Bright flight

To compete with private and charter schools, Phoenix’s school district wants to start small high schools for untroubled, academically successful students. But it will take a tax increase to fund the plan to combat “bright flight.”

About Joanne


  1. Tracking! Tracking!

    And not concentrating all resources on the kids at the bottom of the heap!

    If they can just keep the diversity monster out of it, this has potential.

  2. Several states have public (boarding) high schools for the top…I know South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Illinois have them. The first of its kind, the North Carolina School of Science and Math has been operating since 1980; it’s only 2 years and has 550 students total from the entire state, but it has done very well and is officially part of the University of North Carolina system. I graduated NCSSM in 1992.

    Not only did it give academic opportunities to those from the poorer counties (there’s a quota per congressional district, so the rich counties around Raleigh and Charlotte don’t dominate — you have to take tests, including the SAT, and apply to get in), but it did save the psyches of many disaffected kids. For many, it was the first time in their life they got to be among their peers. Everything was paid for — no tuition, no room & board fees, no activity fees (though I think they’re changing that last thing).

    Private school wasn’t an option for most of us there — our families couldn’t afford it. Many of my friends at NCSSM came from foster families that were receiving public assistance. This shouldn’t be about trying to keep kids in the system that can escape to other places, because their families have the money — they have those choices. There are kids who could achieve so much more, but are imprisoned in the uniform mediocrity of the public school system, are bullied by others for actually being able to think, and are desperately hung onto by school officials who need their high test scores to bring up averages for the schools.

  3. The problem with this sort of thing (or magnet schools in general), is that it tends to contribute to the decay of the non-magnet schools. Tracking within schools is (somewhat) good, although not if it restricts students’ opportunities. For example, anyone who wants to take AP classes should be allowed to try. That was one of the secrets of the Escalante Calculus program at Garfield, or the AP program in Pasadena (I forget the school, but there was a cover story about it in last Sunday’s Parade (you know, the crappy slick national insert for Sunday papers).

    But when you have tracking at a school level, it just contributes to the decay of the bottom of the pack schools (and to a lesser extent middle of the pack schools). If you have any doubt about this, take a tour of a selection of Chicago Public High Schools. Start at Whitney Young and Walter Payton. Then go to Theodore Roosevelt and Lincoln Park, then finish up at Farragutt and Clemente. Students at these latter schools are being denied a good education institutionally. Take the good kids out of the school entirely and the kids lower in the pack have no idea that it’s even possible to do those things. You end up with entier schools where no one goes to college because no one at their school goes to college, where no one tries to excel academically because no on tries to excel academically. There have to be peers modelling successful behaviors at some level. It’s the same problem with public housing. If everyone you know is unemployed and has never had a job, the idea of getting a job is going to be a very alien concept (if you have doubts about that, consider this: I’m guessing that if you’re reading this, you do not know anyone on welfare or living in public housing. Can you imagine yourself going on welfare or living in public housing? It’s probably difficult, because you don’t really know what that means aside from what you hear in the media.

    By all means resources should be dedicated to untroubled, successful students. Anyone who argues otherwise is a fool. But beware of isolating them from the rest of the student body.

    Beware of medical advice from someone who has never practiced medicine. Beware of military planning from someone who has never been involved in a war.
    And beware of educational ideas from someone who has never stood in front of a classroom.

  4. Why is it bad to put excellent students into a school where they are not dragged down by the unmovtivated students who disrupt classes?

    Why is it that the educational establishment is dead-set against any new idea that it didn’t come up with?

  5. If I read correctly, Phoenix wants to lure children who have are will leave for private schools back to the public school. That is, they want to use public school money for kids who have already found alternatives. Seems odd to me.

  6. Richard Cook says:

    It’s not the job of bright kids to bring the school up, down, or sideways. Their job is to learn. I really, really do not like policies that tack on such things as bring the school up, tutor their “less fortunate” classmates, etc, etc.

  7. Hunter McDaniel says:

    These kids have just as much right to a public education which is appropriate to their needs as any other children. The fact that they have left a public school system that was ignoring them is no excuse for continuing to ignore their needs.

    As usual, however, the public school establishment wants a tax increase so they can add something which should be part of their basic mission. It doesn’t cost more money to serve academically successful students. It only requires that we stop doing all the things which hold them down. Stop letting the kids who don’t give a s*** disrupt the education of those who do. Stop holding everyone to a dumbed-down one-size-fits-all curriculum. Stop using the better students as unpaid tutors. Stop hiring teachers who don’t understand the subjects they are teaching.

    Most of these changes would benefit academically average students as well. And I prefer that schools make their most challenging curricula available to anyone motivated to try, so long as they don’t lower standards in the process.

    If we can do all that in a common setting, then fine. If not, don’t expect me to sacrifice my child for the abstract objective of keeping everyone in the same building.

  8. John from OK says:

    $8500 per child already (nationawide), and they ask for another tax increase.

  9. “By all means resources should be dedicated to untroubled, successful students. Anyone who argues otherwise is a fool. But beware of isolating them from the rest of the student body.”

    The problem is that the families of untroubled, successful students already vote with their feet as best they can by sending their kids to schools better suited to their needs. In practical terms, that means that middle class parents reside, when possible, in better school districts, or pay for private schools. They do so in order to improve educational opportunities for their children: they understand that classrooms relatively free of low performing students are better for their kids. Hunter McDaniel is right: low functioning students (as well as disruptive ones) do NOT contribute in a positive way to the education of their fellow, average or gifted, classmates. Right now, resources, especially teacher time, by necessity, are disproportionately devoted to poorer performing students. In my experience, many educators believe that successful students will “be fine,” “adapt”, or can “do it themselves” whether or not classroom content (and behavior) is geared to meet their needs. The situation is even worse for high-performing students. I don’t know if it’s been analyzed (or if it’s even possible to do so) but I suspect that more dollars within individual schools are often directed to lower performing students – if so, the system is directly short-changing the majority of its students.

    Research does indicate that a ‘critical mass’ of better performing, middle class students, can create a school environment where lower performing students improve. Nevertheless, it’s fair to ask why average and/or above average students should be required to suffer so that the system can better serve low performers. This position, in effect, robs Peter to pay Paul. There are other, ideologically fraught possibilites – tracking is certainly one.

  10. PJ/Maryland says:

    I agree with j.c., this seems a bit bizarre. Why should Phoenix citizens pay more in taxes to lure students back into the public school system?

    I can see that the school system would like to get them back, because it looks bad that students are choosing to pay for private/parochial schools rather than take the free (free! free!) schooling offered at the public schools. And parents who are paying private school tuition would probably like to get the same schooling for free.

    But apart from these two small groups, nobody benefits. Taxpayers pay more (note the silly math: your school district is going to borrow $265 million, but you’ll only have to pay $50 over the next seven years!), and existing students will be unaffected (well, I suppose a few might get into these new, smaller schools).

  11. I look on this as an attempt to take back the public schools. Academically successful doesn’t necessarily mean the top group. I interpret this to mean kids who do their homework, study for tests, and pass their courses. This kind of academic performance, coupled with satisfactory conduct and attendance, is something any average kid can shoot for, and these are the kids the system ought to be “about”. In fact, this plan appears to me to support Joanne’s idea that competition would force improvement in the public schools better than anything I’ve seen yet.

  12. It sounds as if this proposal is an attempt to lure back the families who are presently sending their kids to private and parochial schools. The hardest thing for a school system to combat is a bad reputation. Vito, you mention that in certain public schools in Chicago, “(s)tudents at these latter schools are being denied a good education institutionally.” I would wager any amount of money that the parents who send their children out of the system know this, and act accordingly. A bad reputation reinforces itself, as well. Parents who have left the system don’t return, if they can possibly afford it. Parents new to town may very well choose to send their children elsewhere from the outset, when the local schools are generally perceived to be poor.

    The schools need to combat the bad reputation, if they can. The best way would be to improve the schools in fact, not in press releases. Think how devastating it is for the schools to admit, in effect, “if your child is an able student, you send him (or her) out of our system.”

    Any individual student does not have the duty to be a peer model to others. Parents are responsible for their children?s future, and they must decide. Peer modeling must work both ways, if it happens at all. What of the average student who decides to follow the example of the kids who don?t do the homework? Or the girl who decides to dress and behave more mature than she is, because she sees other girls behave that way? Or the student who decides to join a gang, because all the cool kids in his school seem to be in gangs?

  13. Vito’s comments seem to suggest that because there is a perceived need for a critical mass of engaged and successful students to provide role models for the rest of the little savages, that we should ‘draft’ these successful students by denying them the option of a way out of the quagmire that they find themselves in. Once again, those who commit the crime of success find themselves drafted into the losing ware of the PC left. Why not try this…all teachers, administrators and staff employed at a school MUST send their children there. These students would bring a strong sense of committment to the school, and they would most likely be highly desirable role models…

    Lets see if the teachers unions (whose members send their kids to private schools in far higher percentages than the population at large) will embrace that idea…

  14. Walter E. Wallis says:

    The ineducable profit from the educatable, in that someone has to keep the welfare checks coming, the water and electricity flowing and the groceries full. I used to envy the English Z students who openly read funny books in class.

  15. jeff wright says:

    Hear that sound? It’s the dam cracking. Here is a school bureaucracy that’s finally admitting failure. I predict a construction boom in the Phoenix area because four schools won’t be nearly enough. Wait until this idea catches on across the country. $7 per $100K in assessed value? Chump change. Sure, it’s extortion, but it’s cheap extortion. I’d pay it in a heartbeat, just for the pleasure of putting a dagger into the hearts of those who want good kids to serve as auxiliary teachers or keep themselves amused while those paid to educate them are doing other, more important things.

    Vito voices the classic liberal argument in favor of the existing non-choice school racket and I guess there is some truth to it. However, the price to the students who have to pay for this feel-good gesture is just too high. Every kid who’s adversely affected by a rotten school has been betrayed and it’s high time society recognized that. I would be more sympathetic to Vito’s argument were it not for the fact that the politicians who are most vocal about the glories of the public schools—the Jacksons, the Kennedys, etc.—often tend to eschew sending their own kids to those schools. Funny thing that, eh?

    This is one step, albeit imperfect, in the direction of potentially significant reform. I’m not heartless: I worry about the fate of the kids left behind, but it’s my sense that the ethical problems inherent in asking good kids to pay for the failures of parents and society are just too great.

  16. It’s a tought choice, and perhaps the most fundamental one that has to be made about the educational system. What percentage of students do you fundamentally sacrifice as not worth the cost. (Where cost includes the cost to other children’s education…)

    It doesn’t help that given the racial divisions in performance, we all know who the great majority of the sacrificed will be…

    The next decision is at what age do we give up on them? For how many years do we make the more able children bear the cost for the possibility that some of the less able may be able to transcend their expected performance path?

    And finally, just what do we do with them? I think that it is pretty obvious that a classroom consisting entirely of the “uneducatable” is not teachable in any real sense. Teachers face an enormous challenge when there are only a few in a class. At 100%, there’s no possibility of education taking place. Do we let them go so as not to waste their time and our money?

    Difficult questions all. I’m glad we’re not at that point in Ontario.

  17. I must be dense, but I don’t see how this solves the “bright flight” problem. It would seem to make it worse because even more of the educatable will flee the main line school for these satellite schools. All the discussion here about the moral issues in grouping better scholars with lesser to improve the latter is completely pointless since the better scholars will still be segrated from the “masses”, it’ll just be on the district’s tab instead of the parents.

  18. jeff wright says:

    Annoying Old Guy: You’re not dense. This does nothing to solve “bright flight.” In fact, it accelerates it and puts a governmental imprimatur on it. What it means is that a school district has decided it wants to stay in the game. “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

    Tom West: I have no real answers for you. It may be that paring certain schools down to only the hardcore could work to those kids’ advantage, if qualified, no-nonsense educators are present. Many behavioral problems now stem from frustration on the part of kids who can’t keep up. Maybe an environment where teachers can focus on their specific needs would help. It may also be that this threat will prod bad schools to shape up.

    It won’t be easy, but the many can’t keep suffering for the few.

  19. Scott, you slay me. Haven’t you ever heard of the old saw that it’s the cobbler’s children who have no shoes? Teachers’ kids are no better or worse than any other student.

    I think the logical culmination of these ideas is a two-tier system, much like the Europeans have. You track the lower performing and troubled kids into vocational schooling after 8th grade. Only the bright students go on to 4 years of college prep work. I don’t know that their system works any better than ours in the long run; it just has different problems.

  20. jeff wright says:

    Rita, I think you missed the intent of Scott’s post. Actually, I kind of liked his (I think) tongue-in-cheek idea. If it is true that teachers send their children to private schools in higher percentages—and I’ve heard this before—that means they trust the public schools about as much as the rest of us. Although they may be guilty of hypocrisy, we can’t really fault them for taking care of their own—although we can legitimately ask why they fault us for wanting to take care of our own.

    It seems to me that if Mr or Ms Administrator/Teacher all of a sudden had to contemplate having his kid endure Wile E. Coyote Middle School for the next three years, that individual just might come up with some innovative ways to improve the school’s educational climate. If for no other reason than to keep his/her spouse off his/her back. I know I would. And I know I would be a little more thoughtful when it came to buying into the latest educational fad.

    Rita, you may be right about moving into the Euro two-tier system, but I suggest caution. Things apparently are not going swimmingly in European schools and they are going through some soul-searching of their own. Another very real consideration is that the two-tier idea has many of the hallmarks of a caste system, something we in this country have rejected. This is whence things such as affirmative action spring. The problem with AA is that we made it diversity (read race and ethnicity)-based instead of where it should be: assistance to qualified folks—color immaterial—who can make a contribution to the greater society, but can’t afford higher education. With the strongest possible emphasis on “qualified” and “contribution.”

    I don’t want to see a system where kids’ entire futures are determined by the time they’re 13-years-old. It’s un-American and it’s stupid. I don’t see where the Euros are such bright, shining stars that we should just throw our system out in favor of theirs. I believe strongly in universal education and I think we can fix our ails. It just takes will. I hope this idea in Phoenix catches on. Along with vouchers and the concomitant competition, I think we might see some significant change. At least we can then say that those who didn’t make it got a fair chance and self-selected themselves into the loser pool.

  21. Jeff — I intentionally transferred my kid into the school district in which I work (but I still joke that I’m home schooling when she hits middle school). My neighbors, who are teachers, send their kids to the local Catholic school, though. I don’t know how their thinking is different than mine.

    In regards to the Euro system of schooling, I was just commenting on the logical result of this discussion of sending the smart kids to different schools to get them away from the icky kids. That’s essentially what’s being proposed. I’m not a supporter of the idea. You’re absolutely right in pointing out its deficiencies and essentially undemocratic nature. The Euros don’t have all the answers, just different problems. Our system has some real strengths — the most important one, in my opinion, being that the worst student can suddenly wake up one day and opt back into the system. He’s have to work his ass off, but the system does not cut off that option. My fourth-year sophomores, should they decide to pay attention to their education some day, could get GED’s and go to a community college. The Euro system doesn’t allow for that.

  22. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Give a child as much education as the child can make use of, and give the child as much freedom as the teacher can tolerate.

  23. I think this discussion now approaches territory which the article itself does not warrant. In the article, the writer notes that the school system hopes that the new, smaller schools will draw students into the system. The system, as it now stands, IS stratified. It is not a question of producing divisions in educational choices; those divisions exist. Looking to the future, I would rather see a public school system which could serve students of all ability levels. I am uncomfortable at the prospect of a country in which the doctors and lawyers have never set foot in a public school, and have contempt for public education.

    If Phoenix manages to build these schools, and they are perceived to be well run, these schools could offer hope to kids who don’t have the means to attend private or parochial schools. A student in the middle of the class may be capable of working harder, if he knows he could attain a spot at one of these high schools.

    The European system has strengths as well as flaws. Their vocational track is more strenuous than ours, and their degrees do translate directly into marketable skills. The systems are more flexible than they might seem at first. In Germany, for example, those students who do not attend Gymnasium, and who do not pass the Abitur, can attend night school, and study for the Abitur and a place at university. It is much harder to do this while juggling a job and family obligations, but it is possible.

  24. dave'swife says:

    We have four sons, all gifted and all ADD. what fun. We have serious problems w/ the schools here in NC and maybe I’ll get an opportunity to address those later this morning. However, for this post, I want to share my experience w/ the German schools. We were stationed there for 2 1/2 years. We were lucky in that military housing was full so we were able to live on the economy, as they say. We lived in a tiny village about 12 klicks out of Frankfurt. Two neighbor girls became part of our family- babysitting and such and we became a close neighborhood. The girls were 12 and 9, the same age as two of my nieces back home. The 12 year old was fluent in French, damn near fluent in English (spoken w/ a slight British accent) and was begining her second semester of Spanish when we moved in across the street. The 9 year old was doing well w/ her French course and her English was good. We asked them to sit w/ our young sons and paid them by allowing them to raid our fridge. Hey, that was what they really wanted, so don’t send nasty letters about child abuse. They loved Doritos and Cokes. They spent many hours at our house, playing w/ our little ones (ages 3 1/2 and 1.) They had the run of the house, could borrow any music cd’s, any books at all and raid the fridge. They read Dr Suess and Berenstein Bears to the boys, loved Eric Clapton. This benefitted the boys greatly, they loved to be read to. It helped the girls b/c they could practice their spoken English by reading to a child who couldn’t have cared less that they may have faltered in their pronouciation here and there. I couldn’t help but compare their language skills to that of my nieces back home. Most American schools, at that time, did nopt begin a serious language course until late middle school and then a student took only one language. These girls carried a full load, their classes were not much different than those of their classmates. They began school by 8 each morning and were home by 1:00 each day. They worked on an A/B rotation schedule. Yet they had plenty of time for their lessons. Maybe it was the school. Maybe it was the girls themselves. We knew most of the children in that little village, they played in our backyard at one time or another, I think. They all spoke English on some level or another and they all volunteered to read to and play with our boys. The boys grew along w/ them and picked up their language also. Now, contrast that w/ my 6th graer who has been given weekly Spanish classes since 1st grade. He knows all the colors, shapes and numbers in Spanish and can say hello and goodbye and ‘my name is …’. He knows all the animals and if he ever needs to say ‘hello, look at that monkey’ in Spanish, well, he’ll do well. Does this make the German school better? No. Does this mean we should shorten our days? No. Are there lessons to be learned or ideas to think about? Most certainly. Will a school administrator here in our town listen to those ideas? It’s been our experience that they won’t. How sad.

  25. PJ/Maryland says:

    Why not try this… all teachers, administrators and staff employed at a school MUST send their children there.

    I like Scott’s idea, but I see a major problem with it. It will discourage teachers and admin staff from agreeing to work at failing schools (already a problem).

    It will also increase the pressure for experienced staff to move from failing schools to better ones within the district. There is already a problem in many systems where newbie teachers are thrown into very difficult classrooms, while more experienced teachers use their seniority to transfer to better schools; knowing that your kids’ education is on the line will just intensify this.

    Maybe something could be done along the lines of “three years after you start working at School X, your kids have to transfer to it”.

  26. People suggest with depressing regularity that a school needs bright students in order to help the not-so-bright students perform better.

    Have these people ever been to school?

    Putting smart, high-performing students together with mediocre students does not bring about any useful results for anyone.

    The actual results are, the smart students come out of the interactions with some (hopefully minor) injuries and a diminshed enthusiasm for performing at the top of their game, while the mediocre students get a few minutes of brutish entertainment in between flunking their classes.

    We should be doing whatever it takes to remove any and all disincintives for top students to perform their best. Generally, that means separating them from the other students that would impose “disincintives” on them for fun.

  27. Jeff, thanks for pointing out to Rita that she missed the point of my post, I apologize for not being ‘here’ to do it myself. I must point out, however, that I wasn’t trying to be funny…I truly believe that it would be a good idea to force those who use our school systems as a source of income (and I phrase it that way deliberately) to live with the consequences of their methods.

    Let me be blunt, I firmly believe that only by taking hostages from the educrat establishment will we ever get them to accept that their lackluster performance has consequences. No doubt this will drive many from the field…tough. No teachers/admins/etc. at all would be better than the worthless timeserving organ-donors (that is all they are good for, and I wouldn’t want their organs either, if it came to that) who infest our existing school system.

    The idea, by the way, was borrowed from a regulation(?) I ran into in DC a few years back requiring DC city employees to live in the city. Now this of course strikes me as weakening my own argument for the effectiveness of the idea (anyone who has ever lived in DC will know what I mean), but the smaller size of most school districts would tend to make it easier for the proposal to work…

  28. jeff wright says:

    Scott, your idea has a great deal of merit, but I really think it’s cart before the horse. In fairness to the teachers, I don’t think very many of them like the current state of affairs. Sure, some are dullards or worse and deserve to be driven out, but I doubt most of them get up in the morning and say, “Gee, I wonder how much I can let little (insert name) get away with in class today, and thus deprive the rest of the kids of their entitlement to an education.” It isn’t that simple. The teachers are stuck with a system foisted upon them by politicians, school districts and administrators (although you’d think some of these principals would wise up and realize how much nicer their lives would be with serious disciplinary policies), none of whom really have to deal up-close-and-personal with the consequences of their feel-good policies.

    Clean up the top tier, then go after the teachers. As it is now, your idea would prompt an exodus of both good and bad teachers. You know, there really are some good teachers out there in those execrable schools. They’re victims, too.

    As one who was personally affected, I agree 100% with Ken’s post regarding the outcome of mixing the bright and the not-so-bright. At no time in one’s life is conformity more important than in the teen years, so what do bright kids do? They dumb down. Critical mass, my foot.

  29. No teachers/admins/etc. at all would be better than the worthless timeserving organ-donors (that is all they are good for, and I wouldn’t want their organs either, if it came to that) who infest our existing school system.

    Good god, how much vitriol can you muster? Is it just teachers, anyone involved in any government enterprise, or just some large proportion of humanity that you consider worthy of extermination?

  30. I didn’t miss the point of your post, Scott.

    Dave’swife — I feel for you. Gifted/LD is the toughest kind of kid to teach, imo. I can only imagine what you’re going through. I think more school districts would be willing to play with language instruction in the earlier grades if there weren’t such a shortage of language teachers to begin with. Those positions go unfilled around here. The poor quality of language instruction in the U.S. sets up the cycle.

  31. PJ/Maryland says:

    I think more school districts would be willing to play with language instruction in the earlier grades if there weren’t such a shortage of language teachers to begin with. Those positions go unfilled around here.

    Of course, if school districts were allowed to pay more for foreign language teachers (or math and science teachers, or especially effective teachers, or teachers willing to teach at failing schools…) those positions might not go unfilled.

  32. Most of the foreign language instruction in German schools is carried out by Germans–that is, the system does not place a premium on native speakers. As a matter of fact, a non-German teacher will find it difficult to work as an instructor in Germany. The U.S. could be hobbled by a general lack of foreign language proficiency on the part of the administrators. Those Germans who are allowed to attend University have studied English; therefore, all the headmasters of German schools can get a fair idea of a prospective hire’s English language ability in an interview.

    I know that our school system believes that a native speaker of a foreign language has an advantage over other applicants, but isn’t it possible that a non-native speaker can be just as effective (or more effective) teaching beginning students? That is, rather than holding out for a native speaker, schools should look for a qualified candidate who has strong teaching skills?

  33. jeff wright says:

    How did we get to foreign language instruction? That’s the least of our schools’ problems, unless English is now considered a foreign language in American schools. Wait a minute….

    I posted earlier that Euros don’t have all the answers. In the case of the Germans and other European countries, there are three factors at play: (1) they learn English from the get-go, because, in case no one’s heard, English is the dominant language in the world; (2) European labor laws rarely permit the hiring of a foreigner; and, (3) they are arrogant and believe that they can do it every bit as well as we heathen Americans, thank you very much. Check Asia. I have a number of adventurous friends who are kicking around in Thailand, Taiwan, Korea and other countries making decent money (by local standards) teaching English. Asians typically insist on a native speaker.

    As a two-time graduate of U.S. Government year-long full immersion courses in foreign languages (Korean and German), I know our government insists that those who need to really get a foreign language (for example, a person with a degree in German will ordinarily still have to go through the course) learn from a native speaker. There is a lot of history behind this and a lot of justification. And I agree with it. As a college-educated native English speaker (and academic qualifications other than the language are very important) who had Germans working for him and who was routinely mistaken for a German when I lived in that country, I believe I could have given German students something they would never have gotten from Herr Schmidt, no matter how hard he tried or how long he’d studied English. That’s just the way it is.

    And how in the world would a German headmaster whose primary language is German really be able to evaluate the English skills of another person whose primary language is German?

  34. Julia, I don’t see schools insisting on native speakers. Our Latin teacher isn’t a native speaker, for example :).

  35. Anonymous says:

    I don’t think I got my point across. Yes, the girls were ahead on language courses. Yes, their English was wonderful. The instructors were not German. Nor were they Americans. They were Brits. But my main point was that they have accomplished all the learning in half the time our students do- they began school by 8 and they were home by 1. They didn’t get OUT of school at 1, they were HOME by 1. 4 1/2 hours of instruction compared to our what, uh, 6 1/2? The girls ate lunch when they got home, shave 30 min off the schedule. Plus they had been taking a serious language course from the start. They didn’t learn colors and animals and how to say bus or truck. Let’s look at that again- shorter hours, more courses, no lunch time,. And still they learn more? Not just those 2 young girls. It was like that in the whole village. There was only one small school. Yes, I know the language of the world is English and other countries want to learn it, but Nicole was 12 yrs old and spoke fluent French, was all but fluent in English and starting to learn Spanish. I was once informed that learning Spanish after French was easy as they are so alike. I have no idea. The only things I remember from high school French class are days of the week, colors and greetings.
    Look, I know there’s so much difference btw Euro schools and what we call schools here. The point I was trying to make is that what we have is not working. After battling admins since my elsest started in 1986, I can more than attest to that. Why can’t we look at other countries, other alternatives? I’m not saying we should all learn German and close the local businesses from 12 – 1 each day to go home for lunch. Casting the line around for viable options couldn’t hurt. Might even help. The problem is that -at least at the schools we know about- nobody is interested.
    Anybody wanna hear about my Polish daughter-in-law? She speaks 5 languages and…..

  36. Rita: hee hee. 🙂
    Jeff Wright: Undoubtedly, if fluency and purity of accent is paramount, immersion in a foreign language, taught by native speakers, is the way to go. No question. The question is, however, how can local schools, on a large scale, offer effective language instruction? And should the goal be to speak French “like a native,” or should the schools settle for a base in grammar and vocabulary, upon which further study can build?

    And whom should the schools choose as instructors? We have a German friend who is studying to become an elementary school teacher. She needs to prove a firm grasp of English, because she will be expected to teach English to her students, along with reading, math, science, etc. On our side of the Atlantic, a Frenchwoman, for example, who wished to teach French to middle schoolers might find it difficult to get a green card. How should a U.S. principal, who learned Latin and French in college, decide between two candidates for the same position as a Spanish teacher?

    Very few of the Germans whom I have met, or heard speak, speak without an accent in English; however, compared to the U.S., the general knowledge of English (as a foreign language) in the German population is impressive.

    Dave’s wife: yes, the school day is shorter, but the schools also don’t try to do as much for their students. They concentrate on academics. They also do more work at home, and I believe it is still the case that schools have classes on Saturdays, as well. The prospect of being thrown off the academic course at the age of 11 also raises the stakes for the kids, and gives the parents a strong incentive to make certain the kids study.

    I am not trying to say that the German model is the one to choose! They select a very small percentage of their students to attend the Gymnasium and then University. A Spiegel article some time ago outlined the relative amounts spent on the academic high schools, in comparison to the other high schools; to my American eyes, the amount was immorally large.

  37. jeff wright says:

    If the most pressing issue our schools had to deal with it was the nature and quality of foreign language instruction, I’d feel a whole lot better. We’re talking about a whole generation of kids who can’t read and write English, for pete’s sake. And the teachers who are seemingly unable to teach other subjects appropriate for American kids, namely math, history and government, to name just a few. The reality is that one can lead a very good life in this country without going near a foreign language—provided one has a grasp of the core academics. Yeah, vacations in Europe might not be as much fun, but the point is to get kids to the point where they can afford such vacations.

    BTW, I am a credentialed English as a Second Language teacher. I know one teacher, nice lady, European immigrant, whose English (Brit style) is awfully good—to me, the native English speaker who also has a European language (not hers). Students—predominantly Latino and Asian—often have a hard time following her. Pronunciation is the issue. With beginners, one must literally sound out the alphabet and drill a lot on pronunciation. This lady would not have serious problems with advanced students, but IMO, beginners need the native speaker in order to lay the foundation.