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Bilingual education speaks to the future

November 23, 2012

Public education has changed drastically. Technology, specialized magnet campuses, charter schools, the importance of Advanced Placement courses and standardized student tests — if you graduated even 10 years ago, odds are, you wouldn't recognize your alma mater today.

It has become a field driven by the need to keep pace with the changing times, and a big part of that now involves competition among districts. And key in that race is becoming specialized. In doing so, districts can poach students from outside their boundaries — an important factor in state education funding — and boost their prestige.

Here locally, Glendale Unified has generated significant buzz and attention for its dual-language academies, which in recent years have spread to more campuses and taken on more foreign tongues, offering students the chance to become near-bilingual in French, Italian, German, Spanish, Korean and Armenian by the time they graduate elementary school. And there are discussions about how to expand those academies into secondary schools.

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Burbank Unified, by comparison, has been left in the dust. But that could soon change, with the board of education recently taking steps to introduce a Spanish dual-language immersion program in fall 2013.

Concerns about cost and impact to student performances on standardized tests have largely been surmounted in districts like Los Angeles and Glendale, which spent years doing the dirty work of perfecting what — on its face — appeared to be a complicated and potentially taxing program.

At its core, students in dual-language immersion programs initially spend up to 90% of classroom instruction learning and speaking in the foreign tongue, with that ration evening out as they move up through the program. Young minds are like sponges, especially when it comes to learning languages, so what seems like a drastic approach to learning actually ends up being handled deftly by eager students.

At the end of program, they are then light years ahead of the peers in terms of opportunity and confidence. And isn't that, at the end of the day, what public education should strive to achieve?

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