Image: Omaha Public Library
Being poor sucks. It is well-known that the poorer (and darker-skinned) you (and your school District) are, the worse your educational outcomes are, anywhere in North America or Europe. In language education, the bias is even more specific: in a traditional language program, by 5th year, the few remaining students tend to be affluent, white, with educated parents, and often female.
Grant Boulanger has done some exemplary work in Minnesota, showing how good C.I.-based language instruction will enable all learners to do more-or-less equally well. And the research is clear: C.I.-based teaching narrows marks ranges and raises all of them.
We tend to argue for C.I.’s effectiveness by saying it works better and showing how amazingly well kids can write Chinese or Spanish, or speak it, etc. Kids who get C.I.– through free voluntary reading, Movietalk, T.P.R.S. stories and reading, Picturetalk, etc– never do worse than grammar kids, occasionally do as well, and generally do significantly better. But what if there were an economic argument to be made for adopting a C.I. program?
Let’s settle this by looking at the numbers, viz
OPTION A: Our beloved Monsieur Tabernac has 30 kids in his French 1 class. Every 10 years, his District replaces his French textbook program. This year, he has options. He can get the Communi-quête program (traditional teaching, with videos, audio listening stuff, cahiers, etc) or
OPTION B: he can go in for, say, Blaine Ray’s Look, I Can Talk books (which include readings, and let’s throw in a Movietalk book too) .
We are assuming that in both cases
1. The resources will serve 30 kids, for 10 years
2. At the end, everything will get thrown out and bought anew
3. Each year, in each program, the kids will buy the workbook. This cost is born by students, and not by the school.
Text: 30 books x $65/book $1950
Teacher book: $350
Audio CDs: $200
Video DVD: $190
COST PER YEAR $270
Look, I Can Talk
Teacher book: $30
Movietalk book $30
Green Bible how-to kit $40
props for stories $100
COST PER YEAR $20
include readings) $14/student/year
So…the textbook option costs thirteen times as much as the T.P.R.S. option, while the per-year cost to the students is $1 higher for T.P.R.S.
So if Monsieur Tabernac was given $3,000 for his language program–use it or lose it; if you don’t buy stuff, the English department gets to order 400 more copies of Lord of the Flies etc– what should he buy? The answer is obvious: the T.P.R.S. curriculum, and novels!
If he ditches the text, Tabernac has $2,800 to buy novels. At about $5/novel from Blaine Ray or Carol Gaab, he can buy 18 class sets of 30 novels each. Or, he could by 36 sets of 15 novels each (so the kids can have more free voluntary reading options).
The costs are even better when we look at Beniko Mason’s story listening. With Story Listening, there is no text, no student workbook, and indeed no materials at all! The stories are available for free on the Stories First Foundation website. All you need is a black/whiteboard, some chalk/markers, and you are good to go. If Monsieur Tabernac went in for story listening, he would pay nothing, and could buy, well, every language-learner-focused novel that exists.
Given what we know about how much student choice and readings and personalisation matter, the answer is a no-brainer: a C.I. curriculum will be cheaper, more fun, and waaaaay more effective.
This is also a significant issue for poorer Districts. In wealthier areas, the richer, whiter kids can hire tutors, go to France in summer, etc, if the textbook and/or grammarian teacher are useless and they want to get better at French. Poor kids don’t have those options…and if we want them to have a shot at college or Uni, money shouldn’t be wasted on bad textbooks that aren’t fun, don’t work, and cost too much.
But ssssshhhhh….don’t tell ACTFL or the textbook companies…