New language immersion school, a year later


Last fall I visited Oakland’s Melrose Leadership Academy, which had just begun a new Spanish-English immersion program, starting with a kindergarten class of about 35 students. When the teacher said “stand up” in Spanish (90 percent of kindergarten instruction is in Spanish), at least a third of the children — most of the native English-speakers — sat on the rug, looking around in confusion.

English-speaking parents at the school — who are likewise addressed by most of the staff in Spanish — said they gained an appreciation for what English learners and their families experience in California’s schools.

I went back last week for the kindergarten promotion ceremony to get a sense of how far the children had come. I made a short video with my handy new flip camera to go with the story in today’s Tribune.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Nextset


    I thought this was outlawed in Public Education.

    English immersion is clearly established as the more successful way to transition from ESL to English proficiency. In fact I believe the ESL families themselves were unhappy with the Spanish classes because their kids wind up more impaired in English and English proficiency is valuable to them.

    Those who do want Mexican Spanish schools have a selection of them – In Mexico (European Spanish is different – the “Spanish” used here is Mexican).

    As far as the US English Speaking kids being stuck in this – is it by parental request? Did their parents approve of this? Is it just a single class for awhile or a pervasive long-term thing?

    Language is one of the things that serve to lock children into a Caste – especially dialects within a language. In the USA, Caste is now becomming a powerful control for occupational, social and other placement. Screw around with a child’s language & diction and you are going to have (unintended?) consequences. Social mobility is promoted by giving a child a solid grasp of standard English & Penmanship.

    That is not what I see happening here. I see the pious claims that “learning” “Spanish” will help in learning English.

    Well, not like this. It’s important to get the basics of English before trying to add and enhance the other language.

    Brave New World.

  • http://www.morethankids.com bryan farley

    Dear Nextset,

    I do not know who you are, though I respect your First Amendment Right to post anonymously. I will say, it is harder to take you seriously.

    It is also difficult to address your comments about the school being illegal and “Appalling.”

    For those who want to learn more about the school, feel free to contact parents. We have a very active group, and many of us are educators, community activists, business people … caring committed parents.

    Anyone else is also free to read anything I have written. I use my name. I realize that there are consequences to taking a stand and it is easier to condemn anonymously, but those of us at Melrose Leadership are brave.

    We welcome other brave families do not chose to hide behide clever names.

  • Ms. J.

    Just to fill out the picture a bit: as I’m sure Katy is aware, Melrose is not the only dual immersion Spanish-English program in Oakland.

    Manzantita SEED has been trying it, from a somewhat different angle, since its founding in 2005. It sounds as if Melrose has at least two great strengths right from the beginning: an experienced and successful principal and an involved group of parents. But SEED is also doing well, having made the most striking gains in test scores in the district last year despite having curricular autonomy and offering a wonderful, hands-on, child-centered form of education–what is called Expeditionary Learning. (In other words, most emphatically NOT teaching to the test.)

    For the record, Nextset, if you are referring to 209, so long as the school has waivers from parents requesting that their children be in a bilingual program, such a program is not illegal.

    It is also my understanding, having been an OUSD teacher since before the passage of 209, and having served both in traditional bilingual classrooms and as a dual immersion teacher at SEED (though I am now in a sheltered classroom at a different school), that the concern of 209 was for the traditional model, not the two way form of bilingual education. As I understand it, the most successful bilingual education programs are the dual immersion models, notably those found in Canada.

    I don’t think your concerns about what the program means for native English speakers are unfounded, however. As in any program, it is essential that parents know what they are getting into, and as in any school, this program will only succeed if the families support it–by which I mean, are equipped to support it.

  • Katy Murphy

    Good point, Ms. J. My first piece about the school, last September, gave a more comprehensive picture of the trends and the research behind dual-immersion models.

    Unfortunately, the link to that story has expired. I can try to revive it tomorrow.

  • Nextset

    Ms. J. – Thanks for the info. For the record I am in favor of the families having as much choice as possible in public education. However I don’t support any promotion of any foreign language in public schooling except for language classes for the older students who are english proficient. Teaching younger children in their native foreign language should be a private expense and not a public one. Public money should not be spent on foreign interests.

    My objections are to bilingual or foreign language programs in public life (ie bilingual ballots, signs, translations, elevator recordings). I believe this country is to operate only in US Standard English and English immersion is the effective way of teaching that to ESL people.

    This education is more about teaching young foreigners their foreign language. That is not the mission of a publicly funded American education.

  • Cranky Teacher

    So, Nextset, you are for school choice except when it goes against your own biases about how tax money should be spent? Nice.

    Prop. 209 was a great example of everything this is wrong with how we make decisions about education: A nativist billionaire (Ron Unz) decided to fund a proposition which then allowed a crude majority-rule vote to decide a subtle pedagogical question: What is the best way for non-English speakers to be integrated.

  • Ms. Bolanos


    I believe that dual immersion programs are a good way of teaching our children about other cultures, languages, and people that are different from us. It is important to teach children that being different is not a bad thing but that we can learn from each other’s differences. As having worked with the dual immersion program students at Melrose, it was just amazing to see the children grow in the Spanish language. They went from knowing absolutely nothing to speaking to you in fluent spanish. It was just amazing.
    And to Nextset, FYI spanish is spanish no matter where you go, people might speak it differently but it is still spanish. Whether you go to Spain, Mexico, Central or South America, it is still Spanish!!!!!

  • Nextset

    Ms. Bolanos: Your students are supposed to be learning about US culture and language. Foreign language and culture comes second and is more appropriate for the older students.

    As far as teaching the kiddies that “being different is ok” – this is also NOT the function of a public primary school. That is political indoctrination which also is more of an issue for the older students. The real problem here is rad-lib dogma in the public school that has supplanted previous mission priority of reading, writing, math and penmanship. This kind of policy is why OUSD students (urban public school kids) tend to have worthless proficiency in basic skills and are economically impaired later in life.

    While some students have greater capacity the left side of the bell curve is not able to manage the broad range of material that the right side does. Public schools – especially in the urban areas – exist mostly for the proletariat. There are very specific skills that make the difference in quality of life for the proles. Verbal skill, diction, deportment and basic proficiency is key for proles. None of this is advanced by such an immersion program even if that program may serve a purpose for some kids.

    To the extent your immersion program doesn’t advance English and Math skill for public school students (ie proles) it has to go.

    As long as the families involved are voting with their feet – are able to go elsewhere (Charters, etc) I think this experiment could be tolerated. It would be appalling for such a policy to be used on the default or no-choice public schools.

  • J.R.

    I have to agree with some of what Nextset said, mathematics, reading, writing,spelling and science are of the highest priority. Any other subject that takes time away from these “core” subjects should be re-evaluated and minimized or dropped. Core subjects are crucial for survival in real “day to day” life. All this hogwash about “bell curve” and proletariat, and indoctrination is just a smokescreen(It’s just about money and power) so all the little euphemism’s can cease now. Ever since everything collapsed under “duhbya” all these brilliant prognosticators have been proclaiming “stagflation is just around the corner”, or “we are headed over the cliff”…… well if you were that knowledgeable you would put your money in stocks or precious metals, or emergents and be too wealthy to even need to care. So just quit the lame dog and pony show, it just doesn’t look good.

  • Gordon Danning

    Nextset and J.R.:

    I realize that standards for online discourse are awfully low, but is it too much to ask that people ground their statements in some sort of facts? Foreign language proficiency is not an economically useful skill? Really? Multinational corporations don’t value that skill? Core subjects are useful in day-to-day life? Really? The sciences? Literature? And, foreign language instruction is best left for later years? Thats not what the research on language acquisition says, is it? Or, am I wrong?

  • J.R.

    The languages of money, English, and mathematics are all “pretty much” universally spoken on this little blue planet. English is the language of business, math is used to calculate prices, get and make change, calculate distance. Reading and writing are used to fill out applications, reading directions are important of course. Yes, core subjects are used “EVERY” day by anyone that works for a living.

  • Pamela

    I have a niece who is 16. She attended a Korean-English immersion program in SF from the ages of 6-12. It was really a wonderful experience for her. She speaks fluent Korean. Knowing another language can change the scope of your life. She’s a good student. Has had very little problem in regular english classes. Additionally, her world view has change. I wish that my son would have had the same opportunity.

  • Gordon Danning


    Come on. You’re talking about ludicrously low levels of mastery of basic skills. Is that really all you expect for education, that kids be able to fill out applications? Your previous posts seem to belie that. Surely we can agree that we should demand that OUSD students become proficient in ALL of the subjects, including foreign language, that are required for high school graduation.

  • Nextset

    Gordon Danning, you are out of your mind to expect foreign language proficiency on a large scale from students who turn in some of the lowest average math & verbal scores in the state and have some of the highest drop rates (some of the worst students in the state).

    No, was cannot demand OUSD students become proficient in all of the subjects….. “required for high school education”. Your average scores are so rancid your products can’t read or write and that doesn’t factor in the drop outs you ran off in the earlier grades which would make the true scores even lower. Have you seen the black performance numbers from OUSD?

    These students – the clients of OUSD – are not high IQ people. This isn’t Piedmont. You cannot have it all here. By attempting to have it all (a college prep school district), you increase the drop rate and marginialize the majority of the prole students.

    OUSD and the other urban schools are first expected to get their black averages up on the basics and that is math and verbal, not foreign language and higher math. Whether you do it with Dick and Jane readers or have everybody read The Oakland Tribune out loud, basic education comes before any fantasy notions of college prep. And while you are at it you need to teach writing and penmanship.

    As a practical matter OUSD should have a separate campus for college prep and advanced studies. The bulk of your clients, and by this I include the “drop outs” who are really your throw aways – are only in the school for basic education that is being denied them in favor of fad education.

    You speak of multinational corporations and turn out “students” who can’t get or hold a job at McDonalds & Wal*Mart because they are so badly “educated” they are unemployable. Yes you have some Stanford bound kids. Immigrants… Egyptians…

    These are generalizations – my position is tied to the black scores on the standardized tests. I know you have white and hispanic students, a few whites and increasing numbers of hispanics. Most of your success stories would have done so being homeschooled or studying by correspondence.

    Attempts to impose college prep in this situation on that student body is just a plan to increase the drop rates and further degrade basic and remedial education at OUSD. Teach your students to read, write and behave first, and let volunteers who have the basics mastered apply for college prep classes if the qualify.

  • Gail

    In the interest of historical accuracy, the anti-bilingual education initiative was Proposition 227 (209 abolished affirmative action).

    More important, dual immersion programs, if well done, are wonderful. The earlier in life one learns a second language the more easily one achieves fluency, so much better to begin in kindergarten than in high school. Furthermore, I think I’ve seen research showing that children who speak more than one language develop stronger literacy skills in BOTH languages because some sort of synergistic effect takes hold. We in the U.S. are really myopic about the importance of learning other languages.

    I wish my children had had this kind of opportunity when they were OUSD students. Both now speak Spanish, one proficiently, but if they’d started learning at age 5 they would have had a much easier time.

  • Cranky Teacher

    My son was in a dual immersion program in another East Bay district throughout elementary school. The Spanish-speaking families were pleased with the results and stayed in the program consistently. It also proved an efficient way to draw middle-class families to an otherwise completely low-income school, which brings increased social capital to the school community.

    Sadly, the program is now seemingly being undermined by unproven accusations it depresses ELA test scores for both participating student groups.

  • J.R.

    There are so many children in both jr & sr.high who are at very basic even remedial levels in these core subjects, and you worry about kids being able to take a foreign language(I could possibly see it being an extra enrichment for those children who are at or above grade level but not more than that)? On that note how does a child go all the way through elementary without mastering even just reading, as we’ve seen all too often? some people weren’t doing what it takes to do their job through all those grades, that’s not being very efficient.

  • Nextset

    Cranky: Bet your son was not a lower class/underclass kid in a lower class school. He probably was not a product of a single mother either.

    My entire point is that we should not be running OUSD according to a rad-lib fantasy of underclass kids being turned into Rhodes Scholars. You need to run the bulk of OUSD to take the sons and daughters of single mothers/underclass and routinely turn them into lower middle class and higher. Like it used to be and still is elsewhere.

    The more you operate OUSD as a fantasy college prep system the higher the black drop rate is going to go and the worse the literacy rate is going to be – even if you do get a Rhodes Scholar or two (who will probably be Immigrant or Eqyptian to boot).

    OUSD can have it’s college prep – just as San Francisco does. With a small selective campus (ie Lowell High). Imposing college prep on the underclass at large runs them out of the schools and accomplishes worse than nothing.

  • Gordon Danning


    Please stop saying “you”; I am not OUSD personified, nor do my views represent those of OUSD, nor do I even teach either elementary school or foreign language.

    Nextset and JR: You both seem to assume that there are only two types of students in OUSD: 1) morons; and 2) Lowell-type elites. What of the majority of the students in the middle? Would you have OUSD offer them nothing beyond the skills needed to fill out a McDonald’s application?

    JR: Again, I reiterate: “Surely we can agree that we should demand that OUSD students become proficient in ALL of the subjects, including foreign language, that are required for high school graduation.” Even assuming that we don’t do that NOW, that does not imply that it should not be our goal. I don’t accept “I can’t do it; it’s to hard” from my students, so why should my students accept that from you?

  • Nextset

    Gordon Danning: Sorry about imputing OUSD policy to you. Please remind me your position in this education issue, I probably did identify you with OUSD.

    As far as the students in the middle at OUSD – You are correct they exist. My constant sniping about the fate of the proles does concern the black dropouts (who are probably lower than proles) and the black “graduates” who are illiterate and uneducated in the eyes of prospective employers and mates. I am worried that combined, these people do represent a majority of the black students and personify the abject failure of OUSD. I do not give OUSD any credit for “educating” the people who could easily educate themselves with either homeschooling or relatively simple online coursework – or even correspondenc school for that matter. OUSD and the other urban schools cannot take credit with me for people who would have been fine no matter what school they went to.

    And while it’s really great we give foreign language classes to the kids of the middle class to the extent OUSD has them – really really great…

    I won’t strip the proles and the underclass of the basics in education so you can provide Spanish to the children of East Bay well to do.

    So I would be ready to shut down ALL of the college prep before I’d deny the proles driver’s ed.

    It’s a matter of priorities and fairness to me. I’d prefer the proles to have a chance of employment before I’d worry about Ken and Barbie or Mohammad getting UC entrance requirements in.

  • J.R.

    Thats my point, the children are not(as a whole becoming proficient in the core subjects and yet you want to add a variable(foreign language)that is not so important, at this juncture? As a district we are at or near the bottom in California, and worse yet if you don’t factor in the “schools in the hills” we are in subterranean range academically. Thats just pathetic, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Accountability has been nothing more than a buzzword, well things are going to change now because the money has dried up.

  • harold

    does a +50% divorce rate in America have anything to do with, how well our students are doing?

    too many video games?

    is the legalization and legitimization of “medical” marijuana, holding a huge segment of our students back?

    or is just “bad” Teachers?

  • J.R.

    Sure the divorces are a factor, and so is the fact that our children average much less class time than students in many other nations. How are even our “best” teachers supposed to cover material with any kind of “rigor” with less class time? Much less the incompetent teachers. As for bad teachers yeah, these “so-called” educational professional bear a large measure of responsibility. Unfortunately, any moron can pro-create and what is worse “Moronic people” seem to pro-create excessively. Alas, pointing fingers elsewhere does not lessen the responsibility of the teacher. A banner above the school reads “Responsibility: Taking credit or criticism for one’s own actions”! A lot of great teachers I know just shrug and say ” It is my job and my duty to teach my children to the best of my ability, and the other issues will take care of themselves”. You are free to find another career where you might feel less persecuted Harold, at any time. It’s called freedom.

  • carol

    Hi, I live in San Leandro. I am interested to find a dual immersion spanish program in the public/public charter schools close to home in San Leandro. Does anyone know any that exist? Will appreciate the information. Thanks!