Saturday, February 21, 2009

Robbinsdale School District- Spanish Immersion

First: I believe there are benefits to exposing students to Spanish Immersion. (K-5) Primarily, it takes advantage of a period in the development in a child's brain when it is easier to become bi-lingual. Possibly allowing some topics to be learned easier in the future.

Second: Overall, I believe the typical RAS curriculum works just as well or better in teaching kids the core subjects. (ie reading, writing, math, science, etc)

Thirdly: I only write this blog because repeatedly the RSIS folks tell me how great the program is, we need to expand it and this will fix the district's academic performance issues...

Below are the links to the RSIS, ZLE and RAS report cards and demographics. In summary, ZLE has twice as many special education students, twice as many free/reduced lunch students and equivalent test scores.

The reality is that Spanish Immersion succeeds as well as it does is because the school has:
  • only 5% special education
  • only 8% free and reduced lunch
  • only active parents focused on education submit their children's name into the lottery

Now it is good to be proud of your school, yet we also need the humility to face reality. I accept that a key factor in ZLE's success are the staff, parents and students. Please understand that though RSIS is a great school with great staff, parents and students. It is still by far the most segregated and specially treated school in the district. This is really the key to its success and this will not hold as the student/parent body comes to closer to matching RAS.

So every night when you go to bed, thank god that your child's name was selected in the lottery that allowed you to escape the reality of the RAS community schools. I know I am thankful for ZLE and pre-AP. Now how do we give back to improve general education at all the elementary schools.

ZLE Demographics

RSIS Demographics

RAS Demographics

ZLE Performance

RSIS Performance

RAS Performance


Anonymous said...

Bravo!! Your comments were very similar to an e-mail I sent the school board in January. I have two children that both went to Pilgrim Lane. One child is now in pre-AP at PMS. With mixed emotions are younger child in moving to ZLE next year.
Both, Zachary and Pilgrim Lane did very well on AYP scores dispite there large numbers of "free and reduced lunch" and "special ed" students. Your comments on RSI are always right on! If the district truly wants to boast about the success of RSI, they need to promote to special ed, minority and families that need free/reduced lunches. RSI needs to be teaching these children as well as the other schools in the district.
I would also like to add (because I usually get a comment that my children must not have gotten into RSI with the lottery). We never at any time had any interest in RSI. We loved the community of PLE and were looking forward to getting to know the ZLE community.
By the way - love your blog!

John said...

I can say with certainty that we are looking forward to welcoming all of the new parents and students with open arms...

The ZLE and PLE PTO officers have already started discussions about how to move forward, though it is somewhat challenging since the PLE student body is being split up. And with the intra-district transfer mess.

ZLE can not fit all the requests from PLE parents, and the folks that are current ZLE families who are supposed to be shifted to Forest or Meadow Lake. (an upcoming blog)

By the way, just like all good businesses I value word of mouth advertising. Tell your friends about me and I'll try to keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I also never considered the RSI lottery, because I have a great neighborhood school. I don't buy into the idea of expanding RSI to "keep people in the district." If people don't get into RSI, but have a great neighborhood school, they don't leave. They only leave if they view RSI as their "escape hatch."
281 calls it their "signature program," but nobody moves here so they can send their kids to RSI.

Jennifer Griffin-Wiesner said...

Hi, an RSI parent I'm reluctant to comment here as I'm sure it will come off as at least somewhat defensive. But, it's an important conversation so here it goes:

We were happy to be able to submit to the RSI lottery with Sunny Hollow as a backup. Knowing what I know about the other elementary schools in our district I would still feel that way...that we had a win-win option. However, I caution against drawing too many conclusions about any of the schools in the district using comparisons to other district schools as your basis. For one thing, there are no control groups. Thus, you can't say definitively that RSI succeeds only because of its community population. The same is true of the success or failure of any other school.

This district needs to balance innovation and basics, old school and neo-school. Growing RSI offers a different option to more people who want it.

That's all for now...more soon I'm sure.

Take care,


R-Five said...

Sooner or later I will have to take this tender subject on with regard to the expense involved. Like, is it worth it? And to be blunt, is this just another "white flight" option that replaced the Technology Learning Campus, discontinued for that very reason?

More generally, should a District that's having trouble with in some subjects or demographics allow itself to be overly distracted with RSI, AP, IB, Gifted, etc programs?

John said...

Thank you for commenting and you are absolutely correct. None of this is statistically valid. As usual, I am just trying to get people to stop long enough to THINK...

Both those who think RSI is a bunch of prima donnas and those who think the curriculum would save the district. Blind acceptance is bad either way.

Anonymous said...

You're aware, of course, that the exact same comparisons could be drawn between ZLE and, say, Lakeview. Using raw data, in general--fewer reduced lunches, fewer families in poverty, more engaged parents (they don't move to the Western part of the district by accident) make for higher test scores. Ta da. In all honesty, ZLE and RSI have much more in common demongraphically than they have areas of differentiation--with a state average of reduced lunches at 31%, you're splitting hairs, imo.

Yes, it's a great school with good scores. So the best thing to do is. . . . dismantle it? Make families pay for transportation? That's SURE to make the student population more diverse. . . .

I'm often baffled at the resentment toward RSI. I sincerely doubt it's any more expensive--ratio is the same, teachers are paid the same, until this year I suspect there was actually *less* overhead because of the sharing of the building and principal (which, imo, was a terrible idea) would have made up for any transportation expenses.

Absolutely it would be fantastic to have an even more diverse student body. So strive toward that goal instead of this never ending criticism. Perhaps now that we have our very own principal that person can work toward attracting more diverse families, which can now be accommodated by adding add'l sections.

In a company, you don't dismantle highly successful departments just because they happen to be, uh, highly successful. You try to implement the principles across the organization, yes? Neighborhood schools can be GREAT! I love them. But I also think programs that serve kids across the district can be GREAT. This doesn't have to be some artificial either/or situation.

Question for you: what would it take for RSI to stop being your district whipping boy? To have the same demo numbers as ZLE? or as Northport? To have the space to accept every family that applies? I'm not being facetious--I'm genuinely curious.

John said...

You must have missed my first point: I believe there are benefits to exposing students to Spanish Immersion. (K-5)

As for what I want right now. I want the people who get special busing privelages to pay for this benefit, so the money can be used in the neighborhood schools. Especially the ones with more diverse populations.

As for ZLE, you are correct. I have a great community school and am very thankful for it. I am especially thankful that it does not cost the district any special busing, special teachers or special curriculum/development. As far as district expenses, it is just another community school.

I am happy to keep RSI intact, I would just like the parents to pay for any "extra" expenses. Just like we do at ZLE. (ie playgrounds, computer labs, & other perks...)

Anonymous said...

Point taken. Thanks for the kind words about RSI.

First the transportation:
I think it's worth pointing out that you didn't mention transportation at all in your blog entry, just the demographics.

So, bottom line, do you wish for RSI to be more diverese and serve a wider demographic population? Because I believe that can, and should, happen. Or do you want to charge a tax for families who want to attend? Because that can happen, too. But you need to choose, because you can't achieve both. Poorer families, ELL families, single parent families--they may not be in a position to pay a fee for something that has always been provided.

I think your transporatation idea sounds good on its face, but falls apart under examination: my child doesn't bus. Do you propose that people who don't utilize school transporation get a credit under you plan? And some families live as close to RSI as to their neighborhood school, should they pay extra, too? What if bus routes were re-written and RSI families had to drop off at a point no further than their neighborhood school? How far do you want to take this idea?

I maintain that your geographic location, combined with your income, shouldn't limit your ability to participate in the programs a district has to offer.

And a word about the 'extras':
I need to ask--is there a special RSI curriculum/development staff position that you're referencing? And who are the 'special teachers' you mention? RSI has teachers, period--just like every other elementary. And RSI parents most assuredly raise money for the 'extras', as well as funds for teachers in the classroom.

I'm interested in your viewpoint, but I think you're making some broad assumptions about costs and staffing.

John said...

Forgot one comment: I would also like the RSI parents to agree that like ZLE, the success is due to the student body, not the curriculum. Both curriculum work equally well.

I think the "In a company, you don't dismantle highly successful departments just because they happen to be, uh, highly successful. You try to implement the principles across the organization, yes?" rhetoric probably draws the animosity. It sounds like you feel RSI practices are better than the typical RAS practices.

Which was the point of the blog and thank you for helping to make my point.

Anonymous said...

Well, actually, I was just making a simple point about best practices--whether in business or education, you try to replicate the environment that creates success. In education, for better or worse, that's measured by test scores.

Beyond the RAS, language immersion is a proven pedagogy that produces results and my point is that it would be great to be able to offer it to more families. So sorry, I guess that doesn't support your point.

Involved parents, committed teachers, visionary administrator, nurturing environment, proven curriculum, disciplined students--that's what creates good schools. I think you give too much credit to parents.

John said...

I will save the critical importance of parents for a future blog. Thanks for the idea...

Of course I disagree, since I believe Meadow Lake, Forest, Northport and Lakeview all have great staff that care about kids, some engaged parents and good curriculum. Yet test scores are not going too well. More on this later...

To All: any other thoughts?

Christine said...

As far as the "resentment" towards RSI... it comes from the special privileges that are afforded the program and the fact that it excludes higher needs students.

I think it's a great program. To give your child the gift of being bilingual is amazing. For my family, it didn't fit my vision for what I wanted my child's elementary experience to be, but I think it's wonderful to have the option. But, the resentment is there for a reason.
It does not cost more to run RSI than a traditional elementary school, so the district says, except for the transportation. But the transportation is pretty expensive. Offering the transportation does offer access, but considering the program only has 7% free and reduced lunch when there are schools with 70% free and reduced lunch, the access isn't really helping to get lower income students into the program.

They call it a "signature program," but it's much easier to have success when you have zero student movement and almost no poverty. Plus, by design, it eliminates any ELL student and most special ed students.

Also, RSI gets special privileges. For example, with the budget cuts, we were told that our PTO couldn't raise money to hire aides to help teachers with the large class sizes, because it would be unfair to the schools who may not have the means to do that fundraising. But RSI sends a note home asking each family for $65, and they get to hire TAs.

The board just gave RSI $30,000 toward starting up their "new" library. But other schools in the district are doubling in size and get nothing.

Stuff like that happens again and again, and it starts to get annoying.

John said...

Christine, ZLE got the same "white privelage", can't fund raise to add staff speech... Also, your comments echo what I typically hear from non-RSI parents.

RSI Parents, Did RSI actually get to add TA's with a $65 donation or is this one of those urban legends that propogate?

Anonymous said...

ALL posts here seem to make some good points.
I just want to clarify - Free and Reduced lunches are based on students in the home area of the school. NOT students who actually attend the school. So when looking at percentages it would pay to look at how those percentages are arrived at.
Second - Yes, RSI was allowed to "fund raise" for additional TA's last year. One thing to keep in mind: RSI's PTO raises funds EVERY YEAR for all TA's needed, not just last year. AS WELL AS play grounds and everything else that the rest of the PTO's raise funds for. My personal knowledge is that additional help in the classroom needs to speak fluent Spanish so it requires a special skill set as well as providing the multicultural experience that is part of the school curriculm. All of the TA's are from native Spanish speaking countries who come here on temperary teaching visa's. The PTO has to raise all funds needed to bring them to the United States as well as their pay and incidentals while here. So raising funds for TA's is not something new, it is what the parents/PTO do every year. The district does not give RSI more funding, the parents need to raise it EVERY YEAR.
Also, there are special education kids at RSI. As many of you have said, RSI is a choice and if the parents do not make the choice, their children do not have the option to attend. It is not like the applications are looked at and someone says, "This one is special ed; reject it." This is a LOTTERY. ALL are welcome to apply, not everyone chooses to. I really wish RSI would be looked at for what it is, AN OPTION, NOT A PRIVILEDGE.

John said...

14 TA's for ~$70,000 that does seem like a good deal. Do they have English speaking TA's we can import?

Now seriously, the district develops a core curriculum, buys core supplies, provides core teachers, etc to meet the American educational requirements.

Then, since we have decided to offer choice, they spend to develop alternative curriculum, offer alternative busing, provide alternative supplies, provide additional management, etc. If the district was not spending on choice, this money would go to the other elementary schools.

Since the district could meet all applicable standards without RSI, and it drives up the cost per student. I still think it is a privelage you should be very thankful for. A nice cherry on top of the sundae...

John said...

After writing the response I had second thoughts, I wondered if I was mistaken on the definition of privilege...(and not just the spelling...) So I checked it out. These seem to be the most applicable defs from the free dictionary.

"the opportunity to do something which gives you great satisfaction and which most people never have the chance to do"

"such an advantage, immunity, or right held as a prerogative of status or rank, and exercised to the exclusion or detriment of others"

Seems I did have the correct word...

Just wondering.. Does anyone have an understanding of how free and reduced lunch stats work for RSI? I don't see how RSI FREP can be so low, if it is based on the school location? (ie RALC) Seems it must be based on attendees. Help...

As a reminder, I am not anti-RSI. Just reminding folks it is an apple that is in with a bunch of oranges. And that it truly does generate extra costs that I think the attendees should absorb.