Experts Warn WDM Schools About Abolition of Foreign Languages


West Des Moines students may have fewer foreign language options next year.

The school board will vote Monday on a committee recommendation to eliminate Japanese in high school and cancel elementary Spanish classes.

The cuts are part of a larger effort to cut $560,000 from the district’s $150 million operating budget for the 2016-17 school year, a direct result of declining enrollment.

This decision worries language professionals, but does not surprise them.

Marty Abbott, executive director of the American Council on Teaching of Foreign Languages, said a difficult budget climate makes it difficult for districts to offer a wide variety of languages, especially when students choose to take them. or not.

Fifty-two students are enrolled in the Japanese program at West Des Moines, compared to 1,072 in Spanish and 260 in French.

Chad Gasta, chair of the department of world languages ​​and cultures at Iowa State University, said Iowa has seen a trend of schools cutting language programs as “a quick fix” to budget shortages. But districts should reconsider what that might do for Iowa’s economic development and the quality of its workforce, he said.

Japanese is of particular concern because of the country’s economic situation, which could open more doors for bilingual students in Iowa, he said. Japan has the third largest GDP and is #4 in world trade and exports. And although most business is conducted in English, Americans working abroad are expected to be familiar with the cultures and customs, Gasta said.

“Bilingual students receive better job offers, higher salaries, are more likely to work internationally and even move up the corporate ladder at a faster rate,” Gasta said. “It’s disheartening for us and we think in the long run it’s just not good for people’s lives, let alone their livelihoods.”

The elimination of Japanese is just one of 13 cuts West Des Moines is considering that would affect some programs and travel, and change teacher schedules.

An initial plan to phase out German classes at the high school level was eventually scrapped after their district held feedback sessions with parents and teachers.

The committee felt that enough students were enrolled in the program to warrant its continuation, said Elaine Watkins-Miller, director of school community relations.

There are 131 students enrolled in German courses this year.

If West Des Moines removes Japanese, only the Des Moines and Urbandale school districts will offer it as an option on the subway.

Students currently enrolled in Japanese could complete their classes at Central Campus, Watkins-Miller said.

Although it may not be the most popular option, Boris Bachmann said the students who take his Japanese classes at Urbandale are extremely dedicated to the language and the culture. They usually take the course because they are interested in Japanese pop culture, such as anime and manga, or because they are interested in engineering and business.

Bachmann said the program at Urbandale was created when Japan’s economy took off in the 1990s. The country’s economy has since declined, but Japan is still a strong trading partner with the United States “and sometimes we let’s forget about it” when we’re weighing options for course offerings, he said.

Sixty-four Urbandale students are enrolled in Japanese.

Part of the cuts in West Des Moines also includes eliminating 60 minutes of Spanish language per week for students in grades one through three. The teaching of Spanish would rather begin in the fourth year.

Lisa Remy, superintendent of West Des Moines, said the committee believes it would be the best program to eliminate so teachers can focus on carrying out the state’s early literacy initiative, which requires all students are at the reading level in third grade. Teachers told the district they needed more time for reading instruction, Remy said.

But Abbott said that’s contrary to most studies, which say early language learning actually improves cognitive functioning and critical thinking. It can also help students master English by learning sentence structure and vocabulary, she said.

“It’s important to have languages ​​at an early level,” she said. “The best-case scenario is to offer them from kindergarten in a well-sequenced program through grade 12.

“I hope the school system can maintain this program.”

With the exception of Des Moines’ four International Baccalaureate schools, West Des Moines is the only metro district that offers a foreign language before sixth grade. Watkins-Miller said it was a major sticking point on the committee when it decided the program could be scaled back.

“We always feel that we are attached to the study of foreign languages,” she said. “We have plenty of opportunities, and we always give students the opportunity to study world languages ​​that students from other districts don’t have.”

West Des Moines also offers Chinese, French, German, Latin and Spanish. It’s second in the metro after Des Moines Public Schools, which offers seven languages.

Remy said the committee weighed 142 reduction options. He tried to stay away from the programs, “but as we’ve been through five years of cuts, it’s getting harder and harder to stay out of the classroom.

West Des Moines has faced millions of dollars in budget cuts in recent years, including $3 million in 2014-15 when the Phenix Early Childhood Center closed.

Eliminating Japanese would save the district $38,600 and cutting the elementary school foreign language program would save $197,000.

The board will vote on the budget cuts at its 7 p.m. meeting Monday at the Learning Resource Center, 3550 Mills Civic Parkway. He can accept the proposal in its entirety or modify what is cut.

Languages ​​offered in the metro

Ankeny Community School District

  • Chinese (grades 8-12): 54 students
  • French (grades 8-12): 767 students
  • Spanish (grades 8-12): 1,984 students

Des Moines Public Schools

  • Arabic (grades 6-12): 48 students
  • Chinese (grades 6-12): 369 students
  • French (from 6th to 12th grade): 520 students
  • German (from 6th to 12th grade): 158 pupils
  • Italian (grades 6 to 12): 149 students
  • Japanese (grades 6-12): 156 students
  • Spanish (grades 6-12): 7,108 students

Johnston Community School District

  • French (grades 8-12): 167 students
  • Spanish (grades 6-12): 1,987 students

Southeast Polk Community School District

  • French (grades 9-12): 220 students
  • Spanish (Grades 9-12): 1,046 students
  • World languages ​​(8th grade): 510 students

Urbandale Community School District

  • German (grades 9-12): 150 students
  • Japanese (Grades 9-12): 64 students
  • Spanish (Grades 9-12): 518 students
  • Spanish for Heritage Speakers (Grades 9-12): 64 students

Waukee Community School District

  • German (grades 6-12): 689 students
  • Spanish (grades 6-12): 1,888 students

West Des Moines Community School District

  • Chinese (Grades 9-12): 77 students
  • French (grades 9-12): 260 students
  • German (grades 9-12): 131 students
  • Japanese (Grades 9-12): 52 students
  • Latin (Grades 9-12): 132 students
  • Spanish (grades 9-12)*: 1,072 students + 60 minutes/week for primary students *Eighth grade students also benefit from the Spanish language.​

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