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State Board of Education Update

Don't Say 'Foreign Language,' Say 'World Language'

By Jeff Hudson - January 9, 2009

In marked contrast to November's meeting – which was highlighted by pointed criticism of the implementation of federal No Child Left Behind legislation – January's meeting of the State Board of Education (SBE) was a comparative walk in the sunshine.  Most of Wednesday’s votes were unanimous, relatively few critical remarks were heard, and the board members took time to publicly praise each other's work.

The SBE unanimously approved a set of World Language Content Standards – the first of their kind in the state.  Board member Yvonne Chan, who grew up in China and speaks five languages, said she’d gotten involved early on with the group that prepared what were initially called "foreign language" standards.

Chan told her fellow board members that she'd told the standards committee "What do you mean 'foreign'? It's world language. I know people talk about global competitiveness. I'm looking for global cooperativeness. . . My students (at the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center, in Pacoima) all speak English, Spanish and Mandarin, and they’re Title I, free- and reduced-price lunch."

Board member Don Fisher asked when California students begin studying world language, and was told by staff that generally, courses are offered in middle school and high school. "That's too late," said Fisher, "They should start in the second grade."

Seven speakers came forward during public comment to praise the new standards, including Nicole Naditz of the California Language Teachers Association, who told the SBE that studying a world language correlates to improved proficiency in English and improved performance on standardized tests.  No one spoke in opposition to the proposed standards, which apply to a host of languages, including American Sign Language.

"I'm really shocked that we didn’t have these (standards already)," said SBE member Ruth Bloom. "It makes me ask, what else do we not have standards for?"

The vote to approve the World Language standards was unanimous, with some board members voting "sí," "oui" and "ja" in the spirit of the occasion.

The SBE also unanimously approved a timeline for development of the mathematics framework, which will allow staff to develop guidelines and an application form for the commission that will do the work.  The item was approved with little discussion, and did not generate any of the controversy associated with the SBE's 8th-grade Algebra testing decision, which is the subject of a lawsuit brought by the California School Boards Association, the Association of California School Administrators, and the California Teachers Association.

In addition, the SBE quickly and unanimously approved a similar timeline for development of a health framework.

The SBE also voted unanimously to create an African American Advisory Committee (AAAC), which was instructed to work closely with the existing English Learner Advisory Committee.  Several speakers, including some from the Los Angeles Unified School District, praised the SBE for creating the AAAC, including Dr. Norma Baker, who presented 2,000 signatures supporting the new panel.

The SBE unanimously rejected a set of proposed Native American Supplemental Materials, follow a staff recommendation, which found the materials wanting on 89 specific points, and lacking in a description of the diversity of California tribal nations.  State Superintendent Jack O’Connell said he'd try to find a way to get other material that staff could recommend, saying "I'm committed to this."

There was also a two-hour midday break in Wednesday's SBE meeting, as the board members went across the street to the State Capitol to support board members Yvonne Chan and James Aschwanden, who spoke before the Senate Rules Committee, which was considering their nomination for another term on the SBE.  The Senate Rules Committee ultimately confirmed both Chan and Aschwanden, though they did field a few questions relating to the SBE's 8th-grade Algebra testing mandate.

Editor's Note: Jeff Hudson is the editor of EdBrief and an award-winning education reporter and writer in print, radio and television media.