Dual languages for Carbondale schools? | AspenTimes.com

Dual languages for Carbondale schools?

Eben Harrell

The Roaring Fork School District is considering making Carbondale Elementary a dual-language school in an attempt to stop the district’s affluent students from choosing to go elsewhere.On Wednesday Alan Gottlieb, a Denver-based education expert, addressed a packed room of administrators, teachers and parents on the topic of how to help Carbondale’s ailing schools. Gottlieb said the most reliable indicator of a school’s performance on state-mandated assessment tests is the socioeconomic status of the student body. The greater percentage of poor students, the worse the results. The more students from the upper and middle classes, the better everyone performs, including lower-income students.Carbondale Elementary School is in its third year of probation by the state department of education as a low-performing school. Nearly half of the student body qualifies for free or reduced lunch. It is estimated that around 300 affluent students living in the Carbondale area choose not to attend the town’s public schools. The solution, Gottlieb said, is for Carbondale schools to attract affluent students by becoming a “magnet” system. Such magnet schools, so-called because they attract dispersed students, usually offer an exceptional or standout program not available elsewhere.The most obvious choice for Carbondale Elementary School is to offer a dual-language program, Gottlieb said. Such a program teaches students in the elementary school to learn a foreign language while increasing literacy in their native tongue. A dual-language program makes sense at Carbondale Elementary because approximately 60 percent of the student body are native Spanish speakers, Gottlieb said.”It would really turn a perceived weakness into a strength. What we’ve found is that such a program does not hurt a student’s development in English. Nor does it hurt the Spanish speakers. And by fifth grade, all the students are bilingual,” he said.Gottlieb said a dual-language program offers more promise than other magnet programs. Advanced academic offerings, such as the international baccalaureate or advanced placement programs, tend to re-segregate the student body within the school.”You have the poor students in one program and the non-poor kids in another. That defeats the goal of attaining a socioeconomic mix,” Gottlieb said.Speaking in reaction to Gottlieb’s presentation, Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Fred Wall said yesterday that he is aware of the “brain-drain” problem occurring as affluent students choose to enroll elsewhere. Wall said the district will set up a community task force to determine whether a dual-language option is the answer to the problem.”I think [dual-language] is a great option to look into,” Wall said. “But we have to make sure such a program would be an attractive enough draw to English-speaking parents.”This isn’t a new issue,” he continued. “We’re addressing it on a number of fronts and looking into the whole idea of finding programs to attract students.”Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com


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