Opinion: Preserve Cobb’s dual language immersion program

Cobb parents whose children attend dual language immersion programs are concerned that there could be cuts coming to the program. (File photo)

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Cobb parents whose children attend dual language immersion programs are concerned that there could be cuts coming to the program. (File photo)

Researcher says immersion fosters fluency and improve other outcomes

Cobb parents whose children attend dual language immersion programs are hearing from staff that the district plans to phase out the program.

In a Facebook Live session with worried parents last week, Cobb school board member Jaha Howard shared his conversation with Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and some of his cabinet members over the future of the dual language immersion programs now in place at 11 elementary schools.

“There is going to be some type of reduction,” said Howard, whose children are in the program. “It sounds pretty clear that it’s not a cold cut of the program altogether. This is a school-by-school thing.”

He urged parents to contact the district, saying, “Remember, this program started with parents and willing principals, and it is going to take parents to maintain it.”

Asked whether the program is in jeopardy, a Cobb spokeswoman said, “Dual language immersion options continue to be offered for all existing dual language immersion students, in all schools in which it is already offered. The superintendent will discuss further in our next board meeting.”

Those parents have the backing of Sue Kasun, a Georgia State University associate professor of language education and the director of the college’s Center for Transnational and Multilingual Education.

In a guest column, Kasun urges Cobb to preserve dual language immersion, speaking from the perspective of a researcher in language acquisition and a parent with children enrolled in dual language program in another system.

By Sue Kasun

If schools could provide an additional global skill to students at little extra cost, would you want your children to receive it? While it may seem silly to pose the question, Cobb County Public Schools may be limiting the provision of such a global skill — dual language immersion classes — for students in the programs.

Multiple district personnel told me the programs will begin phasing out starting next year for reasons yet to be specified. The decision ignores community sentiment surrounding these programs. It also ignores the research.

As a dual language education researcher, I can attest that dual language is the best model for students to become fluent in other languages. Students in the program spend at least half their day learning a language other than English with qualified teachers who teach content such as math and science in the additional language.

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Sue Kasun says Cobb County is making a mistake dropping its dual language immersion program. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

Sue Kasun says Cobb County is making a mistake dropping its dual language immersion program. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Sue Kasun says Cobb County is making a mistake dropping its dual language immersion program. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

The most commonly taught language nationally in dual language—and this is true in Georgia—is Spanish. Cobb has served as an example of how to implement these programs, now in 11 of their elementary schools. There are thousands of these programs, and more on the way, throughout the country.

I write also as a parent of elementary students who have benefited from dual language instruction in their local schools. The decision to eliminate the programs was made without any input from the parents who labored so hard to establish these successful programs or from the teachers implementing them with remarkable results.

While the United States is still largely an English-speaking country, those who learn another language reap life-impacting benefits. Research shows multilingual people are better at certain kinds of problem-solving. and have brains that are more resilient to Alzheimer’s disease. Students perform as well on standardized tests or better than their monolingual peers. For English learners, and now about one in five U.S. students is the child of immigrant parents, dual immersion has been proven to be the single best model for their academic success.

Howard advised Cobb County families to voice their protests via email to the district and speak out at Thursday’s school board meeting.

This action could alienate the many Cobb families who trusted schools with their children’s learning. Many families remained with the district or moved to certain schools to have their children enrolled in these innovative and successful programs.

Cobb’s reversal of a program it introduced in 2015 could cause a ripple effect for other Georgia districts to dump a hard-earned and well-conceived program that costs next to nothing to implement.

Dual immersion programs demand careful consideration and planning but have been implemented throughout the United States for almost three decades with immense success. The district needs to reflect community needs and interests, the very interests which established the first programs to begin with.

I hope Cobb Schools will reconsider this proposal. Preserving the program would show the district cares about community members and wants to provide the world-class instruction now afforded by dual language.

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