School district's world languages survey yields results but little participation


Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that the Steamboat Springs School District did not file an appeal with the Colorado Department of Education regarding BOCES. According to Superintendent Brad Meeks, he did send a letter to the CDE commissioner outlining the district's concerns with the process.

The 2013-14 school year marks the first time all Steamboat Springs School District students in kindergarten through fifth grade are taking Spanish courses, and even more second-language expansion is being explored at all grade levels.

At Monday’s school board meeting, district Superintendent Brad Meeks will review with the board the results of the most recent world languages survey conducted for students and parents. The 2013-14 world languages survey culled information about topics such as student and parent interest in language instruction outside Spanish and at what grade new-language instruction should begin.

“We’re trying to get a feel for student interest and parent interest,” Meeks said. “Right now, we have Spanish (from) basically kindergarten through high school, and we do have some sections of French at the high school. We really don’t have a second language at elementary and middle school, though, to feed into the high school.”

Meeks said the next step toward implementing even more second-language options likely won’t take place until later in the fall of the 2014-15 school year. The surveys, he said, did reveal some needed information, but participation wasn’t high from parents and students, who answered the questions online through Infinite Campus.

Out of the 1,129 available surveys for student-parent combinations, only 212 responded for an 18.77 percent response rate.

Based on the survey results, about two-thirds of those who took it responded that they were “very interested” in having courses other than Spanish offered, with French being the most popular with nearly 60 percent of the 212 in favor.

Meeks called this round of questions the “kickoff survey” but said no other surveys regarding the same world languages topic are expected anytime soon.

At the Feb. 6 regular Board of Education meeting, the board and Superintendent Meeks discussed the idea of appealing the Colorado Department of Education’s denial for the district to withdraw from the Northwest Colorado Board of Cooperative Educational Services and become its own administrative unit.

And just before the district’s midwinter weeklong break from Feb. 17 to 21, Meeks sent a letter to CDE outlining the district's issues with the denial.

“The district did not go ahead with the appeal,” Meeks said. “We’re leaving the door open to reapply. I did send a letter to the commissioner and our concerns with process.”

In mid-December, CDE denied the district’s wish to operate as its own special education administrative unit, citing reasons that it would be too financially difficult for BOCES if Steamboat separated and that CDE would have trouble monitoring yet another administrative unit.

To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll

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Madison Slater 2 years, 12 months ago

No more than 19% of the survey population could bother responding to a severely critical issue that must be mandated by our U.S. government. Wow. Steamboat/America, let's pay attention to our youth and their future by actually comprising a few minutes in the ebb of compulsory workplace drudgery by concerning ourselves with polls conducted by our school districts (yes, the governing bodies which educate our youth). In comparison to Europe, where 20+ countries have a 90%+ rate of early-age pupils learning a second language, the U.S. has barely caught the train of bilingualism, let alone multilingualism; we have miles to go yet. Get to it then! The next generations must begin to be bilingual so as to escape the debilitating ethnocentric mentalities that inhibit progress and to ensure their spot in our ever-competiting global economy. I want Spanish to be a mandatory course from Kindergarten through High School with the options of a third language as an elective. Let the Sheeple decide if they are to develop their children's intellects by allowing them to pursue German, French, Mandarin, Portuguese, etc. as elective credits, but they must be taught a second language. So long as our children are bilingual, the United States is taking a step in the right direction. If we cannot progress as so, I foresee many of our college graduates failing to compete in the international community which will leave many average Americans left behind.


Brian Kotowski 2 years, 12 months ago

Complete, utter, and absolute nonsense. Portuguese, Madison? A language spoken by 3 one-thousandths of one percent of the world's population. And a kid who doesn't learn it will be “debilitated?” Seriously?

Bilingual education started as a do-gooder initiative to teach immigrant kids, and it's a wash at best. Once in a bilingual program, a student's English often does not improve because they are not using it. For Hispanic kids, the numbers are especially discouraging. According to the Census Bureau, the highest dropout rates are among Hispanics who speak English “with difficulty.” Only half of Hispanic kids who enter English as a second language programs will ever exit those programs. Compared to 92% of Korean language kids, 87% of Russian language kids, and 83% of Chinese language kids.

Comparing the US and Europe is ludicrous. You can drive from Munich to Barcelona in less than a day and encounter nearly a dozen different languages along the way. If you're a truck driver in Europe you'll learn how to communicate in some of them – and not because it was mandated by the bureaucracy.

Like it or not, commerce and economics dictate which languages are spoken and why. Regardless of how it may offend one's childish multicultural sensibilities. On the other hand, maybe I just need to “comprise” more minutes.


Ken Mauldin 2 years, 12 months ago

I agree with Brian; let's let economics determine which additional languages, if any, are required for a basic public education. People can pursue a variety of language options through Rosetta Stone and others, as it fits their individual needs.

Public schools are having a hard enough time teaching basic concepts competently. A hundred years ago we were teaching Greek and Latin in High School, now we teach remedial English in college. Same with math: we used to teach calculus and trig in HS, now it's remedial math in college. It's hard to get very excited about requiring additional language when it's all most districts can do to teach English and math effectively. I suggest we remain focused on what builds job-skills and prepares for college, where additional job-skills are learned. In most cases, forcing kids to learn an obscure second or third language in primary and secondary schools detracts time from more crucial skill development and doesn't do much to prepare them for the workforce.

I had 2 years of French in high school 30 years ago and a) never used it once in commerce and b) have forgotten almost all of it. Sure, it would be great if all of my kids spoke fluently in French and German, but it's a higher priority that they develop job skills so that they may provide for themselves and not be a burden on society.


Scott Wedel 2 years, 12 months ago

If we want our kids to be more competitive then further work on math and science. Our kids graduate HS at least a year behind in those subjects compared to other countries. And our elementary/HS education is not aligned with studying engineering or other science in college since it takes a year or two of college for the average HS graduate to learn enough to start into the major. The main track should include calculus as a HS senior.


mark hartless 2 years, 12 months ago

Pushing the "hamburger" symbol on the cash register works in EVERY language. However, if you can't make change for 20 US Dollars (something many American high school grads seem to suffer with) then you can't make change for 20 Pesos either.

If we can't educate them in ONE language (and we can't) then how exactly are they gonna get educated in multiple languages???


john bailey 2 years, 12 months ago

Mark , duh , there's an APP for that....~;0)...HA


John Weibel 2 years, 12 months ago

The kids can take German online at SSHS as my kids friends do, I am sure just about any language class is offered online.


Madison Slater 2 years, 12 months ago

You're all right. Let's take a step back from specificity here. I thought perhaps we could entertain the thought of having our children be more than just English speaking drones, requiring others to oblige our language when we travel abroad. Rather, the problem here (as addressed by you all) seems to be our education system. I couldn't agree more with the points you are making; yes math and sciences are lacking in the schools, but so are languages. I'm sorry I hold a different worldly opinion on intercultural exchanges. And Brian, you missed my point about the Portuguese as a third language. The point was the third language could be any language, once our children have grown capable of conversing in Español, a language now used widely across our country.

Ken, you are right about letting economics dictate which languages we learn in schools. According to the Census Bureau, here in the United States, the Hispanic population has grown by 43% which accounts to nearly 1 out of 6 Americans. This isn't to say they all speak Spanish, but I'd take a guess and say a good majority do. Hey, I encounter the language multiple times in a day, every day. Whose to say this isn't an economic situation when 1/6 of the population may be using another language. Since, as Brian suggested, the Hispanics in our ESL classes are dropouts, then perhaps allowing them thrive in a country where English speakers are able to interact with these kids in Spanish would give them a boost of confidence to want to learn our language.

Online language classes are useful, but if you don't have a live person facilitating proper conversation in that language, how could they be useful. I'm studying German via DuoLingo (a great and useful language learning site, oh and it's free) while being able to communicate with native speakers and others who have learned before me. If I didn't have the ability to seek advice and correction from these people, my German would become stagnate as I walk around the house narrating my life (Ich esse einen Apfel...)


Scott Wedel 2 years, 12 months ago


The world of business has largely settled on English as the language of international commerce. From an economic standpoint, there is not much to be gained from knowing languages other than English. Immigrants learn to speak English because that is worth several dollars per hour in better pay. The main advantage of learning a second language in school is that helps students understand rules of grammar and thus improve their skills in their first language.

We make it much harder on our kids to get advanced degrees because they are behind on the prerequisites and take 5 or 6 years of college to get a bachelor's degree. Thus, they are typically too far in debt to consider an advanced degree. Meanwhile, students from other countries coming to our colleges can complete the requirements in their major in less than 4 years and can start work towards a master or doctorate.

Thus, it can be said that our elementary and high schools is the difference between a bachelor's degree vs a master's degree. That is a difference costing our students between $50,000 and $100,000 in college costs.

SB overall does a good job compared to the rest of Colorado, but if we want to have kids able to compete internationally then we should create a Singapore Grade Levels program where the knowledge required to advance to the next grade is comparable to that of Singapore.

And the academically advanced programs shouldn't be called "gifted" but "academically accelerated" because most of those students are hard working with good study practices and determination. Changing that also tells other students that the difference between them and those in the faster track is not because of some 'gift', but because of skills that the "nongifted" can learn.

But more languages is mostly a waste of effort.


mark hartless 2 years, 12 months ago

I actually do agree with Madison to some degree. It is good to have a second language and spanish certainly is a logical choice.

I just wish the logic she uses when she says " more than just English speaking drones, requiring others to oblige our language when we travel abroad...." worked BOTH WAYS. Why, if I can't go to Mexico and get a drivers license in ENGLISH, should a Mexican expect to come here and get one in SPANISH???


Madison Slater 2 years, 11 months ago

What this comes down to is Sheeple America. The drone parents who follow the herd, repeating the history of their elders, only to pass on the colicky murmur of pointless existence onto their children. Mostly. I see the points here: a mediocre education system, falling behind countries like Singapore, 5+ years of college (yet I managed a double major in 4, one of those being Spanish), the necessity of math and sciences, etc. What I cannot understand is the blatant ignorance of other human civilizations that has been vomited on this discussion... "But more languages is mostly a waste of effort." Scott, why do you have such low expectations for the youth of America?

If teachers were paid more, we'd have more qualified and appropriate educators who would be able to ensure success for the kids. Or the argument could be that the parents are to blame for their children's failures. I know my opinion.


Scott Wedel 2 years, 11 months ago

An educated person may choose to be knowledgeable in many fields. But the priorities of the school system should be essential skills.

It is extremely hard for anyone to graduate in 4 years with an engineering degree without having taken calculus prior to college. Calculus is a prereq to virtually every engineering course and having to take it in college means having to get into and complete every course in the engineering track in order to not end up taking an extra year. And you can be bounced out of a course in that track by more senior students also seeking to complete the major.

Meanwhile, foreign students start the major with calculus plus diff equations and can start the engineering track from day one. By starting with the math prereq that most US students don't have until their junior year, the foreign student has options to start multiple tracks. And can start work towards their master's prior to graduating.

The educational system that makes a country great is one that can educate people to do more than be good tourists.


Brian Kotowski 2 years, 11 months ago

It's just become impossible to take you seriously, Madison. I daresay there are multiple parties to this discussion who have forgotten more about "other human civilizations" than you've ever learned. The only "vomit" in this thread is your childish caterwauling that the monolingual are ignorant sheep. If only we could "comprise" our minutes like you do. But it is what is it is. しょうがない , as my grandmother would have said.


mark hartless 2 years, 11 months ago

"If teachers were paid more, we'd have more qualified and appropriate educators who would be able to ensure success for the kids. Or the argument could be that the parents are to blame for their children's failures."

That is the most naive thing I've heard since... well... ever.

If you doubled the average teacher's salary, Madison, most of them would take it as a "Q" to cut their hours in half immediately... NOT to double their teaching output.

It is indeed the parents who are to blame for most of their kids shortcommings. No doubt about it.

Anyone who gives a tinkers dam about their kids would get them out of government schools, ensure their BASIC skills such as math, reading, writing, science, etc. Then, they would use the remaing 3 days of the week to teach them the fine arts, social studies, second languages, etc. instead of hauling them all down to the lake or the soccer field where "everyone is a winner" and everyone gets a trophy, whether they can spell "TROPHY" or not.

If throwing money at government schools would improve them, they'd be damn-near perfect by now...


Madison Slater 2 years, 11 months ago

I think Mark is the closest here for being reasonable even though growing a child's happiness, well being and social skills through organized sports would be forbidden in his utopia. Scott would rather his children become engineers by force instead of allowing them to learn a multitude of proper life skills. Sorry, I couldn't disagree with you more. Engineering isn't the saving grace of our world there Scott. It's meant for some, sure, but when your children enter the workforce as engineers and the foreigners are equally as educated (yet speak more than one language), guess who's getting the job. And as far as my caterwauling goes, it's not about Sheeple being's about them being, well, Sheeple! Brian, your grandmother may have been wise, but things can be helped if you put a decent mind to it.


mark hartless 2 years, 11 months ago

It would not be forbidden, Madison. It would just take far more of a back seat, behind those things you also deemed important.

Physical fitness can also be achieved and mainteined by pushing a lawn-mower, raking leaves, painting the house, shoveling snow and other activities classified as "work". Things that kids are now "protected" from unfortunately.

It is truly unfortunate that our society has re-defined work as something to be avoided, as punishment, as something for suckers, etc. Work is a PRIVILEDGE and should be an integral part of any persons education and upbringing.

See folks... Madison wasn't leaning forward with a huge chip on her shoulder waiting to be "offended". She didn't take our comments too personally and responded with some thought-out arguments of her own. THAT'S how you do it... NOT by whining about someone's comments hurting your feelings.

Thanks Madison.


jerry carlton 2 years, 11 months ago

The schools of Steamboat, while not perfect, produce students capable of being Engineers, Doctors, Nurses, etc. The schools of major city ghettos mostly produce dropouts and drug dealers. That would make it appear that student motivation and parent participation have something to do with the education received. There are exceptions in the big city that have been chronicled on television. Too bad the big city schools can not all be exceptional.


Scott Glynn 2 years, 11 months ago

Inevitably these conversations come around to Teachers working harder, then they don't get paid enough and so on, and so on. We seem to lose sight of the fact that the education system we have is the engine that drives these student's cars. But the parents are the fuel that runs the engine. Without parents demanding the success of their children they are destined to fail


Carrie Requist 2 years, 11 months ago

Frekanomics is timely in regards to this conversation. Just covered the ROI of learning a foreign language - Almost no economic gain (2% increase in expected income for Americans who speak a foreign language over those who don't), yet we spend about 1/6th the teaching time in High School on Foreign Language. At SSHS, Foreign language is required, but there are no computer programming classes. US education has to learn to evolve with at least the US economy (if not worldwide). Not nearly as many Spanish teaching jobs as there are computer programmer jobs for these kids once they get out of school.


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