Montgomery County, Maryland, Schools and World Languages

Seems that this school system and its superintendent understand the crucial role that foreign languages play:

The following article was written by Andrew Ujifusa for Gazette.Net, October 26, 2011:

Students studying foreign languages soon will have clearer and standardized expectations in the classroom, but those in immersion programs won’t be affected by the changes.

Following changes made to how other subjects, such as math and social studies, are taught, the Montgomery County Board of Education unanimously approved a new structure for foreign language education earlier this month.

The organizational method for “World Languages” in secondary schools, called a “curriculum framework,” outlines what students are expected to know by their level of proficiency — an expectation called for by the National Standards for Foreign Language Learning. The school system’s guidelines mirror those approved by the Maryland State Department of Education.

“This is the first time we now have a very clearly laid-out, clearly articulated curriculum framework, which is kind of the public document that says, this is what we’re going to teach each year in generally this order across the year,” said Betsy Brown, director of the curriculum and instruction department.

Brown said although foreign language instruction has not been instructed haphazardly, teachers now will be able to find resources in print and online that reflect these standard curriculum guidelines.

A report last year from the school system’s Foreign Language Work Group, which made recommendations on foreign language instruction, suggested better professional development and easier access to teacher resources, and also recommended introducing “exploratory” foreign languages in elementary school, instead of beginning them in middle school.

The frameworks break down foreign language learning into five “standards,” including communication, cultures, comparisons, connections and communities, and state where students should be based on their skill level in each area.

For example, students in the middle level of their intermediate stage of communication are expected to be able to have spontaneous conversations on academic topics, such as an environmental issue’s global impact, and ask detailed follow-up questions and self-correct.

“You see more of the function of language, what students are able to do with language after the first year, the second year,” said Judith Klimpl, program supervisor for foreign language instruction in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

In the work group’s report, it noted more than half of middle school students in 2008-09 — 16,00 students — took at least one foreign language course for high school credit, while nearly two-thirds of high school students — 27,000 — did so. In the entire system, 35 percent of students graduate with at least four high school credits in a foreign language.

The school system offers 10 foreign languages; Brown said there are no imminent plans to add or subtract the number of foreign languages offered.

In a memo to the board, Superintendent of Schools Joshua P. Starr wrote, “Twenty-first century challenges, both economic and strategic, have brought the need for world language competency to the forefront.”

The next step, Brown said, is for the system to develop instructional guides for foreign language based on the curriculum frameworks.

The school system received about 100 comments from the public about the guidelines. Most of them said they also should apply to immersion programs and Foreign Language in Elementary Schools, an after-school program offered by the nonprofit group Educational Programs, not the school system.

But the school system said the immersion programs in elementary school are governed by separate guidelines, the Elementary Integrated Curriculum.


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