Budget cuts throughout New Jersey continue to hamper foreign language education in the schools. Instead of trained language teachers, school systems are implementing foreign language programs like Rosetta Stone and Muzzy. Unfortunately, those programs cannot be substitutes for language teachers.
The following article by Patricia Alex from NorthJersey.com, December 30, 2010, explains the crisis:
The push to teach foreign languages in New Jersey’s elementary schools appears to be faltering as schools cope with budget cuts.
Several districts this year dropped elementary world language teachers from their roster and instead have opted for less labor-intensive alternatives. Some have asked regular classroom teachers to take over, and others are resorting to videos and computer programs to pick up the slack. In Bloomingdale, trustees are mulling a plan to solicit volunteers to help with instruction.
“It’s a matter of what you can prioritize and what you can afford,” said James Montesano, superintendent of schools in Paramus, which uses Muzzy, the BBC interactive language instruction video program, in the elementary schools.
The state mandate – introduced in 1996 – calls for districts to introduce world language study in the early grades, but does not call for full-blown language programs such as those required in high school.
For most time-strapped districts, the elementary instruction has consisted of a 30-minute session, usually Spanish, once or twice a week with a dedicated language teacher. Some experts say that formula is ineffective because of its brevity. But now, even that is being reduced as districts cope with steep declines in aid from Trenton.
Glen Rock cut its elementary Spanish teacher last year, and instead has classroom teachers integrate elements of world culture into other coursework, said Kathleen Regan, curriculum director.
“There were not only challenges with money and finances, but with time,” Regan said. “We want to focus on reading, writing and math, and then science and social studies. You’ll find a lot of districts establishing those priorities.”
Indeed, many districts emphasize subjects that are tested by the state; world languages are not.
However, Regan said that Glen Rock is now considering purchasing a computer-based course by Rosetta Stone.
Ridgewood went the Rosetta Stone route a few years ago, eliminating its three elementary world language teachers and buying the software for a one-time cost of $62,500, said curriculum director Regina Botsford.
“It’s always best to have a teacher, but we had to think of other options,” Botsford said. “When you have severe budget constraints, you have to look at creative solutions.”
She said Rosetta Stone, which requires individual headsets and microphones, allows students to move at their own pace.
Dumont switched to Muzzy this year, after budget cuts forced it to cut back on language teachers. The kid-friendly video program is directed by the classroom teacher and is more cost-effective than Rosetta Stone, which requires a computer lab, said curriculum director Maria Poidomani.
“It’s not as rich as having a classroom teacher, but it’s being well received by the students,” said Poidomani.
It’s a trend that is troubling to some language experts. Bret Lovejoy, executive director of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, said Rosetta Stone and other programs don’t come close to replicating a dedicated language teacher.
“There is clearly research that says it does not work. You need a dynamic environment with other learners to learn a language,” Lovejoy said. He and others lament that young students are not being more fully immersed in another language.
Englewood, with the help of federal money, has daily immersion and dual language programs for young students in Spanish and Mandarin.
“Immersing a child in another language enhances brain cells,” said Elizabeth Willaum, interim assistant superintendent. “It makes you sharper and smarter academically.”
But the Englewood programs are the exception rather than the rule, and some districts continue to struggle to provide rudimentary language instruction for elementary students.
In Pompton Lakes, a last-minute retirement allowed the district to save the job of its full-time Spanish teacher, Matt Mansbach, who splits his time between the two elementary schools. He spends 30 minutes a week with each class.
“Is it a perfect situation? No. We’re fooling ourselves if we think they are learning a language in 30 minutes a week,” said Michael Petrella, curriculum director. “But I do think we are giving them some exposure to the language and culture.”