. The only thing it is doing is compromising students education while lining the pockets of testing companies and all of the off shoot companies created by this craze. It's really way past time to stop the insanity. If only because it clearly isn't working.SCORES ARE GOING DOWN.

Anonymous said...

8:35, I'm the 12:38 poster. You are missing the point. It's not that teachers don't know how to infuse language arts, etc. into their own curriculum.

It's that the infusion must be done in a sensible manner. As a science teacher I, of course, want my students to read for understanding. And I guide them on how to do that.

And I am more than competent to do so.

But the problem is that I have no freedom to pick how and when to include this in my classes. Those decisions are being made by people who are not science teachers.

Let me give you an example. In many science word problems, there is information that is just not relevant to the solution. So I teach my students how to sort out information. That is a valuable technique.

But the infusion lessons I'm forced to teach are more like "identify the main topic, and then the subtopics". That's usually not the way a scientist looks at a problem, and it's not the way I was trained.

The result is artificial and wasteful.