DODEA language programs undergo evaluation
STUTTGART, Germany — The Department of Defense Education Activity is conducting a review of foreign language programs offered at its schools around the world, with particular focus on a pilot program being run at half the system’s elementary schools.
No changes to the Foreign Language Elementary School program, launched three years ago, will be made between now and 2010, according to Charlie Toth, DODEA’s acting associate director for education. But the review, which will be conducted over the next six months, will make recommendations on ways to get the most out of its various language programs.
"We’re in a period of reflection and evaluation with our foreign language program," Toth said, adding that a team of educators will submit its findings to DODEA director Shirley Miles.
"We have some significant challenges in the (elementary school) program we haven’t resolved yet," he said.
While the kindergarten-through-third-grade foreign language initiative has proved popular and gives youngsters an important jump start in learning a second language, administering the course to a transient student population presents difficulties, Toth said.
Between 30 percent and 40 percent of DODEA children rotate in and out of schools each year, which can make it hard to maintain continuity within the foreign language program, Toth said. Instead of having the same group of students building on what they’ve learned from year to year, each school year brings a new mix of children, many of whom may have no foreign language knowledge or have studied a different language.
While solutions might be hard to find, there has been no discussion of canceling the program, Toth said.
One way to help mitigate the problem would be to expand FLES to all elementary schools within the DODEA system. But that appears to be out of the question from a fiscal standpoint. Establishing a K-6 FLES program throughout the system would translate into a cost increase in the range of $270 million, according to Toth.
Despite some of the logistical challenges, DODEA has been pushing the program more aggressively than some of its stateside public school counterparts. A recently published survey conducted by the Center for Applied Linguistics found that 39 percent of public schools have a FLES program compared to 50 percent of DODEA schools. The program, however, is more common in U.S. private schools, where 56 percent of schools offer foreign languages to its youngest students.
Tracy Knick, a foreign language program coordinator for Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe, said the FLES program has been a hit at most schools and that parents have been enthusiastic about the initiative.
"It’s really grown, I can tell you. Presently, 7,000 students are participating," Knick said. "At that age they’re like sponges. When you can get to students early, they’re able to actually form the sound of the target language a lot easier. There are so many benefits."
While not all schools offer FLES, partial-immersion courses are offered at numerous schools. It is the choice of the individual school whether to provide such a class. Typically, the language of the class matches that of the host nation, though some schools offer Spanish, Toth said.
DODEA also teaches foreign languages in its secondary schools, with more than 14,000 students enrolled in foreign language courses last year. Spanish, German and Japanese were the most popular. A couple of years ago, DODEA added Mandarin Chinese and Arabic at some schools.
While DODEA isn’t currently looking to expand its foreign language programming, the review could bring about some tweaks.
"We’re in a maintenance stage at this point," Toth said.