The committee recommended beginning foreign-language classes in third grade and aiming for proficiency rather than mere exposure, a goal that would require hiring a traveling team of eight specialists and a program supervisor.
The findings were presented for discussion and required no board vote. It will be included in the board's Strategic Plan discussion in the spring, however, board members said.
The committee of parents, teachers, principals and district staff was formed following a board promise last winter to examine language education for all students in the wake of debate about the Mandarin-immersion program starting this August.
The group's findings came after months of studying educational research and programs used in districts similar to Palo Alto, Associate Superintendent Marilyn Cook said.
The best bang for the district's buck would be to begin a program in third grade, once students can already read and write in English, she said.
"You could spend twice as much and do it in kindergarten ... but there's not a lot of proficiency attained," she said.
The school day would need to be lengthened by an average of 15 minutes per day to accommodate two 30- to 40-minute language classes a week, she said.
Such a program would also require the district to re-map its language offerings from third through 12th grade, she said.
Students would enter high school about a year further ahead in studies than they currently do, she said, noting higher-level courses would need to be introduced.
An estimated $800,000 would pay for the foreign-language specialists, $150,000 for a program supervisor and $150,000 for materials, training and program evaluation, according to the group's report.
The total $1.1 million cost is not feasible, board member Camille Townsend said, but she's not ready to give up on elementary foreign-language education.
"It looks like we've boxed ourselves again into not being able to ever do a FLES program," she said. She asked if the group had looked at less expensive, and therefore do-able, options.
Integrating language into pre-existing classes, such as the gym-and-Spanish class, works at the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District, she said.
But FLES committee member Becki Cohn-Vargas, who is also director of elementary education, cautioned: "When you're first learning the language, it's very hard to learn content in another subject area because you don't have the level of language to do it."
Board member Melissa Baten Caswell asked if the study group looked at television-based or online learning.
But even a colorful television show needs a knowledgeable — and salaried — teacher to make the lessons interactive for students, group members said.
"If you don't have a teacher there who speaks the language then the students just get it one way," said Anne Jensen, a French teacher and instructional supervisor at Gunn High School.
Cost concerns should not make the program a binary, yes-or-no choice, Superintendent Kevin Skelly said.
Different options could be considered during strategic planning, he said, adding he hoped to see an online aspect that would allow kids to work at their own pace.
Other concerns about the proposed program included pacing and inclusiveness for all students. Community members said students in special education could be left behind by the fast clip of a proficiency program.
Students in special education would "do what's appropriate" depending on their individualized education plan, Cook said.
Despite complications, community support for a foreign-language program is high, with 55 or 58 e-mails to the committee in favor of the idea, Cook said.
Yet adding a language program may be least appealing to those who would deal with it most — students and teachers.
The program ranked last out of 11 priorities in a spring 2006 survey of parents, staff and students conducted by Gene Bregman and Associates, behind reading, math and writing specialists, among other needs.
When only parents were surveyed, it jumped up to the fourth priority, according to the committee's report.
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