Foreign Languages in Elementary School (FLES) and language immersion are very different tools, with very different costs, and very different end results on the District’s future workforce.
1. FLES is part of the answer in the short term because:
– Students from 1st grade onwards are too old to directly benefit from the introduction of a language immersion program in which children must be immersed before age 5 and which must be built from the bottom grades up, one year at a time. Therefore, for older students FLES is the next best way of getting access to foreign languages.
– To maintain school cohesion when introducing language immersion, it is important that FLES programs in the partner language be made available to the older students.
2. FLES is not the answer in the long term because:
– FLES does not enable students to become bilingual and has much smaller effects on academic achievement and on career and college readiness.
– FLES is more expensive than immersion, as it requires additional staff positions.
– FLES is highly dependent on each school’s yearly operating budget and therefore is always at risk of being cut.
– FLES does not address student retention issues (implicit to language immersion is a long term commitment to the school or program)
– FLES is not the guaranteed enrollment booster that immersion is
– Therefore, ideally, FLES would be phased out as the immersion programs grow from the lower grades.
While extending FLES programs to all DCPS elementary schools is a step in the right direction, as currently implemented, these programs have two major deficiencies:
– FLES is mandated only for 2nd to 5th graders, against all evidence on language acquisition, and
– FLES is often implemented in too short slots per week to make a real difference or even to qualify as a FLES program. According to the definition by CAL, FLES is “A foreign language class taught at least 75 minutes per week […]”.