Schools Seek Private Firms to Teach Foreign Tongues

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Feb 18 15:08:37 UTC 2004

>>From the NYTimes, February 18, 2004

Schools Seek Private Firms to Teach Foreign Tongues

At the Atlantis Preparatory School in Manasquan, N.J., it's just after 11
a.m. on a Tuesday. For nine third graders, that means Spanish class.
Carolyn Bermeo, their teacher, introduces a song popular in Latin America.
When she invites the class to join her in acting it out, her charges need
little prodding.  Atlantis Prep is a private school in an upscale
community on the Jersey Shore. A lesson like Ms. Bermeo's might take place
in many schools across the United States, but with one notable difference:
Ms. Bermeo, a native of Bogota, Colombia, is not on the school staff. She
is an employee of Berlitz Jr., a division of Berlitz International,
provider of personal and business language instruction.

In the last few years, more schools have turned to language instruction
companies for teachers. Berlitz Jr., which started hiring out its
instructors in 1987, now serves more than 100 schools in 20 states and the
District of Columbia. Two other language instruction companies have
contracts with a number of Midwestern schools. Most of the schools that
hire language instructors are private, and tuition covers the cost. The
public schools that hire such instructors pay for them out of existing
funds, or through grants or money raised by the PTA. In the St. Louis
area, the Brunetti Language School provides instructors of Spanish,
French, German and Latin to several schools. Dede Brunetti, the company's
vice president, said it had placed 28 instructors in classes ranging from
preschool to 12th grade. In 1995, Christine Frantz, a former teacher,
started World of Languages in Barrington, Ill. Her company offers
preschool through eighth-grade programs in Spanish and French and has 13
instructors in 10 schools - one public and nine private - in the Chicago

Experts cite a dearth of foreign language teachers as one of the main
reasons for these companies' success. According to a 1998 study financed
by the Center for Applied Linguistics, the number of elementary schools
offering foreign languages increased 10% from 1987 to 1997, and the supply
of language teachers cannot meet the demand. "Especially after 9/11,
parents are looking at the curriculum and saying American children should
be learning more foreign languages," said Nancy Rhodes, the center's
director. "It's a grass-roots movement."

Matt Stein, an analyst at Eduventures, a Boston company that advises
education organizations, said that small schools and schools that are far
from a teaching college "can have a particular need for these companies'
services." One of the selling points for the private companies is the
ability to offer instructors who are native speakers, although the
companies do make exceptions. For example, Berlitz Jr. also hires
Americans who have studied abroad or who have been raised in bilingual
families, the company's director, Susan Jacoby, said.

All three companies prefer that their instructors have an education
background or teaching experience, but do not always require that teachers
be state-certified. Each company also trains instructors in its teaching
methods, but the Brunetti Language School is the only one that requires at
least three years' full-time teaching experience with the age group that
the instructor is hired to teach. Tim Dedman, a senior policy analyst with
the National Education Association, which represents teachers, said that
hiring outside instructors "sets up an unfair playing field" when staff
teachers are required to have special training. He also said he had "a
problem with tax dollars going to for-profit companies for instruction in
public schools,"  adding that while the federal No Child Left Behind law
aims at tightening teacher qualifications, "outside instructors are
circumventing state licensing requirements."

He also questioned whether outside instructors were fully investigated.
"Who knows if a person wasn't released for cause in another state or has
any training in teaching kids?" Mr. Dedman said. Such concerns aside,
schools that have hired outside instructors insist that doing so is
cost-effective. At Atlantis, a staff instructor teaches Spanish in the
preschool and kindergarten, and the Berlitz Jr. instructor teaches the
first through fifth grades. The school plans to expand to eighth grade,
but Barbara Levine, dean of students, said it did not need another
full-time instructor. She could not find a part-time Spanish teacher, and
by hiring Berlitz, her students have the added benefit of learning from a
native speaker.

A typical Berlitz Jr. program of six classes offered twice a week costs
$7,000 for 10 weeks, with an added materials charge of $10 per student. A
similar program offered three times a week for 30 weeks costs $30,000,
with materials costing $15 per student. But costs vary. "We customize our
programs according to each school's need," Holly Roach, a Berlitz Jr. area
director, said.

World of Languages charges by the number of students. A typical program of
twice-a-week classes for 26 weeks varies from $119 to $139 per student,
including materials.

Jefferson Junior High School, a largely minority school in Washington,
D.C., uses Berlitz Jr. instructors. Ms. Roach described two of its current
programs. In one, the language instruction firm provides a seventh- and
eighth-grade Spanish class before school as part of the curriculum. In a
second, exploratory program, other seventh-grade students cycle among four
languages - Spanish, French, German, and Italian - every nine weeks. The
classes in both programs are treated like any other academic subject.

Diane Ross, treasurer of the PTA at Shepherd Elementary, another
Washington public school, contacted Berlitz Jr. after parents polled at
PTA meetings said they wanted a foreign language program for their
children. More than half the Shepherd parents are corporate or government
workers, lawyers or self-employed, Ms. Ross said. The Shepherd PTA
financed a two-year Berlitz Jr. Spanish program for kindergarten through
sixth grade that ended last June with the expiration of the current PTA
board's term.

All three companies provide assessments of students' foreign language
proficiency. Berlitz Jr. programs adhere to a school's policy for
assessing students, which might include a final exam or an oral
proficiency assessment, Ms. Roach said. Ms. Frantz said her company
provided oral and written proficiency assessments. All three companies
have instructors give grades when asked and monitor instructors'

Bret Lovejoy, executive director of the American Council on the Teaching
of Foreign Languages, said he was concerned about hiring outside
instructors for a number of reasons, including quality of instruction,
curriculum and the precedent set when what he considers to be part of the
core curriculum is outsourced and paid for separately by parents.

If a school is hiring one of these companies "because foreign language is
not a standard part of a standard curriculum," he said, "then it may
easily be cut again."

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