Dear Extra Credit:

There was some very important history missing from your recent language immersion piece ["An Introduction to Immersion," Montgomery Extra, Nov. 10].

The original set of Montgomery County immersion programs were full-blown magnet programs -- voluntary desegregation tools -- and they were designed to "exclude" or "include" limited numbers of kids based solely on race.

For example, the Spanish immersion program at Rolling Terrace Elementary School was put there to keep white parents in the school and attract white parents from outside of the normal neighborhood boundaries. Originally, there was no attempt with these programs to serve everyone.

Of course, looking back on the history of magnets in the county, that was a mistake -- to select programs within a school over all-school magnets (the county's most famous within-a-school magnet program is at Montgomery Blair High School). One could argue that programs within a school are cheaper, but in both the short and long term, they end up creating serious educational inequities (why should white kids get all the creative "stuff"?).

All-school immersion programs are much more equitable, and they have existed successfully for a very long time.

When I worked at Teaching Tolerance magazine (1992-93), we did a feature story on the Escuela Fratney Two-Way Bilingual Elementary School in the Milwaukee public schools. This elementary school provides all of its kids with the creative "stuff," including its native Spanish speakers.

So I agree with you that the district is fortunate to have multiple programs, but the district and parents and kids would be much more fortunate -- and better served -- if the district opened up these programs to more kids, both native and non-native speakers.

Joseph Hawkins


Hawkins is a longtime county education activist.

Dear Extra Credit:

The reader who found inequity in Montgomery County public schools' immersion program certainly missed a lot of other inequities. However, I wonder if fixing the inequities would do more harm than good.

Inside the Spanish immersion program, there are partial and full immersion programs. One school is open by lottery, with in-boundary students having priority in the entry. In the Chinese immersion program, one school is open, with in-boundary priority, and has no busing from out of boundary. The other school is open countywide, including to enrollees from within the other school's boundaries, and has busing.

Per the MCPS Web site: "With the exception of the Spanish dual-language immersion program at Burnt Mills Elementary School, students who are admitted to these programs must have English as their native language." There is no restriction that children of native speakers cannot enroll. So this gives children of native speakers an opportunity to quickly learn the language in any of the three immersion programs.

First, as for the apparent inequity in abilities in the immersion program created by the admission of native speakers, the immersion programs are designed for nonnative speakers, as the reader pointed out. So, in theory, the expectations built into the curriculum should be fixed for those that nonnative speakers could achieve. In essence, native speakers should have an easier time achieving the milestones. However, since the expectations should be for those nonnative speakers, for a nonnative speaker it should become a competition against oneself to achieve the expectations.

There are some definite and equally impactful inequities overlooked by the reader. The first that comes to mind is the fact that foreign language is not offered countywide to all students beginning in elementary school.

Also, speaking of languages, despite 168 or so different languages spoken by MCPS students, there are translations of information on the main MCPS page in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, French and Spanish. Where is German? Russian? The Middle Eastern languages? Any dialect from India or any native African language?

Scott Rogers

Chinese immersion program


Thanks for the history lesson and insight on the extreme complexities of this system. Given the success of these programs, I would support any move that opened them up to more students.