Public input sought on foreign languages

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008
— A task force looking at the possibility of adding a new foreign language to the Janesville public schools’ curriculum hasn’t picked a language, yet.

After months of study, the task force is inviting the public to have its say at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Educational Services Center, 527 S. Franklin St.

The task force plans to deliver its recommendation to the school board in July, said Donna Behn, the district’s director of instruction. The board will make the final decision.

The task force will not recommend dropping any of the current foreign languages, which district officials now call “world languages,” Behn said.

The district offers French, German and Spanish starting in seventh grade. It also recently began teaching Chinese to fifth-graders in the Challenge Program at Roosevelt Elementary School, sixth-graders at Marshall Middle School and to juniors and seniors at the Janesville Academy for International Studies.

But whether the schools should begin offering Chinese or some other language districtwide has not been decided.

Behn said the task force wants to hear from the public before making its recommendation.

Behn is on the task force along with two school board members; a high school assistant principal; seven teachers who teach either Chinese, French, German or Spanish; two district residents who speak either Farsi or Japanese, and Superintendent Tom Evert.

The task force report indicates support among its members for:

-- Expanding language instruction in seventh and eighth grade. Now, students have classes every other day. The change would increase that to three days a week for seventh-graders and every day for eighth-graders.

-- Starting language instruction in one elementary school, one grade at a time, and then expanding that gradually to other schools. Harrison School was suggested as the first school because it has room.

-- Starting a charter school at one of the elementary schools in which students would learn “several different languages” in half-hour classes three times a week.

Other options the task force looked at include:

-- Adding a new language at the middle and high schools.

-- Offering conversational language programs.

-- Offering after-school programs.

-- A charter elementary school, possibly at Harrison, in which a language would be taught by bilingual teachers.

-- Leaving students the option of taking other languages at UW-Rock County, Blackhawk Technical College, UW-Whitewater or Beloit College.

-- Offering online classes in a number of different languages.

-- Providing language-learning software together with a native speaker to work with students once a week.

-- Creating sixth-grade or summer-school “exploratory” programs.

-- Expanding high school offerings by adding classes such as business Spanish or French literature.

Several local parochial schools already offer Spanish at the elementary level.


The Janesville School District’s Critical Languages Task Force surveyed 615 parents to get their thoughts on foreign-language options for public-school students.

One question asked parents which languages their children should have the opportunity to take. Parents were asked to rank their preferences. Results included:

First choice

-- 87 percent listed Spanish their first choice.

-- German and Latin were the next most popular first choices, both below 5 percent.

Second choice

-- French was the most popular second choice at 50 percent.

-- 34 percent listed Chinese as their second choice.

-- The next-biggest second choice was Latin, 15 percent.

Third choice

-- German was the most popular third choice with 34 percent.

-- Japanese was the next most popular third choice, 17 percent.

Fourth choice

-- Italian was the most popular fourth choice, 18 percent.

Other picks

-- Others registered support for Arabic, Farsi, Korean or Russian.

-- There were 27 write-in votes for American Sign Language.

-- A few parents commented that English should be the only language taught.

Last updated: 9:04 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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