Coalition of Parents Commissions Expert Report on MCPS Language Programs

Analysis recommends that school officials expand two-way immersion, prioritize racial equity


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An expert analysis commissioned by Montgomery County parents is advising public school leaders to invest in more two-way language immersion programs, continue giving siblings preference for admission to such programs and prioritize racial equity in enrollment.

A group of parents, educators and community members banded together in the fall to raise more than $5,000 to pay for the review by Virginia Diez, a scholar in language immersion programs. The report released Monday takes stock of different language immersion programs across the nation and makes several recommendations to Montgomery County Public Schools officials, who are set to discuss the programs Tuesday.

“The reason we commissioned the white paper was we really felt like the opportunity to participate in these types of programs is so valuable, but it’s just not reaching enough children, and it’s not reaching—in all instances—the children who need it the most,” parent Lindsey Allard Agnamba of Kensington said.

The recommendations are to add two-way immersion programs; create a dual language committee of parents, experts and educators; assess the need for future programmatic expansion and retain the so-called “sibling link.” Agnamba said she’s heartened that MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith has advocated for establishing additional two-way immersion programs in schools in coming years. In two-way immersion programs, enrollment is balanced between English speakers and native speakers of a target language, and studies have shown the approach yields greater benefit to students, according to the analysis.

Agnamba and other parents are also urging the school board not to eliminate the sibling link for language immersion schools, a policy that grants entrance to students whose older brothers and sisters are already enrolled in the programs. Normally, students are admitted through a lottery process and end up on a waitlist when all of the spaces are full at the seven elementary schools and five middle schools where language immersion programs are offered.

However, the school board last month moved forward a proposal to stop automatically awarding spots to siblings and is gathering community input before deciding whether to finalize the change.

For Agnamba, the decision has personal implications. She said her 5-year-old daughter is enrolled in a French immersion program at Sligo Creek Elementary School in Silver Spring, and she wants her 3-year-old daughter to be accepted to the same program. Her husband is of West African descent, and his family speaks French, so acquiring the language is important for their children, she said.

“That is going to guarantee that our children have a bridge to their culture,” she said.

She said her group of parents will disseminate the white paper and hope school board members and MCPS officials will consider its recommendations.

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