The state superintendent's recommendation that schoolchildren learn two foreign languages as part of a proposed lengthened school day drew fire from some state school board members Friday.
"Why should we spend a buck on anything else until all the kids speak English well?" said Boyd Jensen, member of the Utah Board of Education.His comments echoed those of board members Neola Brown and Waynette Steel, who questioned whether additional courses might increase dropout rates.
But State Superintendent of Public Instruction Scott Bean defended his proposal, saying foreign languages would give students skills they need in a global market.
"I don't think we should lower our standards," Bean said. "We need to raise the bar in the classroom and raise the bar for total competency."
Bean's stance was backed by board member Grant Hurst, who said foreign language expands capacity to learn English and instills arts appreciation and confidence. Board chairwoman Kathy Garff agreed.
"It's a way to communicate in a very global world," she said, praising Bean's overall proposal. "The education community wants to be involved in making this (proposal) happen. We have a very visionary, qualified superintendent . . . to see most of these dreams come true."
The board will continue discussions, which in upcoming months will involve superintendents, teachers and the Joint Liaison Committee, whose members include public and higher education representatives and business executives.
The Utah Education Association supports the proposal and looks forward to discussions, said its president Phyllis Sorensen.
"You have our unqualified support," she told Bean and the board. "We applaud you for your efforts. We want all of our kids to have a quality public education."
Foreign languages could be taught during 90 and 180 hours Bean proposes adding to annual school instruction, which averages out to an extra 30 minutes for elementary and one hour for secondary school students.
Public school now must be held for at least 180 days and 990 hours, which averages out to 5.5 hours of daily instruction for second- through 12th-graders. Kindergartners and first-graders receive about 2.5 hours and 4.5 hours of daily instruction, respectively.
The extra time could be focused on language arts, reading and math in kindergarten and first grade. Second- through sixth-graders could learn an international language and increase fine arts instruction, while seventh- and eighth-graders could use the time for international language instruction, career exploration, life skills and supervised study sessions.
High school students could meet additional graduation requirements, including competency in a second foreign language, two applied technology courses and three science and math courses, among others.
"The State Board of education over the years has made efforts to change the school year for a reason: to give depth to literacy skills of students," Bean said. "This is a serious recommendation. It is something we need for this state and something we need for children."
That is why the Legislature should add to education coffers $112 million, or a 5 percent budget increase over this year's $2 billion public education budget, in ongoing funds, Bean said.
Another $118.5 would be needed for 11 proposed applied technology training institutions throughout the state, which would incur $13.7 million in annual operation and maintenance costs. They would fall under the state school board's jurisdiction.
The proposal would add teachers or compensate those working additional time. Elementary teachers also could seek endorsements or subject-specific teachers could be employed, Bean said.
Ten career ladder days would allow teachers to balance time with students and that for professional development. Bean says those days also could ensure that the last days of school each year are not devoted to video-watching while teachers clean up, as some parents have complained. Teacher pay stops with the final bell.