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Originally published Tuesday, April 6, 2010 at 4:06 PM

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Language-immersion programs boost Seattle students

Language-immersion programs are helping Seattle Public Schools' students boost their performance in the classroom. Innovative offerings such as these can help Washington compete for federal education grants.

AS the rest of the world becomes more globally attuned, America is often criticized for falling behind, particularly in education.

Among solutions adopted by Seattle Public Schools are language-immersion programs, where students are taught 50 percent of the time in English and the rest of the time in a foreign language.

Raised test scores and confidence levels are among the gains at elementary schools like Beacon Hill International and John Stanford International. Students in Stanford's first Spanish-English class tested about 20 points higher in reading and math on the state's standardized fourth-grade test than students a grade ahead taught in English only.

These are the kinds of innovative programs envisioned by education reformers and spurred by efforts such as the competitive Race to the Top federal grants.

In addition to long waiting lists that underscore the popularity of language-immersion programs, educators point to studies proving dual-language instruction's efficacy in teaching students, including those with limited English skills. While many students still do not take up a foreign language until middle school or later, studies have shown foreign languages are more easily taught and learned in elementary school.

In Seattle, nearly a quarter of children ages 5 to 17 speak a language other than English, and in some elementary schools, nearly 50 percent of students are eligible for bilingual services.

In the 2008-2009 school year, the federal government spent $100 billion more on K-12 education than it had in the previous year. That is not counting the nearly $100 billion in stimulus funds earmarked for education.

With an increase in funding, America has an opportunity to invest in bilingual education.

Seattle's language-immersion programs offer a creative and proven way to improve academic achievement. These successful programs have the potential to improve the quality of education in America.

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