A middle school in Southern California is spending $10,000 a year to teach Advanced Placement Spanish to 35 of its 650 students -- and all but one of them are already fluent in Spanish.
Thirty-four of the kids in the AP class are from Mexico or are the children of Mexican immigrants. They all grew up speaking Spanish at home.
The program -- the only one of its kind in California -- has outraged some critics who say they are concerned that the AP course wastes public resources – including taxpayer dollars – to teach native Spanish speakers how to speak their native language in an American public school.
“In public schools, Spanish speakers should put their focus on making sure that they are fluent in English and equipped to speak the kind of English that will open the doors of opportunity to them in this country,” says K.C. McAlpin, executive director of Pro English, a non-profit organization promoting English as the official language of the United States.
“I think this school is kind of playing games with educational resources, that you know, I think any taxpayers, especially local taxpayers, would object to,” McAlpin told FOXnews.com.
But administrators at Lemon Grove Middle School, located eight miles outside San Diego, are enthusiastic about the program, which they say will help prepare the 6th- through 8th-graders for college.
“Our goal is basically to provide kids with an opportunity to excel and to feel really satisfied about doing the higher level work,” Lemon Grove School District Superintendent Ernie Anastos told FOXNews.com.
He said the AP course goes well beyond the students’ everyday conversational skills. “This is not ordering-at-a-restaurant language. This is taking a graduate course language.”
But McAlpin is not convinced. “This whole thing about building their self confidence is a bunch of hooey," he said.
"Students are not fooled by this. If anything they’re going to – they’ll be inclined to become cynical about the system. And how it can be sort of rigged in their favor.”
Critics also say Lemon Grove’s AP class is wasting California’s tax dollars during the severe national recession. The state’s budget, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last week, cut over $8 billion in educational spending. The federal stimulus package may soften the blow of the cutbacks -- preliminary estimates show the state will receive over $8.5 billion for education -- but that is not guaranteed.
Advanced Placement course curriculums are provided by the College Board, a non-profit association that offers standardized testing for college-bound students, including the SAT. In most cases, AP classes are offered only in high school for high-level students who qualify based on their grades.
A high score on an Advanced Placement exam often allows students to be exempt from taking introductory college courses in the subject. In some cases, a good AP score in high school will fulfill a college's proficiency requirement in the subject.
Lemon Grove principal Ambler Moss says his school is the only middle school in California to implement the AP class, which he believes will boost the students’ confidence because they already have an edge.
“I figured I’ve got a natural asset – and that is, kids who are Spanish speakers – and this would be an opportunity for them to get a head start,” Moss said.
But teachers in other school districts question Lemon Grove’s motives for offering the course to middle schoolers.
“I’m not sure what’s behind that, but I have suspected and continue to be wary of programs in my district that are making it easy for kids to graduate from high school, and also helping to pad their GPAs (grade point averages) and their chances of getting into universities,” says Dan Kimber, a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District.
“A kid who is fluent in Spanish taking an AP class, really it’s kind of redundant.”
Another concern is that Advanced Placement classes are weighted -- a student’s grade in an AP class is equal to a higher grade in a non-AP class -- and a good grade in an AP class impresses college admissions offices.
“It’s about an AP class that carries a weighted grade, which means a B is really equal to an A,” Kimbler said. “And for kids wanting to get into UC or Ivy League colleges, they need to have AP classes that have weighted grades.”
According to the US Census Bureau, California has the largest Hispanic population in the United States with more than 13.2 million people. Nearly one in five people speaks Spanish at home in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.