International Education in SPS

I had been meaning to write this thread for some time now.  It's a worthy example of how Seattle Schools starts off with a good idea but cannot follow-thru with execution.

I will be upfront and say I probably should have done more research so fill in the gaps if you know more.  But the issues are in very sharp focus right now and it is a program that is going to reach a stress level soon.


(I confess I don't know much about foreign languages in SPS before the JSIS was created.  I assume that most of the high schools and middle schools had at least one foreign language for decades.  I am also aware that several elementaries had foreign language instruction either during the school day or after school with the costs being borne by PTAs or other groups.) 

John Stanford advanced the idea of a foreign language immersion school before his death in 1998.  He thought that a district with many students speaking many languages could be an asset and had put forth the idea of a foreign language immersion school.  Backed by the School Board and under the leadership of principal Karen Kodama, the John Stanford International School opened in the Latona building in the fall of 2000.

When it started it was dual language immersion for either Spanish or Japanese (these languages were chosen in a survey of parents and business leaders).  Additionally, it was one of the elementary Bilingual Orientation Centers for elementary students.   That was primarily where the native speakers came from who became part of the two-way learning for other students.

In 1999, JSIS was one of five of the University of Washington's K-12 initiatives.  The goals* were:

- Design imaginative new curricula with an international focus
-Link to Internet2 (new super-fast version of the Internet)
-Provide educational opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students
-Create an educational laboratory for faculty and student researchers
-Extend international curricula into middle and high schools
-Identify school partners around the world

(*This info is via the School of Education at Johns Hopkins University website.  I don't know if the UW/SPS connection still continues.  I see no evidence of it at the JSIS website.)

What didn't happen is a vision for a plan of how to expand or, more importantly, where these students would go to continue this learning for middle and high school.  It may have seemed important just to get the school off the ground but this lack of planning beyond a few years didn't help the program.

The immersion at JSIS is in core subjects, like math and science, for half the day.   The teachers are usually native speakers of the immersion languages.  In addition, there are generally IAs (Immersion Assistants) who are also native speakers who assist the teacher.   The BOC has long since moved on.

The start-up costs for a foreign language immersion school (beyond finding native speakers who can teach) is around $75k-100k (based on district information). 

Besides JSIS, there are these elementaries:
  • Concord International School - they have a dual two-way program in Spanish- English.  Meaning, the native speakers of English help/are helped by the native speakers of Spanish. 
  • Beacon Hill International School - they have three programs.  These are Spanish/English Dual Language Immersion, Chinese Mandarin/English partial Language Immersion and an English Language Immersion.  BH receives federal funding for the Chinese Mandarin classes. 
  • McDonald (which has not yet received its "international school" naming).  They offer Spanish and Japanese.   It only has foreign language immersion in K and 1st and will roll-up each year.  The current students in 2nd-5th have a regular ed program with some foreign language "exposure".  
The district also finally created a pathway program at Hamilton International School.  McDonald became an international school largely because of their proximity to Hamilton and the desire for more students to have this option.  Hamilton's pathway is Ingraham High School. 

Beacon Hill's tentative pathway is Mercer Middle and then Franklin High School.

Concord's pathway will be Denny and then Chief Sealth High School. 

I don't find clear information about how foreign language immersion plays out in middle or high school at any of the schools' web pages.  


1) These programs are not accessible in any way to all students.  That such desirable programming remains available only to those who live in those neighborhoods seems wrong.   I think some on the Board know this but have been repeatedly told by Enrollment that these schools must remain neighborhood schools for the NSAP to work.

2) Costs.  These schools have higher costs than other schools.  The main one is huge - the IAs.  (To note, with the IA's, the student to teacher ratio goes down to 14:1.  Lower class size, a huge bonus.)

I know JSIS and McDonald have the IAs.  Beacon Hill and Concord do as well but I don't see fundraising towards it.  I suspect there are Title One dollars for this effort. 

From McDonald's website:

An Immersion Assistant is a full-time presence in every immersion classroom. He or she is a native speaker of Spanish or Japanese.

The language immersion teaching model we’ll be using at McDonald is largely based on the system developed at John Stanford. There, they've demonstrated:

Immersion Assistants are integral to kids’ success learning Math and Science in a foreign language.
IAs are part of the model. In the words of one John Stanford parent, “The IAs make the program possible.”

But IAs are not funded by the school district. Parents raise this money.  (bold mine)

Some of these are Immersion Interns, rather than Immersion Assistants.  The interns are teachers from foreign countries who come to the US for a year to teach.  The interns are paid through their sponsoring program with the PTA funding living expenses (around $5k) and housing with school families.  

How much money?  It costs out to $1,000 per student.  Last year McDonald raised $95k just for this purpose (and I'd be willing to be they raised more for other needs).  This year they are attempting to raise - drumroll please - $300,000 just for IAs.

From their website:
If every family could afford to give $1k per student, we would meet our goal.  But we understand this level of giving is not possible for all families.  

They also have a Q&A where one question is "Will We Do This Every Year?"  - the question is never answered directly but the wording suggests, yes, it will have to be done every year.

Going Forward
Clearly, not everyone who wants foreign language immersion for their child can access it in our district. 

The fundraising concern is really one of mixed signals and I have to wonder how it plays out at the schools who do pay for IAs.  As a former PTSA co-president, I would have a hard time with supporting this kind of staffing.  It is a HUGE amount of pressure for a PTA to have to take on, year in and year out.   It is a HUGE amount of pressure for parents.

Look, I'm sure for some parents giving $1-2k per year for a foreign language immersion program is cheap compared to a private school.  But the problem is, this is a public school and no parent should have any pressure to give money for what really should be a district cost, not a parent one.

To note, Duggan Harmon told Sherry Carr at an A&F meeting a couple of months ago that parents were told they did not have to fund these positions.  But clearly, if you want the best outcomes, you need the IAs.

If this program were to expand to a school that was not in a position to fund IAs, either privately nor through federal dollars, then that school would have to forego what the other schools have in support of their programs.  Those new schools' students would have a lesser experience because of the lack of IAs.

That the district started down this road and now has differing programs - some have two languages, some have one, some have native speakers in their schools and some do not - and passes costs onto parents for needed supports for the program is an example of lack of planning and vision.

This was all good and well when it was one school started to honor the memory of a lionized leader who died.  But it wasn't a name put on building or a plaque in his honor.  It was a program and someone should have costed this out down the road and asked what the district projected for the future.

Well, the future is upon us and I have to wonder if each program will look different and end up in the Spectrum camp where you have differing programs at each site. 

It will be worth hearing the discussion at the Work Session on International Education on Wednesday before the Board meeting.


Intl. Teacher said…
Correction: Concord feeds into Denny and Chief Sealth.
Anonymous said…
I have a child in elementary immersion, but to be honest, I'm still not sure about the need for instructional aides. We were at an immersion school in another state prior to Seattle, and immersion there was full-day (vs. half-day here) and there were no IAs. Class sizes were large, too. Test scores were high, and second language fluency was strong by the end of elementary school. Oh, and the PTA's annual fundraising goal was $20-25k.

I've been trying to understand why SPS version requires IAs--perhaps because it's a lower performing district overall? Our old school had a bit less diversity and pretty high parent education levels, so maybe that's a factor?

This is not to say I don't like having the IAs, because I do. I'm just not clear on why things are so different here...

Int. Teacher, and that's why I shouldn't work late at night. Thanks for the correction.

Unclear, good question and interesting to hear what other schools/states have. I'm thinking JSIS started with IAs and it continued on. It may be a best practice although as you point out, perhaps not a necessary one.
Floor Pie said…
Not to make it all about special ed, but....the district will give you IAs if you just pay for them yourselves?? Hey Special Ed PTSA, time for the world's largest bake sale!
Anonymous said…
The district itself calls JSIS the "Cadillac" version of language immersion. It's funny how the district wouldn't think of offering the "Cadillac" version of inclusive special education, but Japanese heck yeah!

Maureen said…
It's interesting to me that the IAs aren't more of an issue on the District level. For years, TOPS parents paid for an extra kindergarten teacher to reduce class size. Many parents lobbied to be able to hire an IA for 1st grade as well, but the principal always said that wouldn't be possible because it was a public school (Kindergarten was ok, since kids aren't required to enroll in K). Now that everyone has to pay over $2000 for the basic full day K maybe the money just isn't there anymore, but I'm surprised more (nonimmersion) schools aren't using JSIS as an excuse to hire more staff (hasn't McGilvra been prevented from doing this?)
Floor Pie said…
They really said "Cadillac"? Sounds like something Mitt Romney would say. Wow.
Floor Pie said…
Maureen, I was part of the effort to get one K-2 IA at TOPS last year. (Kay Smith-Blum was a big help in that effort, BTW.) We ended up with a half-time IA for all of K-2 that we shared with the preschool. She was great, but it wasn't enough for my son and we had to change schools.
Maureen said…
Floor Pie, correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't the District pay for that IA? I'm guessing from a Special Ed line item? I'm specifically thinking of cases where parents want to pay for an IA with fundraising.
Floor Pie said…
Oh, yes, the district pays for her.
Anonymous said…
If some neighborhood schools are not allowed to raise money to bring in extra help, then JSIS and MacDonald should not be allowed to do so either. Period. Or else, open the floodgates to allow privately fundraised IAs at all schools.

The only way around this to my mind is to allow option schools, which are SUPPOSED to be different, to have these supplemental IAs. But neither JSIS or MacDonald is option. This is the fault of a stubborn Tracy Libros in Enrollment and a wimpy board who has not addressed this problem for a decade by my reckoning.

As usual, it seems a lawsuit will be the only way to force action.

Anonymous said…
Yep, attend any board committee meetings (or the upcoming work session) and I'm sure you'll hear JSIS and Cadillac used together.

DistrictWatcher, I think some of it depends on the principal. I know Martin Floe doesn't want it because of the worry over the PTA sustaining a position year after year.

But yes, I wonder why there isn't a Board policy on who can pay for staff in a school (and should PTAs be on the hiring team if they are paying for the person)?

I just feel for McDonald parents to try to raise $300k JUST for this? What about any other school needs?
Anonymous said…

My cursory look at immersion education has been that there must be multiple native speakers (i.e. not just the teacher) in a classroom in order for it to work well. In some districts (for example, in California), these native speakers come in the form of the students themselves. Is this a possible explanation for the success in your old district? Were some percent of the kids (it doesn't have to be big native speakers of the immersion language)?

And, what are the percentages in our public immersion schools (i.e. how many native spanish/japanese speakers are there in the younger classrooms at JSIS)? My tentative explanation on the need for IAs would be the need for additional native speakers in the classroom.

Anonymous said…
I have never really understood how it is that the district has not come under any real fire over the lack of access to this program. It seems patently unfair for families outside the assignment school reference area never to have a crack at getting into these schools. The reality is that unless you live in the assignment area, good luck. All of the schools have huge waiting lists for K (with the exception of Concord which has 8). Further, if one were to luck out and get in, then you have to find your own transportation. It has always seemed unfair to offer something so coveted only to a selected group of families.

I watched with great interest and enthusiasm the creation of JSIS. I cannot believe that its 2012 and many of the same questions about pathways, access, and district support are still unanswered.

We have two internationally adopted children. My husband and I both have MAs in International Studies. Our family would be a great fit for one of these programs. But there was no chance for us--or many of the other families that might be interested in these programs--because we live in the wrong neighborhood.

zella917 said…
Hey, I just read on the Seattle Times website (posted 9:15am) that Sandy Husk has dropped out as a Seattle schools superintendent candidate. I didn't want her as the winner, but doesn't this seem like deja vu?
Anonymous said…
As a parent at McDonald our immersion teachers are terrific, but it comes at a cost as it's draining to have to teach the same math and science curriculum as other schools' English teachers teach, but in a language the kids don't understand. That takes a lot of energy, particularly for teachers new to this model of teaching (they're native speakers, but the students don't understand them). In addition, the teachers have two half-day classes of students so they are responsible for twice as many kids as in other schools, and have twice as many parents trying to communicate with them. The extra IAs are important, at minimum, for teachers in their first couple years and for students who are new (K/1) to the language, not understanding what the teacher is trying to teach them.

For at least these first few years the McDonald families and staff thinks it's important to do all we can to support these teachers. The District should build that support into the model. The District does allocate the funds needed in the first year to provide teacher training, materials, flags, books etc. The in-class support to teachers in their first few years is a missing piece of the model.

It's a frustrating burden on families, particularly in this neighborhood based model where families want to go to their neighborhood school, and for the most part are glad to have the immersion option, but the financial burden just isn't right.

Yes, many other families would like to have their children in this model, and it should be an option school, not just for those who live in the greater Wallingford area. But that's not the situation right now.

WSPTA's possible effort to ban PTAs from funding school staff, while understandable from an equity perspective, doesn't help those of us in the immersion model either.
-McDonald Parent
mirmac1 said…
"My cursory look at immersion education has been that there must be multiple native speakers (i.e. not just the teacher) in a classroom in order for it to work well. In some districts (for example, in California), these native speakers come in the form of the students themselves"

I question how, having "helpful" native-speakers in the form of students, actually helps THOSE very students. They are there to learn academics AND english, not serve as linguistic peer models for students who elect to learn a second language.
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
I strongly feel that the language immersion schools should be option schools. It is fundamentally unfair to say that only families that can afford to live in Wallingford have a shot of getting into a language immersion school north of the ship canal. Jane
Floor Pie said…
I agree that immersion schools should be option schools.

I'll also add that not everyone in Wallingford is super-excited that the neighborhood schools are all foreign language immersion. It's not a good fit for some kids, and I've heard some sad stories from special ed families whose children didn't get the support they needed there.

B.F. Day has always been an option for these folks, but now some disgruntled neighbors who got zoned out of JSIS want to coopt B.F. Day for language immersion too. (Doesn't seem likely to happen, but still.)
Maureen said…
Anonymous at 10:56, you will be deleted (repost with a name of some sort.)

And, if you do, why do you think: If all the Int'l schools went option than the district would most likely not fund transportation?

Other Option Schools get transportation from their entire Middle School Service area. Salmon Bay currently gets it from TWO MS areas. If the Hamilton area had their own Option school Salmon Bay could only get busing from the Whitman area--so no cost increase to SPS for that area.
Anonymous said…
zb, it definitely wasn't an issue of there being more native speakers in our prior classrooms. There were usually a few migrant families in the school, but I don't think there was ever more than one native speaker in a class, and usually none. And the migrant kids were only there for a few months anyway.

mirmac1, re: your questioning of how having "helpful" native-speakers in the form of students, actually helps THOSE very students, who are there to learn academics AND english, not serve as linguistic peer models for students who elect to learn a second language, I disagree with your take on this and think this approach can actually be very beneficial for English Language Learners. They get to be taught the academics in their native language, while also interacting with their classmates usually in English. Also, since in the early grades most English-speaking immersion students don't understand the new language yet, teachers tend to translate much of what they say anyway, so they hear both languages. It seems to me to be a great arrangement for native speakers.

Anonymous said…
Melissa, you mentioned you "don't find clear information about how foreign language immersion plays out in middle or high school at any of the schools' web pages."

That's probably because it doesn't really. At least at Hamilton, language immersion simply means you can take a more conversational language class (conducted entirely in the foreign language) rather than a more traditional grammar-based class for those learning the language. Those coming from immersion elementary feeder schools don't have to test in to the "immersion" class, whereas others would have to demonstrate sufficient fluency and would be assigned only on a space-available basis.

That's the extent of what "immersion" represents at the middle school level, at least as far as I can tell--you take a different language class than other kids who take a language class.

Floor Pie said…
Are there beginner-level foreign language classes at Hamilton for students who aren't in the immersion program?
Floor Pie, yes there are beginner-level classes in foreign lanaguages at Hamilton (and likely all the middle schools). No sure about K-8s.

Also, I support foreign language immersion and I talk it up as a great sign of why we don't need charters (in other states, they are mostly charters).

This thread isn't my lack of support - it's my worry over how to continue and strengthen the program.
Steve said…
McDonald Parent, thank you for the post. Good to hear some opinions from people involved in these schools.
Anonymous said…
I think it's totally elitist for these language immersion programs to NOT be option schools.

I can't believe the district pays for this when general ed schools struggle so hard to provide even the basics.

If you want language immersion, go to private school. Or have your child take a class on the side.

As another poster pointed out, not every child in Wallingford is a good fit for these programs. Kids who have special needs at either end of the spectrum are not usually best served by language immersion. Can someone explain this craziness to me?

Anonymous said…
I have a child in elementary immersion, but to be honest, I'm still not sure about the need for instructional aides. We were at an immersion school in another state prior to Seattle, and immersion there was full-day (vs. half-day here) and there were no IAs. Class sizes were large, too.

My kid's at JSIS, and I have a hard time seeing things working without the IA's. Maybe if the classes were more reasonable, but with 31 or 32 kids in a Japanese Kindergarten or first grade, I think it would be tough.
Maybe it would be more doable in a Spanish class where parents could more easily provide support at home.

What was the language of your old school? What was the class size?

I have doubts, but honestly when you have a Kindergartener, it's hard to believe the whole thing works ever, but it sure seems to in the end.

JSIS parent
mirmac1 said…
Unclear, I'm very leery when I hear DeBell talking about attracting ELL students to schools like McDonald to "leverage" their native fluency and dispense with hiring IAs. I'm very doubtful it's truly a win-win. Kind of like the soon-to-be exposed "leveraging" of dual-cert teachers at Ballard who teach Gen Ed on SpEd's dime, and whose SpEd students do NOT get the services they need, are in overfilled classrooms, and do not get their specially-designed instruction. Are THEY benefitting from this version of "inclusion"?! Doubt it.
Anonymous said…
Just to be technical, the BOC only moved out of JSIS in September. It was a pretty big part of the JSIS community.
Anonymous said…
Correct me if I am wrong but my understanding regarding John Stanford was that you cannot choose the language into which you are immersed. When I found that out I felt that - like much of the Seattle School district machinations - language immersion was a good idea that the district made bizarrely unworkable.

-SPS mom
Jan said…
I don't know, mirmac. The kind of leveraging you do by adding a native speaker to an immersion class (where no one is legally required to have an IA, and the native speaker is just there, learning science and math with everybody else -- but his fluency (and need/desire to have people speak to him in his own language) improves the overall experience is way different than taking a dual cert, giving them a regular class, and somehow "counting" that as service to a stray SPED kid or two in the class. Particularly if in other districts, they don't even use IAs in immersion -- they get by with a regular bilingual teacher and a mix of native speakers and immersion kids.

Not saying DeBell is right. Just saying I think the comparison is stretched.
Anonymous said…
mirmac1, if DeBell is really talking about attracting ELL students to schools like McDonald to "leverage" their native fluency and dispense with hiring IAs as you say, I agree that's crazy. But to compare that theory with the dual cert issue is similarly crazy, as the situations are not comparable at all. Regardless, you seem to have a strong sense that ELL students in immersion programs are being taken advantage of. My impression was that dual immersion programs work. Is yours a gut reaction, or is there something the district is doing that makes you feel as you do? I haven't been following the research on dual immersion, so maybe things have changed in recent years? I'd be curious to hear the basis for your concerns, or whether it just feels like it's somehow unfair...

JSIS parent, our class sizes were similar, but you may be onto something with the Japanese vs. Spanish issue. Most parents in our Spanish immersion school didn't speak the language and struggled a bit with homework help those first couple years, but I imagine it would have been much more of a challenge in Japanese.

mirmac1 said…
Mine is a gut reaction and I am known for my crazy histrionic analogies.
Anonymous said…
Every student in the US should learn both Spanish and English as part of their general studies, starting in First Grade.

Immersion or international programs should be Option Schools.

-My vote
Anonymous said…
My vote, you got my vote 2!

ConcernedParent said…
Anonymous, You can select the language you prefer for JSIS but the assignments are by lottery. In recent years, by and large, people have gotten their language preference and most parents I have talked to who haven't gotten their first choice were still very satisfied with their child's experience. Not sure why the lottery would be "bizarrely unworkable" for anyone. Both language programs are excellent.

At any rate, I agree that JSIS should be an option school. The boundaries are already at the size of an option school rather than an attendance school anyway, they might as well just take the next step.

- Another JSIS Parent
Anonymous said…
The Japanese program at JSIS is wonderful. Unfortunately, the Japanese program at Hamilton is a huge disappointment. The quality of instruction at Hamilton is far below that at JSIS. After 3 years at Hamilton, our 9th grader struggled to carry on a conversation with native speakers. Our 5th grader, on the other hand, is more than comfortable carrying on a conversation. Other JSIS families have been frustrated for years with the poor job Hamilton does at being an "International" middle school. Hopefully the new principal will turn things around.


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