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MI Lottery Applications - interest is Low, not High

Original post made by Parent on Mar 20, 2008

I beg to differ with Kristina Petersen's assessment of the meaning and importance of number of applicants for the Mandarin Immersion program. The article in the Daily today said there were 142 applicants for MI (100 English speaking and 42 Mandarin speaking - for 40 Kinder/First Grade spots). If you consider that PAUSD has a total of 1650 Kinder and First graders this year, then the number of applicants for MI represents only about 8% of the kinder/first grade population. And then the article says that Mah didn't make the original cut, but has subsequently won a spot because of people opting out. In other words, of the 142 applicants some were apparently pretty luke warm about their interest in the program in the first place. PAUSD is already digging in to the waiting list to fill that program. I wonder how far???

So all in all, it sounds like PAUSD is barreling ahead with a program that appeals to a very tiny percentage of the population - something less than 8%. Would that be more like 5% 4%, 3%, 2%? It would be interesting to know how many have declined their spots and how far down the waiting list they've gone so farů Even at 8%, these numbers prove that PAUSD is catering to the specialized desires of a few with this program. I wonder if PAUSD is so well off that they can design specialized curriculum around each 8% slice of the population, one at a time? Because for the California education community at large suffering mightily with budget cuts, that must be what it looks like.

As for whether this level of interest proves 'on a meta level' interest in choice programs... Perhaps the relatively small slice of population that applied for the language programs are actually interested in language education, where there are no other options available to them today through PAUSD. I wonder what the interest level would have been if PAUSD were offering FLES for all students.

Comments (78)

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2008 at 11:06 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 20, 2008 at 11:54 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] This money could have been better spent, or perhaps even set aside for the inevitable rainy day. In fact, that rainy day is here right now. Great planning PAUSD and Board of Education. I know you are not getting my vote for additional monies via bonds until you stop spending money in such a precarious manner.

Posted by PA Parent, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2008 at 12:42 pm

"Even at 8%, these numbers prove that PAUSD is catering to the specialized desires of a few with this program." So what? Why do you object? These are kids the district needs to educate.

"The school district is screaming about budget cuts, yet has the money to pander to such a small interest group with district-wide money." Er, you are uninformed. MI is cost-neutral--it doesn't cost any more than a regular PAUSD classroom. (Actually, it brings in grant money to purchase technology that can be used by non-MI kids, so it really helps the bottom line!) Money is not an issue.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2008 at 1:01 pm

"These are kids the district needs to educate" Yes, and the district is educating kids well in their standard classrooms. Why do we have to set up specialty boutique programs to satisfy the whims of a few? Its a drain on district staff resources.

And it reduces flexibility for the district to manage growth and capacity with such tools as attendence boundaries and class sizes.

Will MI or SI go to class sizes of 24 in 4th and 5th grade? No they will not - how can they? That will be the burden of everyone else in the district to shoulder, but not our precious boutique language programs - heaven forbid the priveleged few should have to suffer the indignity of regular PAUSD classrooms.

By the way - when you get a one time lump sum income windfall, does it make sense to splurge on an ongoing expenditure that will grow and grow and grow over time? How do you pay for that in the future? Most sane people would see that you wouldn't do that if you don't have an ongoing income source, you don't commit to an ongoing expenditure. Money in fact IS an issue. So WHAT if you are going to buy the district a few computers? Is that going to pay the bills for continuing to convert all PAUSD curriculum to Mandarin 4,5,6,7 years from now? Its just so short sighted to say money is not an issue - why - because money is not an issue TODAY? Wow, do you run your household budget that way too? I think that's how we got in to the mortgage meltdown - people not thinking beyond the end of their nose.

Posted by PA Parent, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2008 at 1:14 pm

"Yes, and the district is educating kids well in their standard classrooms." Strawman. Some parents want something different from standard classrooms, and that is why we have choice programs. And families must be interested or demand wouldn't be so "high."

"By the way - when you get a one time lump sum income windfall, does it make sense to splurge on an ongoing expenditure that will grow and grow and grow over time?" The grant is going to cover a "splurge" on what's needed to start up MI classrooms. This is a one-time cost, not an "ongoing expenditure," as you seem to think.

As the district has pointed out, this program is cost-neutral: Money is not an issue.

Posted by surprised, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2008 at 1:16 pm

all that time and energy spent on this kind of interest level?


I was strongly opposed, but even so I actually was gullible enough to believe that there would be much more interest than this based on how hard the District, some Board, and pro-MI folks pushed it...

Posted by PA Parent, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2008 at 1:24 pm

"I actually was gullible enough to believe that there would be much more interest than this "

Why? The actual demand is double that foreseen by the MI people. How much over-demand would be enough for you?

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2008 at 1:28 pm

PA Parent, so I guess when the district buys a new math, reading and science curriculum five or six years down the road, someone else (but not the district) is going to foot the bill to translate that all in to Mandarin. And someone else (but not PAUSD) is going to spend the money to figure out how to keep the testing of this program up to date. And someone else (but not PAUSD) is going to figure out how to keep these teachers MI trained. And they're never going to ask for updated computer programs in mandarin. and they're not going to be asking the district to buy a second set of library books (in Mandarin). And they're not going to be asking for a special Chinese art teacher, etc etc etc.

So glad to hear that MI is never going to come knocking on PAUSDs door for any MI specific extras beyond the grant funding. I'll take a copy and paste of your post as a reminder for everyone that this is what you claimed.

Posted by Waiting for news, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 20, 2008 at 1:38 pm

This actually sounds like good news for parents interested in MI - seems like many on the waiting list will get in. What was Grace's position on the waiting list? How far down the list are they so far? Things look promising.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 20, 2008 at 2:09 pm

Gee, Grace's kid didn't get in during the open lottery, but did get in later when the situation was less public.

I'm so NOT surprised by this.

Ohlone in past years hasn't had a numbered wait list--each pull was new. As I've said before, I think this is where any gaming of the system might occur--not in the first lottery. And--ta-da!

PA Parent,

The program isn't cost-neutral because immersion programs have high attrition levels--Cupertino's is relatively low and it's still sky-high compared to other kids of programs. You can't replace the drop-outs with kids who aren't fairly fluent in the target language. The result is that the upper grades have empty seats. Since we're overenrolled in this district, this attrition will be very costly with situations where we'll have way under 22 kids per class in the upper grades.

Just because the rules say something is cost-neutral doesn't make it so.

But I take it if attrition is a problem and that there are any open seats in the upper grades, you think the MI program should be shut down.

Lots of families apply for multiple lotteries. Some, I expect, took spots at SI and Hoover, which are the most popular alternatives for those interested in MI.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 20, 2008 at 2:24 pm

Of course, the other brain-dead thing about Peterson's article is that she leads with the huge focus on MI with its 150 applicants and then a couple of graphs down shows that the demand for Ohlone proper was substantially bigger--137 new families and 39 old ones.

Awful issue with biased writing in that case. She was just drinking the MI Kool-Aid on that one.

So 176 applicants for Ohlone--unprecedented interest in Ohlone, but we can't expand to four strands because of MI.

What's wrong with this picture? And what's wrong with Peterson's reporting that she can't see the real story here--which is all about resources.

The interest in MI is a net-negative for the district because we don't need to bring in more families to the district. Heck, we don't need increased interest in Ohlone, frankly. What we need is to bring up our lower schools, make some things, like seccond languages, more readily available *throughout* the system and try to figure out what to do about the overcrowding at the middle and upper-school level.

Boutique programs which work for only a few students--and this is a real issue with immersion programs where you can expect long-term drop-out rates of 50 percent--belong in the private sector. We shouldn't spend money on programs that aren't accessible to most if not all of our kids.

Posted by PA Parent, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 20, 2008 at 2:49 pm


Actually, the program is mandated to be cost neutral. Immersion programs generally do not have attrition problems, and CLIP certainly has no issues there. So, naw, it won't fly.

However, since your Ohlone boutique program doesn't take new kids in fifth, I assume you're advocating shutting it down if any kids leave after fourth.

Interesting that the demand for MI is similar to that for Ohlone itself, even though the MI program is smaller. Also interesting that MI is actually attracting kids to the non-immersion Ohlone program.

In any case, it is good to see the district seeking to meet the educational needs of its families.

Posted by parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 20, 2008 at 4:15 pm

Are you surprised? We ALWAYS knew Grace's kid would get in - that was a foregone conclusion.

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on Mar 20, 2008 at 6:13 pm

Parent, you bring up several important issues in the cost-neutral debate. (And, yes, it IS up for debate - I'm open to being convinced, but it hasn't happened yet.) You mentioned the ongoing costs of textbooks, assessment, and teacher training.

Textbooks for core subjects (K-8) are up for review every 6 years; non-core subjects get reviewed every 8 years. This year, for example, is a math adoption year. Next year is reading/language arts. This is a statewide requirement. However, the STATE is required by law to pay for those textbooks. It's unclear how foreign-language textbooks are handled, but I assume they're also paid for by the state. (An overview of the textbook adoption process is at Web Link .)

So, as far as I understand textbook adoption & funding, it doesn't appear that the cost to PAUSD is an issue. At issue might be the *quality* of the foreign-language textbooks -- whether they're keeping up with latest teaching pedagogy, etc. There's a reason why the state mandates this adoption process so regularly. I can't imagine that the textbook publishers generate equivalent textbooks in all the languages in classroom use statewide. So where do those updated textbooks come from? Are they as good? How frequently are they updated? Do they meet state adoption standards?

Assessment is a potentially thorny issue. There's day-to-day assessment, which you'd assume a teacher would be capable of managing. What about standardized tests? Are these available in Mandarin, for example? Does anyone within MI know the plans for assessment?

And finally, teacher training. This cannot possibly be cost-neutral. Anytime a teacher is doing something out of the ordinary, training is involved. Look at the Paly block schedule conversation (the one where teachers weighed in). They request an extra teacher in-service day to learn how to modify their teaching for block schedules. If block schedules need a day of training, imagine what MI teachers might reasonably require! This is on top of regular in-service training, not in place of it. Therefore, it's no longer cost neutral. My hunch is that they'll be getting support from SI (and why not?), so add that in.

But frankly, I think MI crossed the 'cost-neutral' line long ago, considering all the time the Associate Superintendent and other high-salaried employees already devoted to it. There may be a grant to fund future start-up and technology costs, but it doesn't cover all the personnel time that's already sunk into MI. Also, keep in mind that it's a MATCHING grant – the kind that lures one into spending more than one might otherwise, just to take advantage of the 'free' money.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 20, 2008 at 6:34 pm

PA Parent,

Actually, immersion problems have a huge issue with attrition. Yeah, I know, no mention of it in PACE's talking points. Canada which has had them for 40 years sees attrition rates of 40 to 50 percent. Potomac MI has exactly 3 original kids left from its start 10 years ago. CLIP has six from its original 20.

In fact, the attrition rates are so high that the supposed recovery of test scores in the upper elementary grades is most likely because the poorer students drop out. Yeah, there's a nice grad paper on the reasons kids drop out of immersion programs--basically, it's too tough. So, self-selection--scores improve because poorer students drop back into the regular track--double whammy there, by the way, because then those same kids will be lowering the "average" scores of the mainstream programs, while their absence boosts the average of the immersion program kids.

Yeah, it took some research on my part to unravel the language-immersion "miracle" you MI promoters kept spouting about. I just needed to look up north. And then I found a lot--including the fact that while kids learn languages easily, they also *forget* them if they don't keep use them. (Whereas later learners have better retention if crummier accents. We really ought to be looking at starting languages in the upper elementary grades--but politics--again--got in the way of sound educational policy.)

Just because you didn't know about the attrition issue doesn't mean it's not there. Sort of the same way that just because something's supposed to be cost-neutral doesn't mean it is.

Unlike immersion programs, Ohlone and Hoover's programs can take in late transfers with no prequalifications. And, frankly, if Ohlone couldn't hold on to its students, the program would have closed a long time ago. Ohlone and Hoover attrition rates are completely in line with the district's--lower actually.

Given that the MI program has been heavily, heavily publicized, no it's not surprising that there were applicants. It is interesting to me that A) a number of families didn't take their spots and B) Ohlone plain jane had lots more applicants--more than a classroom's worth, in fact.

And unlike MI, the Ohlone applicants were only applying for one grade. In other words, there are more than twice as many kinder applicants for Ohlone than there are for Mandarin, which was actually a lottery for two grades. In fact, taking that into consideration, I suspect MI applications for kindergarten are below those of SI.

But just another example of the PR spin around Mandarin.


Good point about the matching grant--do we really have an extra 3/4 of a million to dedicate to Grace Mah's boutique program?

Posted by Never-picked, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 20, 2008 at 7:41 pm

Wait -- I don't read the Daily.

Do I understand that Grace Mah's kid got into Mandarin? Is that a stated fact?

I know that in the past Ohlone hopefuls were not given numbers, but that changed this year. What number was she on the waiting list? Somebody has that information, and it needs to be revealed right away. Otherwise, Dr. Skelly, the entire transparency of the new "random selection process" is called into question. What was the point of that ridiculous exercise if in the end, it gains us nothing in terms of re-establishing a modicum of the trust that was lost during the entire MI debacle. You and the School Board are planning to come to the public with a big bond initiative soon. I beg you not to give people an excuse to say No.

Let's have some real transparency, some real leadership, and some real accountability. That goes for you too, Board Members! If Dr. Skelly is dragging his feet on getting these numbers out to us, I expect you to step up and make sure that this information is revealed. And if there is "gaming of the system" this year, the perpetrators need to be dealt with in the same way we would deal with the revelation that one of our high school seniors had cheated on an exam. Because this was a test.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 20, 2008 at 8:16 pm


In the Daily story, Mah is quoted as saying she didn't get in during the original draw, but got in later off the waitlist.

I don't know what happened this year, but in previous years, Ohlone has not had a waitlist with a number and order assigned to each family. The school administration simply runs another mini-lottery for each new opening.

So, when I said ages ago that I thought the original draw was above-board, but later picks off the waitlist were more questionable--this is why. Basically, the schools pick enough names to fill the open spots, but the remaining entries are not pulled and then assigned a number and if it's not done in public and there are reasons a particular family is desired, well . . .

I don't know if this was different this year. I will say that Grace's kid was in one of the smaller draws--first-grade boys and I would expect that would be a draw where there would be more second thoughts--i.e. do you really want to transfer your kid if he's doing well at another school? Nonetheless, I think some more answers would be completely appropriate on this.

Posted by Never-picked, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 20, 2008 at 9:07 pm

It was different this year.

I went back and re-read an old thread. According to Arden Pennell in the thread that followed her article about the new process, MI did do a numbered waitlist this year. I'm *trying* to assume that Grace was pulled off of that waitlist. That everyone before her was called and offered a spot. Or that she was randomly pulled as number one for the waitlist.

But, boy ho boy, it is hard to shake those hard feelings when the system has been so abused and misused.

Good luck next year, OhlonePar!

Posted by PA Parent, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2008 at 9:16 am

Actually, immersion programs don't have a general problem with attrition. Citing a single program, Potomac, is not convincing. You undermine your own point by mentioning CLIP, which has no attrition problems. (CLIP's attrition is lower than PAUSD's.)

So the supposed issue of test scores is also a non-issue.

Also, you may believe Ohlone can take in late transfers but the fact is they don't take kids in fifth grade. By your criteria, then, Ohlone should be closed if there is any attrition at fourth grade.

Yes, it is interesting that MI was so oversubscribed and that it helped create new demand for vanilla Ohlone. In fact, when you take into account the number of MI strands, it looks like MI will remain much more oversubcribed than Ohlone. If that continues, it will be a good reason to expand MI. Yes, very interesting.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2008 at 10:11 am

PA Parent - then how did Ohlone's fifth grades get to 22 this year? When their lower grades run at 20? Besides, a simple policy change fixes Ohlone if they're actually doing that. But how are the language immersion programs going to go up to 24?

Actually SI shows that the language immersion program run at the lowest class sizes in the upper grades. SI only has 18 at the 5th grade level.

While most of our 5th grades are at 22.

This favorable class size discrepancy will only become more and more pronounced as the district starts pushing class size of 24.

Special treatement for language immersion programs? Deserved how?

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 21, 2008 at 1:13 pm

PV Parent,

I'm not citing a single program. It's an endemic problem well-studied in Canada where they've been running immersion programs for years in French-English. There are huge drops in the upper grades. Since bilingualism is required for civil-service jobs there's a strong motivation for making kids bilingual. Even so, the drop-out rates soars up to 50 percent at the immersion schools.

Potomac matters because it's one of the oldest MI programs in the country and it's somewhat comparable to here.

Sorry, when 2/3 of the kids drop out of the original program--the case with CLIP's first class, then, yes, the test scores are affected.

As for your dreamed-of expansion--sorry, but that would require having enough Mandarin speakers of the appropriate sexes. MI didn't get even close to that.

Ohlone, as I said, doesn't have big attrition issues. Immersion programs do. It's also a problem at the International School.

Since Ohlone's classes are split grades, any gaps in a 4/5 classroom can be filled in with 4th graders--but, unlike immersion, attrition's not an issue.

You're not doing well today--lots of bravado and denial. By the way, immersion programs work best if you isolate the kids from English speaking tracks.

What we've established is that the demand for Ohlone is greater than the demand for Mandarin by a factor of about 2 to 1 when you account for the grades. Ergo, MI is going to be a limited presence on the Ohlone campus, where English will dominate.

Which simply means a fight for Garland in three years. Personally, if it were me, I'd shoot for the JCC so I'd have the advantages of having a total immersion school, but then, my recent research is making me favor long-term non-immersion language study for kids. Kids do better, overall, if their first-language literacy skills are established--so start the second language in third grade and make sure it continues. Kids then get the accent and if they continue with the language, they get the retention.

To me, the real irony of the immersion attrition issue is that if the kids who drop-out don't keep up the language, they will forget it--the younger you learn a language the easier it is to both learn *and* forget.

You guys really didn't do your research.


The SI program shows that there's attrition there as well--we can assume that there's some in-filling with fluent Spanish speakers--actually, I know there is because I know of a case where a bilingual kid was promptly offered a spot in the upper grades--the family chose Ohlone instead--with that small a program, the loss of four kids is certainly enough to alter the average scores if the weakest students drop out--which has been the case with immersion programs.

It's funny, the pro-immersion bias tends to be very strong in the research--the study I read on high attrition was by the head of an immersion program getting a graduate degree--but every now and then something leaks out--like the admission that, no, immersion programs are not a good idea for kids with learning issues.

I think the MI attrition rates will be higher just because everything I've read about the programs indicates major work. Parents love the idea until they see what it actually does to their kid's lives.

Or they realize that their kid isn't experiencing the immersion miracle and is one of the ones who's not learning to read English.

Basically, there's a bait-and-switch aspect to all of this. It's all plumped up to look good until you start digging around and looking at the attrition rates.

Posted by PA Parent, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2008 at 2:28 pm

No, sorry, immersion programs generally do not have a problem with attrition. Potomac is a single program, and irrelevant to PA. As for CLIP, they're doing fine, thanks. Their attrition is minimal--less than you get in PAUSD. It may rankle, but those high scores indicate they are doing something right.

As I said, Ohlone cannot replace kids in fifth--and you advocated closing down programs that cannot replace kids late in the program. Follow that thought....

All of this talk about immersion attrition was just made up by anti-MI people. There are no issues.

What we now know is that MI is more oversubscribed on a per seat basis than Ohlone. Not sure what you mean by "English will dominate"--you can't prohibit kids from talking whatever language they want.

Bottom line: immersion is a great method, as shown in many studies; MI is the newest choice program in PAUSD; our district is lucky to have it.

Posted by Repeating something doesn't make it true, a resident of Monroe Park
on Mar 21, 2008 at 4:41 pm

PA are really good at repeating something you wish were true...

since you don't believe the "made up " numbers of CLIP, try getting the data yourself and learn how much attrition there was by the end of 3rd grade.

you don't seem to understand that just because the numbers stay fairly high, it doesn't mean that the same kids stay in the program.

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on Mar 21, 2008 at 5:53 pm

"All of this talk about immersion attrition was just made up by anti-MI people. There are no issues."
ALL programs experience attrition. It's what happens when families move. It's what happens when parents don't see a good fit between their child and the program, school, environment, or any number of other factors. MI is not immune to attrition.
The issue is that language immersion programs are limited in their ability to replace disappearing students, especially in the upper grades. Theoretically they can, but the pool of suitable replacement students shrinks if they act in the best interests of the new child as well as the classmates & teacher.
The district increases class size in the upper elementary grades to keep costs down. (We can agree that school budgets are an issue, yes?) Immersion programs must rely on attrition to achieve a 23 or 24 student class. Once enough students move out of the program, classes can be combined. If the numbers don't quite work out, they're stuck with either a too-small or too-large class size. They can't middle-road it and fill in with overflow students from other schools. (Which is ironic because solving overflow was one of the selling points of MI.)
One doesn't have to go further than our own Spanish Immersion program to see the effects of attrition. This year SI has 15 students in two third grade classes, and 18-20 students in the fourth and fifth grades. Over the past few years, the largest SI class size was 21. You don't need to cite far-away programs. Attrition happens right here in PAUSD. MI isn't immune. PA Parent, I hope you'll open your eyes to basic facts and acknowledge that attrition does create issues for the district.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 21, 2008 at 5:55 pm

PV Parent,

Those "made-up" numbers were collected from the district by PACE. That there's a attrition and then back-filling with fluent speakers is easy to see--as the numbers drop and then increase in the middle-to-upper grades--an impossibility unless you add in students later.

Ohlone could, if it wished to, replace kids in the fifth--there's nothing about the program that limits kids from coming in. Mandarin, on the other hand, won't take kids past first grade unless they already speak Mandarin.

So, one year of attrition that can't be met through infilling from the normal student population v. four.

See the difference? So, again, you agree that if MI has attrition in the upper grades creating empty seats when space is at a premium in the district, it should be shut down?

In other words, if overcrowding becomes more severe, Ohlone can pull in kids in any of its grades--MI can't.

As for attrition issues--sorry, I didn't create the attrition issue of the Potomac program. It was, in fact, reported upon after the main MI discussions. Nor have I anything to do with the issue in Canada or the studies written about it. Nor am I responsible for the original CLIP class dropping from 20 to 6.

I do grant you that you and the PACE crowd were genuinely unaware of the program--thus the citing of the Potomac program in a positive light on PACE's Web site. You guys didn't *know* it was a disaster.

I don't doubt that the MI supporters are true believers--you sold yourselves on the bill of goods along with people like Marilyn Cook. I mean it looks so good, so cutting edge--kids speaking *Chinese*! Trips to China!

But you should have been visiting Canada and gotten a few people who know how to crunch numbers. I think it's Terry who pointed out that there are a lot of issues with studies in the educational field--I see his point. The lack of rigor combined with wishful thinking . . . not impressive.

Funny, one of the questions I used to ask is if there were any project-based immersion programs. Lots of self-rightuous ranting in response, no answer, of course.

While researching attrition in Canada, I discovered project-based learning was discouraged in immersion programs because the kids communicated in their first language, which slowed down immersion.

So here's what you have going on this Fall:

1) A K/1 program starting in Mandarin. Studies show that kids retain languages better when they're older and that they do better academically if they are literate in their first language. So, Strike 1--it would be better to start this in 3/4.

2) Immersion and project-led learning haven't mixed because kids communicate in their first language. Thus, Charles recommendation that the classes be 50/50 native/English speaker. Politically, a no-go. So, Strike 2--program is not a good one for project-based learning, but should be 50 percent native speaker if it's going to meet its goals.

3) Immersion works best at immersion centers--i.e. isolated from English-track programs. Strike 3--Ohlone is and will continue to be dominantly English speaking. (Doesn't it strike you as funny that all the brouhaha over MI resulted in more people finding Ohlone attractive?)

4) Severe long-term attrition issues. This is of course the big one--all the more so because it looks like there's a lot of denial about it. This means you're already hampered in terms of knowing how to deal with it. Sort of a "it can't happen here" mentality. And the Ohlone situation is prime for attrition--the English-only side of the field is going to look like a lot more fun to the MI kids. Since when do kids want to learn something that isolates them?

Strike four.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 21, 2008 at 5:59 pm


Thanks for the Escondido numbers--so, basically, Escondido's SI is losing a quarter of its classes--at least.

All programs have attrition, but immersion programs have attrition problems--there's just no place for underperformers. They really are boutique programs that aren't suitable to all students.

I really don't think these kind of attrition rates would be acceptable in an Ohlone or a Hoover--immersion programs seem to be given a pass.

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on Mar 21, 2008 at 7:49 pm

I sent that last post off in a hurry and in re-reading it I realize I wasn't clear about why I cited the class size numbers. My point was not to demonstrate that SI has a lot of attrition, (it doesn't seem to have an abnormal amount) but rather that it has very little flexibility in growing to 'standard size' 4th and 5th grade class size, and therefore costs the district more than their non-immersion counterparts.
The third grade SI classes have only 15 students because the program is in the midst of expanding from 1.5 strands to 2. In other words, 20+10 last year and 15+15 this year. It's not an attrition problem, but it *is* a class size problem. How many other schools in the district have 15 students in a third grade classroom? Having more attrition in the upper grades actually saves the district money since the remaining students can be combined into fewer classrooms.
My issues are with 'cost neutral', school overcrowding, equity and unintended consequences on non-immersion students.

Posted by PA Parent, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2008 at 8:37 pm


Yes, all programs experience attrition but not all have PROBLEMS with attrition, which is what was claimed.


The data shows a tiny attrition for CLIP--less than what PAUSD experiences--no matter what you claim for your made-up numbers. If you doubt it, contact CLIP and they will tell you as much. As I pointed out, immersion programs have no general problems with attrition.

You're still contradicting yourself on Ohlone--it's not a question of "would if it wished" but what actually happens. In any case, nothing prevents MI from filling the any spots that open up. (BTW, you illogically argue both sides at once: MI cannot backfill; MI will backfill.)

As for your fabricated facts:

1. Studies show kids retain languages better when they're YOUNGER.
2. The whole point of immersion is communication, so project-based learning is a perfect fit.
3. Immersion works fine isolated or in schools with English-track programs, so no need to offer to vacate Ohlone.
4. No attrition issues. Not sure why you think English-only will look more fun: learning a new language does the opposite of isolate you. Think about it. In fact, MI may turn out to look like more fun to the English-only kids.

These objections are wishful thinking on your part because you don't like MI. It really is time to move on....

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 21, 2008 at 9:31 pm


Thanks for the clarification. So, the expansion, which was instituted to create space in the north cluster is wasting space at Escondido, which, I read here has had to send neighborhood kids out of their local school as a result of the expansion. Brilliant.

PA Parent,

Sorry, PACE talking points are no substitute for research. Kids learn languages quickly when they're younger and with a better accent--they do not, however, retain them unless they keep using the language. They gain fast and lose fast.

The need for a level of fluency in Mandarin prevents backfilling--it ceases to be a program that is truly open to all students.

Project-based learning is all about communication between kids. They prefer doing that in the language they speak--which means they'll use English.

No attrition issues? Losing 2/3 of your first class isn't an attrition issue. Having only three kids left isn't an attrition issue?

But here:

"To date, research on immersion education in the U.S. has largely ignored this topic. However, a number of research studies examining attrition in Canadian French immersion schools point to seemingly high attrition rates, certain studies reporting between 40-50% at the elementary level alone (Stern,1991; Kamin, 1981; Morrison, Pauley, & Bonyun, 1979; Halsall, 1989)."

Four different studies, eh?

In fact, New Brunswick has just chosen to eliminate its lower-grade French immersion program because kids in early-immersion programs are more likely to drop out than kids who start later:

Web Link

Note that 91 percent drop-out rate. Note, too, that less than 1 percent of the kids achieved fluency. Like I say, kids lose it if they don't use it. To be fair, some dispute the 91 percent--they say only 60 percent of the kids dropped out. (That 40 to 50 percent drop I mentioned--that's the *lower* attrition rate of schools that are specialty immersion centers.)

Thank you yet again, PA Parent, for inspiring me to do a little research. You know, the funny thing is I used to think immersion worked--after all, I knew it did at the college level. Thanks to the knee-jerk responses of the MIers, I'm now quite a bit better informed on the subject. Now I know that those Saturday morning Chinese classes aren't a compromise for kids, but probably the way to go long-term. It's really nice to know that the sensible thing to do--gradual, long-term exposure, extracurricular--works best for the kids. Yew Cheung also sounds good.

Basically, kids don't need early, longterm immersion. Early, less-intensive exposure is fine, followed by more intensive exposure when kids are developmentally ready for it works just fine and eliminates problems with literacy in English.

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on Mar 21, 2008 at 10:03 pm

PA Parent,
"Yes, all programs experience attrition but not all have PROBLEMS with attrition"
Splitting hairs over how to define whether attrition is normal vs. a problem is a red herring.
My gripe is not whether programs HAVE attrition or not, but rather the problems they CAUSE by not being able to grow as needed. I have yet to see anyone who has argued in favor of MI acknowledge that 1) the program does indeed adversely affect others in the district, and 2) it's 'cost neutral' in only a general sense: traditional classrooms have teachers, immersion classrooms have teachers; traditional programs use textbooks, immersion programs use textbooks; and so on.
There's been this "we're just doing our own thing in our own little corner – don't worry about us, we're not bothering you" attitude. If one classroom is at 15 while another in the same school is turning away students due to lack of space, then yes, others are impacted. If fourth and fifth grade classrooms have 4-6 students less than what's typical, then yes, other classrooms in the district are picking up the slack.
To put it into perspective with real numbers, suppose SI and MI have no attrition in the next few years. Two strands of SI and 1.5 strands of MI produce 7 fourth & fifth grade classrooms at 20 students each. If those classrooms held the district capacity of 24 students, they'd accommodate an additional 28 students. That's an entire classroom that they're costing the district. What's cost neutral about requiring an extra classroom for the students who aren't allowed into the immersion classrooms??
Cost-wise, attrition at the higher grades is actually a good thing. (Don't tell that to the hundreds of families who didn't get in, though.) For example, if SI – with 2 strands – experiences attrition across two grades from 80 down to 72 by fourth and fifth grade, they could reduce to a 1.5 strand with 24 students in each of 3 classrooms.
How about it, PA Parent? Would you like to be the first in the MI camp to admit that the immersion programs aren't cost neutral, that they create issues with overcrowding, and that they adversely affects others?

Posted by thanks, researcher, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 22, 2008 at 7:14 am

wow...the attrition and fluency studies are interesting.

thanks whoever you are for doing real research for the rest of us who are really, really busy.

Posted by PA Parent, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 22, 2008 at 9:19 am


The need for a level of fluency in Mandarin doesn't prevent backfilling, it just limits the pool.

Of course kids prefer to do things in their native language, but the point of immersion is to learn another language. Do you think the teachers in immersion classes allow kids to speak whatever language they want? You really haven't done much research on immersion. If you had, you'd realize that project-based learning is a good fit.

Your CLIP numbers are just fabricated. CLIP doesn't have attrition issues.

So a couple old studies exist somewhere on some Canadian schools that have had a problem. Not really an indictment of immersion, now is it? In fact, the only U.S. study I know of shows immersion programs have less attrition than non-immersion programs.

Now I see what you're saying about retention of language. Your point is if you teach a child some language and then deprive him or her of contact with the language for many years, the kid will forget. I concede the point. However, if you put your kid in immersion and then maintain contact with the language (likely, given the motives of the parent), your kid will retain the language better than a kid who starts FLES in third. In other words, immersion works best.

Seriously, none your cavils holds water.


Given logistics, there are always going to be classrooms that are underfilled. Some of those may occur in choice programs, too.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 22, 2008 at 1:24 pm

PA Parent,

Yes, it limits the pool to a very small group--in other words, it's a boutique problem designed to serve a small, but loud special interest group. As we've been saying all along. That's the job of a private program, not a public school.

It's clear you don't understand student-led learning--the kids work in groups among themselves, the teacher isn't a dictator. So, yes, true student-led learning *allows* kids to figure things out among themselves. If you have a teacher ordering kids to do it all in Mandarin then you're failing to do student-led learning.

Well, it was always pretty apparent to me that the MI crowd had no idea what Ohlone's philosophy was or how it plays out. Part of it is that the kids take responsibility for their learning--they're essentially taught how to do that.

My CLIP numbers are from PACE. Your denial won't help you--particularly as you don't actually counter the numbers. Heck, at least the PACErs used to try the CLIP used to have attrition issues, but doesn't anymore. Unfortunately, the number crunching showed that while the issue's not as extreme as it was in the first class, the problem continues--in the middle grades, right on schedule and then continuing each year. Pretty similar to what you see in the Potomac distric.

A couple of studies? Hello? An entire province just voted to shut down its entire early-immersion program--in a country where being bilingual is a requirement for getting a civil-service job.

Oh, gee, you don't even address the issue. How . . . convenient.

You don't get my point about early immersion--yeah, it can work, but late immersion works better, the Yew Cheung approach where there's heavy language instruction, but not immersion, works well. Kids do better and are less inclined to drop the language when their primary literacy skills are established.

So, kids learn languages just fine if they start later *and* they're less likely to drop the second language.

If a kid starts early immersion and then drops it--they'll lose the language. A later start, when they've developed certain cognitive processes helps long-term retention (though not the accent.) Thus, third-fifth grade is probably optimum--the ability to grasp the accent is better and learning the second language doesn't interfere with primary literacy--there's no temporary drop (or, rather, an attrition issue with low performers).

Personally, I think there is some advantage to some immersion--which brings me back to summer-time immersion--because immersion does teach quickly--but, long-term, you're better off with the Yew Cheung approach. I continue to like the idea of regular school-year instruction with immersion summer school. Affordable, available to more than 20 kids, doesn't bump kids from their local schools and, I suspect, a way to get some great results.

Because, as that one paragraph I quoted points out, attrition is understudied in the U.S., the studies of immersion's success have to be reconsidered in that light. There's a lot of poor research in this area--unfortunately.

Unfortunately, PA Parent, *all* of my cavils hold water--it would be one thing if the New Brunswick drop had happened 20 years ago and the Canadians had new and improved strategies. But it happend last week--and Canada's been pushing immersion for 40 years. Similar issue with Potomac--the news on how only three kids were left from the original MI class and that many of the MI kids were unprepared for high-school level Mandarin is news from last November.


Thank you. I've found a lot of the most interesting stuff by accident. The pro-immersion types like to put together Web sites, but there isn't an organized opposition to it--I found out about New Brunswick through a pro-immersion site. Which is telling--here you have a program that clearly does NOT work and the pro-immersion crowd still can't let it go. And in New Brunswick, they're keeping the fifth-grade and up immersion programs--but there's clearly a real emotional aspect here--parents want to brag about Johnny babbling French at six.

Basically, the most severe attrition occurs when the kids hit adolescence and begin to assert themselves. Parents who put their kids in immersion are usually (some exceptions) forcing their kids to take on a huge commitment. Kids don't always like that--and, again, immersion isolates them from their peers and being like their peers. They also don't like that. PA Parent's being optomistic if s/he assumes that the kids will want to keep up their language. In some cases, sure, but in a lot of cases--no.

The biggest factor in learning and retaining a language according to a BYU study? Wanting to retain and learn the language. With early immersion, kids don't make that choice. It's about the parents, not about them. (With my own kid, there was a desire to learn a particular language because a friend was learning it. It wasn't my first choice. Since my kid had to do the learning, my kid got to choose.

Posted by perspective, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 22, 2008 at 1:32 pm

ABSOLUTELY: That is the critical difference..whether someone is motivated to learn a subject or not is the primary indicator of success, including language learning.

Kids don't choose. By the time electives roll around, they know what their strengths and interests are and follow them.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 22, 2008 at 3:50 pm

I agree that Caucasian parents are placing an incredible burden on their itty bitty children by applying to MI. I would have been horribly affected if my parents had thrown me into such a program in K - unthinkable.

Yes, I know it's a delight for Mandarin speaking families.

Yes, I know it is thought to be easier to learn another language at an early age. But - Mandarin - that is SO different from English. So - hire a nanny or use an after school or weekend program or private program. Yes - we already have those programs available! Yes, you'll have to pay for them.

Must you burden our high achieving public school district with your little specialty program as we return to an era of financial worries in the state of CA? Someone wrote that PAUSD is a district of special choices, but I disagree.

Posted by PA Parent, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 22, 2008 at 4:51 pm

You've conflated backfilling with intake. The program takes in non-Mandarin speakers and non-English speakers in K (and first this year). That's pretty much co-extensive with the entire district, so, naw, it's not a small group--pretty much the whole district! (It does seem ironic that you send your child to a boutique program and yet complain that others do. Not ironic, more like hypocritical.)

You seem confused about student-led learning. It doesn't mean kids run the classroom; the teachers are there to guide. Student-led constructivist learning is a great fit with immersion. I suggest you read up on constructivist pedagogy and immersion. You'd find out pretty quickly they're a great fit.

Your CLIP numbers are fabricated. As I pointed out, CLIP has no attrition problems. Attrition is actually lower inside the program than in PAUSD.

You're really making heavy weather over a small, local problem and a couple of old studies. If you had any evidence of a general attrition problem, you'd have cited it.

Er, no, early immersion works better than late immersion--it's what motivates immersion programs and can be found in all the literature. There really is reams of data, and I urge you to read up.

"If a kid starts early immersion and then drops it--they'll lose the language." The problem here is with your premise. There is just no attrition problem. Hard to know how to make this more clear.

(It seems obvious you don't know what you're talking about when you mention Yew Cheung....)

It's clear you're a die-hard opponent of MI, and ALL your points derive from your ideology. Your guesses are no replacement for actual data.

Posted by clarification, a resident of Meadow Park
on Mar 22, 2008 at 8:57 pm

Attrition means a reduction in numbers. PA parent could well be correct that CLIP has no attrition problem. Yet, there are many people leaving that program for various reasons. They are replaced. This is not attrition, but is an observation worth noting. It may explain high test scores of the surviving students, or raise a flag about fit with our district. But it's not attrition.

Posted by AlwaysSomething, a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2008 at 9:27 pm

OK, so the new "spin" from the anti-MI extremists is that the Main Stream Media (The Weekly) is pro-MI.

Boy, just when you thought you saw everything with this issue...

What's next - A YouTube of Grace Mah's pastor saying something that will be interpreted as "anti-American"???

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 22, 2008 at 9:57 pm

PA Parent,

Hypocritical? Hardly. All choice programs are not alike. I would like Ohlone to be accessible to more families. MI at Ohlone makes that impossible.

Haven't confused anything--there are a limited number of native Mandarin speakers here--the demand's very unbalanced--part of the reason the program's not 50/50, which would make it more likely to succeed.

Unlike you, I know exactly what student-led learning is at Ohlone. I volunteer in the classroom--you're off your rocker if you think teacher-as-dictator is Ohlone-style. Among other things, kids sit in a circle and discuss how to make a decision--the fluency issue pretty much makes doing that in Mandarin impossible. Again, you should look up north instead of overseas. There's a particular reason immersion programs have not been constructivist.

I know you want to believe early immersion works better. Unfortunately, the facts aren't backing you up. Thus, New Brunswick.

So you're saying Grace Mah lied about her CLIP numbers? Wow. That's ugly. Again, the first class shrunk down to 6 kids by middle school.

Small, local problem? That attrition issue in Canada is nationwide. New Brunswick is a province--not a city. Are you really that ignorant? Or too parochial to think Canada's experience is relevant? (Which is pretty funny given those flat-earth arguments about MI we got.)

Unlike you, I support my contentions with outside data--and I'm not so bloody parochial that I think Canada's studies of immersion are irrelevant. Particularly when you look at Potomac.

Unlike you, my facts don't come from a special-interest group's Web site--I get them from academic papers and newspaper articles.


The original poster is referring to an article in the Palo Alto Daily, not the Weekly. If you're going to wander into a debate that sounds like it's not your concern, try to get your facts right.

Or maybe you should just read what the Washington Post wrote about the attrition of the Potomac MI program.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 22, 2008 at 10:13 pm


Attrition is the term used in academic circles for the problem, regardless of backfilling--kids drop out of the program and don't complete it. After a certain point, by middle school, the backfilling becomes impossible and the numbers drop and continue to drop.

And if kids don't keep up the Mandarin through middle school and high school, yes, they start to lose proficiency--that's why the attrition in Canada's such an issue--the kids take years of French and then drop it when they hit adolescence. They don't use it outside of school and the fluency goes. Grasp of grammar remains and understanding it is not bad, but long-term retention's better with the kids who choose to learn it. They're also more likely to keep studying it--which is critical. And that happens at a later age.

I honestly think PA Parent doesn't know this. So much of the research in this country is done on ESL kids--and there, yeah, early immersion works because they're learning a language that is spoken by the people they meet in this country. It's a very different issue to learn and retain a language that is not used or spoken by many in a country.

Kids want to speak the language spoken by other kids. In the U.S. that's English. In China, it's a Chinese language, depending where you are. In this sense, what Canada is trying to do is quite a bit more relevant than programs geered to ESL kids. With Canada, as with most of MI, you're asking kids to speak a non-native language while all their friends outside the program do not. There's no pressing *kid* reason to want to speak Mandarin for most of them. It doesn't make them friends.

So as peer relationships become more and more important the interest in fluency in the non-local language wanes. Thus, New Brunswick.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 22, 2008 at 11:18 pm

so OhlonePar,

what's your point, cancel the program? make Susan Charles eat her words?

or is it just to spread more discontent and continue "ripping the community apart"?

I thought you were going to be welcoming to the new MI kids and families - perhaps not.

it'll be interesting to see how well you mask your negativism as you smile and greet Grace Mah.

Posted by PA Parent, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 23, 2008 at 8:34 am

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
So, you found an immersion program with problems, concocted a theory about immersion and constructivism, made up claims about attrition. Sorry, but none of this raises issues for MI.
Immersion is the most effective way to teaching foreign language to kids. This has been demonstrated in many, many studies in many districts and countries. Lots of districts around the country have seen these studies and are starting immersion programs. The only recent study of attrition I'm aware of shows immersion programs doing better than their districts.

MI is coming to Ohlone, and given the commitment by the parents and the excellence of our district, it will probably be a great success. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by pro-foreign language for all, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 23, 2008 at 9:10 am

keep calling it "anti-MI", instead of "pro-foreign language for all", and maybe you will win over a couple folks..or maybe you will finish losing support.

Posted by pro-foreign language for all, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 23, 2008 at 9:12 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Math and Science, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 23, 2008 at 11:55 am

MI program is going to do super good eventually. The reason is not due to Mandarin as a laguange but the scores of these kids in Math and Science is going to outshine the school district.

These kids are from extremely motivated and highly educated parents. These parents are mostly immgrants and now living in Palo Alto - no small accomplishment.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 23, 2008 at 3:00 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 23, 2008 at 3:40 pm


The program's on a three-year trial basis. Since keeping it at Ohlone will turn Ohlone into a mega-school with more than 500 kids, I want it out of there. And I want to make sure the methods used to force the program on the district can't be used again.

My goals for Ohlone are not the same as the incoming MI parents. I'm open to different solutions--move MI to the half of Greendell vacated by the JCC; shutting it down; having it be a charter in a general-revenue district--and, my preference, creating a real foreign-language program for the district that leaves flexibility for the district to meet its enrollment and budget challenges in as efficient a way as possible.

So, given my goals, I've no interest in being on the welcome wagon. I don't speak for all Ohlone parents here--though there are times it feels like it. I consider MI deeply divisive and destructive to a wonderful school and community. I realize that many MI parents don't intend this, but the self-absorption of PACE and its willingness to push forth its goals at all costs (and in time for its leaders' kids to be in the lottery) to speak for itself. You wouldn't a group of people who value self-interest above common good coming to your school either.

I also want real facts out there--the program needs to be held to real standards instead of the immersion platitudes we hear. In other words, the attrition issue needs to be kept in check; kids really need to meet the academic goals for the district.

Here, in the forum, my idea is to challenge MI puffery. It's as good a place as any to do it, particularly as I find the information interesting. I didn't know when I started how serious attrition issues were with immersion in Canada--and why. I didn't know that SI in Mountain View has the weird problem of there being so many Spanish speakers that the ESL kids aren't meeting goals in English.

So, I started out thinking that immersion was an effective education strategy for teaching a foreign language that didn't belong in the district at this time. Now I'm much more skeptical of it as an educational strategy for teaching foreign languages to young kids. It's interesting to me, too, how little MI proponents actually know, how little critical thinking they do. (The post right after yours, for example--assertions without support don't cut it when you're trying to counter arguments that are supported.)

PA Parent,

As I was saying,

In other words, you don't have anything that supports your assertions from unbiased third sources. Nor can you counter what I've written. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Thank god, researching the subject actually interests me.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Math and Science, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 23, 2008 at 7:47 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 24, 2008 at 12:55 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by just wondering, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 24, 2008 at 11:17 am

I've always wondered what are the benefits of immersion to the native speakers? All the above posts are about how immersion is the best way to learn a foreign language but if you already know the language...

Posted by foreign born English speaker, a resident of Community Center
on Mar 24, 2008 at 11:47 am

just wondering,
The parents know the language and would like to ensure that their children learn their language, too. Being foreign-born but US raised myself, I can attest to the challenge parents face in passing on their heritage language on their own. It's very difficult. It's a lot easier for parents if the school takes on the primary role and the parents need only provide backup support such as help with homework and speaking the language in the home.
They could enroll their kids in weekend or after school language classes, but that would take away time from other classes.

Posted by Benefit, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Mar 24, 2008 at 12:15 pm

Immersion helps non-native speakers more than native-speakers.

Native speakers are already immersed in the language while they are at home.

Posted by just wondering, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 24, 2008 at 12:36 pm

OK, it's simply more of a heritage thing rather than any educational benefit.


Posted by PA Parent, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 24, 2008 at 2:09 pm

Just Wondering,

The benefit is the same for native speakers and non-native speakers: they become bilingual and biliterate.


Same old misinformation, huh?

You are opposed to MI for your own personal reasons, but you have tried to argue the issue on the merits. Unfortunately, you never bothered to inform yourself on immersion education, so your arguments never went far. It was the same with the anti-MI brigade: no traction because it was a purely personal fight for them.

As many studies show, immersion is a great method for teaching kids language. It's here to stay in PAUSD as long as there is interest, which has been strong so far. It really is time to move on....

Posted by a mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2008 at 2:39 pm


I am very interested in language education, including Mandarin, but not interested in a dual immersion program. I realize many people go to after school programs, but the travel and expense are not realistic for my family.

I thought MI was cost-neutral before the grant. Why does the grant have to be used for MI then? I would like to bring Mandarin instruction to my neighborhood school, probably as an after school program since anything else will be impossible in this climate. But I have no idea how we (my family) will pay for it. It really, really, really rankles that our PUBLIC school system is giving such a privilege to a vocal few and giving the rest of us nothing.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 24, 2008 at 2:49 pm

Just wondering,

Actually, there's a very specific benefit to ESL speakers. The idea is that ESL kids won't fall behind in other subjects while learning English. If the instruction in things like math is in their native language, they have a better shot at being at grade level in those subjects.

It's not actually about retaining a heritage language, it's about not losing out academically while you learn English. Basically, the push for immersion by the education community has been to bring a group that has underachieved academically (Hispanics) up to grade level.

Of course, the irony here is that on the ESL side the benefits of learning in one's first language are argued very strongly. On the other side, you hear how learning in a foreign language has no effect on the kids. So, yeah, there's a certain inconsistency on this one.

I find it interesting that the people who answered you didn't know the educational rationale--that they assumed it was all about the family's concerns--when it's actually about creating more productive and better-educated English-speaking citizens.

Whether a heritage language is retained is irrelevant to the United States at large--literacy in English, however, matters. Heritage languages are goners by the third generation anyway--even among groups like Hispanics where there's a very large Spanish-speaking population. It's one of those issues linguists study--languages aren't retained here--or you'd be hearing a lot more German.

Posted by jsut wondering, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 24, 2008 at 3:10 pm

Thanks, OhlonePar, that sort of makes sense.

I read "PA Parents" response and the literacy side of things I could see but how do they become bi-lingual when they are supposed to be bi-lingual to start with?

So, there are at least 3 benefits to the native speakers (no specific order):
- Heritage
- Literacy in the target language
- Maintaining grade-level whilst learning English

Posted by PA Parent, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 24, 2008 at 5:14 pm


I suggest you read up on dual immersion. There is no requirement that kids be bilingual to start with.

The benefit for Mandarin speakers is that they learn to read and write Chinese, and learn to read, write, speak and understand English.

The benefit for English speakers is that they learn to read and write English, and learn to read, write, speak and understand Mandarin.

Educators thought these programs up to benefit speakers of the local and target language. Many studies show that both sets of kids end up with excellent reading and writing skills.

Posted by just wondering, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 24, 2008 at 7:47 pm

I'm guessing that the native mandarin speakers would learn to write, speak and understand English if they went to a neighborhood school. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by PA Parent, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 24, 2008 at 8:40 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Trying to move on, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 24, 2008 at 9:12 pm

I want to commend you for your research, good sense, and excellent analysis of the PAUSD situation. Also for your patience in explaining to newcomers to Online the ins and outs of MI.
Re attrition you are correct that the rate of attrition for the MI programs is very high. It is high at Cupertino and in the Fremont district. Certainly all schools and programs have some attrition just because families move. However, the language immersion programs' rates of attrition are much higher. SI at Escondido has some classes that have only 15-18 students. One class in Cupertino had only 6 students! These smaller classes certainly will have higher test scores- but with our current focus on overenrollment the remaining existence of these programs is inconsistent with the new idea of larger classes.
The new reduction of the educational budget makes this new non-"cost neutral" MI program impossible to justify. The FLAP grant never had to be just for MI - but we were not told that then. The matching 3/4 million from PAUSD( for 3 years) has to be focused only on Mandarin from K-12- even though at this time we have not had Mandarin in middle school.
One main reason for the attrition in these programs is the difficulty of the languages. I have been told that several families in the SI programs have to hire tutors to help their students with the homework. MI is a much more difficult language to acquire even for children. Students with learning disablities will not be able to keep up- though it has been said that they will not be excluded.

PA Parent -does not quite have it right. I have heard from parents whose children are in language immersion programs, and research has pointed out that when children start to learn a language in K, or first grade it detrimentally effects their learning skills in reading and writing English- and it actually confuses them. I heard that, as you mentioned in Canada- Quebec where they have been teaching French to English speaking students they start at third grade. After doing this for generations, I assume that they know what they are doing.
I also agree that they learn fast and they forget fast- so if they start at K- they may need to continue it in middle school. However, we were told by the board that with their acceptance of this MI that was foisted on them in June, they did not want it to go into middle school.
Palo Alto is a very small school district. Maybe the parents have a right to ask for what they want, but the board and the superintendent need to be vigilant about knowing when to say no( as the consultants recommended this past spring.) We will not remain excellent if we continue to try to cater to every families' needs. Some needs- need to be the responsiblity of the parents- whether they want to accept this responsibility or not.
BTW- most of the opponents of MI had nothing person to gain. They put many hours into research, and attendance at the board meetings in order to try to keep our school district honest. I commend each of them for their efforts. And I feel that it is paying off. Now, more of our community understand how more choice programs do not benefit our neighborhoods- that we are at the tipping point.

If a group of parents ask the board once or twice- fine - but to have them basically hold the board hostage for 20 meetings, and to threaten them with a charter school shows an absolute lack of consideration, caring about our community, and is in fact destructive to the progress of our board.
All this said, we need to move on. I am reassured that the boards' current focus on the Strategic plan will provide an excellent quideline to ensure our community that if this type of behavior occurs again the board will have the wherewithall to simply state that it is not in the strategic plan.( Eventhough it was not in the SP last year.)
Another essential issue is to remember that the MI is a pilot program - so we need to require the board to explain what criteria it will use to make the decision as to whether it is succeeding, or not. And if not, we may need to encourage the board to have the courage to act on this result.

Posted by just wondering, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 25, 2008 at 8:18 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by clueless, a resident of Nixon School
on Mar 25, 2008 at 8:30 am

I would have applied for my to be first grader but had no idea that I could. The announcements were supposedly made, but must have been buried in the massive amounts of ads for community events, even though I do read my school newsletters and thought I was signed up for the email system (I just started getting emails after the MI lottery). So perhaps there was interest in some of the folks that weren't intimately involved in the debate, but also weren't in the know about applying for the first grade spots. It made me extremely upset to lose this potential opportunity - if the program is there, I would like to have taken advantage of it...

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on Mar 25, 2008 at 9:04 am

Trying to move on,
"Another essential issue is to remember that the MI is a pilot program - so we need to require the board to explain what criteria it will use to make the decision as to whether it is succeeding, or not. And if not, we may need to encourage the board to have the courage to act on this result."
Good point. I'd like to see the criteria address how the program affects others in the district. If it exacerbates overcrowding, the program (or its size or delivery) should be reconsidered. Same thing if it violates any district policies. Evaluating it using only internal measures of success (how well the students within the program are performing, for example) is not enough. The program doesn't operate in a vacuum, much as some proponents would like us to believe.
The evaluation criteria should be hammered out sooner than later. This is another transparency issue. If the school board or Supt. Skelly wait until the end of the 3 year probation period to explain the criteria to the community, there's a risk of their assessment being viewed with suspicion – that the criteria was designed to match the preferred outcome. Kind of like how they bump up the maximum allowed size of a school as enrollment increases.

Posted by RealityCheckPlease, a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 25, 2008 at 2:28 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by questioning, a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2008 at 12:21 pm

Two questions from someone who is amazed by this Palo Alto "debate"

1. So what is the downside of learning Chinese in today's world? We
need MORE Chinese speakers and other non-Western language speakers too. Many comments look like disguised racism.

2. Yet...I'm glad Palo Alto online publishes the comments. BUT I wonder why have so many other comments been removed? Were they "rabid" or are pro-Chinese language comments being omitted?

How about less editing and going with true free speech on this and all issues?

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2008 at 1:09 pm

No one has an issue with learning chinese. The issue lies with using public resources on boutique speciality programs that serve too few and meanwhile take resources - such as space and district overhead, from the entire population.

I applaud people who are taking the time and interest in learning chinese. However, I'm not interested in paying for it and believe the few that are asking for this are selfish. This would be the same conversation if we were considering a olympic gymnastics school on PAUSD resources.

I have nothing against gymnastics by the way. But its also not the responsibility of a public school (ie: the taxpayers) to give a few kids an olympic preparation either.

And by the way, for a few who say this doesn't cost us anything because the start up funds come from a grant - where is that grant coming from??? US Department of Defense, which is US government, which is US taxpayers, which is all of us.

Questioning - there are many people and many opinions on this thread, a few might be racist. Labeling the entire conversation as such is as bad as the racism you are claiming to object to. I believe this is referred to as 'the pot calling the kettle black'

Posted by k, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 26, 2008 at 2:32 pm

I agree. The language in question is less an issue than the oddity of the program - it may have hoped to fly under the radar, but that is not appropriate in the times we live in - of uncertain funding, rising student population and strained resources in this district. The district is supposed to meet the needs of all the students in the district, and I think we are concerned with equity at the elementary level in particular in recent years (start of PiE etc.)

Posted by k, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 26, 2008 at 2:34 pm

It seems likely the PACE parents will push for a special middle school for their children in a few years, too. Can PAUSD really accommodate such things?

Posted by A Satisfied MI Parent, a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 26, 2008 at 3:04 pm

If you want a true Mandarin immersion program that will allow your child to hear / read / write and enjoy both English and Mandarin all day long, you need to go to the professionals who specialize in this type of education from Pre-K up through 6th grade.

That is why we chose Yew Chung Int'l School. The students are a combination of native speakers and Anglo students with parents who recognize the growing need for Mandarin in the future business environment.

I suggest you look into this school if you are concerned with the other options in the area.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2008 at 3:37 pm

Interesting idea - that Mandarin is complex enough and your child's education is important enough, that it DOES seem like something you would want to have in the hands of experienced professionals with a proven method and track record.

At least in a private school you would not be subject to the 'will of the masses' forcing a turn over in the BOE or change in district staff unduly influencing the policies, directions of your programs. A private schools would have a stated philosophy and method, and would be able to control the longevity and consistency of that vision. (Like a business would control its own destiny)

I doubt you'd have the will of parents demanding 'equity' or 'transparency' influencing how the program would be rolled out. You certainly wouldn't have incompatible teaching philosphies (like Ohlone way), forced on the program for political expediency.

As in the case of most things in life - you get what you pay for. So the parents who are thinking they're pretty lucky for securing a spot in PAUSDs MI - for FREE - well, you get what you pay for.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 26, 2008 at 6:20 pm

Trying and Just,

Thank you for your kind words.

Because the program is a pilot and has already caused major disruptions at my child's school--including two teachers spending 20 percent of their time developing the curriculum, moving on isn't really feasible in my case. Also, I think the program proposal sort of snuck in--the study should never have been approved and taking $60K from still-anonymous sources should also never have happened.

So, to me, continued vigilence is a small price to pay. The research I've done, meanwhile, is interesting to me in and of itself. I like getting to the bottom of things--and the debate over teachcing Mandarin and teaching kids via immersion is interesting to me. It also reveals to me just how incredibly poor Marilyn Cook's work was. Now that I know about it, I can't imagine being an education professional considering an immersion proposal and *not* looking at the substantial research out of Canada.

Even if you're pro-immersion (or pro-anything) I think you need to look at the possible downside of anything. Not being able to confront critics is a sign of weakness.


Basically, the pro-MI side retreated a while ago from here. They don't win on debate points here. Grace Mah, as a county official, actually needs to be more circumspect than she was. What we've got left are posters who fall back quickly on personal attacks when they can't hold a debate point.

"Veiled racism" in my view is a cop-out--it's inflammatory and unless you can be specific why you think a particular comment was veiled racism and why that undermines a particular argument about MI--I think it's a way of trying not to argue the actual merits of the MI program and whether it belongs at Ohlone.

As a friend of mine (our skin tones don't match) says, the thing about racism is there's racism in every group. But we don't seem to be at a point where we can discuss that in an honest manner--or, for that matter, the difference between "racism" and cultural values.


From my research on immersion, I've increasingly come around to Yew Cheung's approach being preferable to early immersion. Immersion shouldn't start before first-language literacy is established--and given the difficulty of Mandarin for English speakers, there's a lot to be said for simply splitting off a large chunk of time each day and dedicate it to teaching Mandarin instead of trying to do everything in Mandarin.

In general,

I'd say a big advantage of the third-grade immersion approach for schools is that you're going to know by then which kids are strong-enough students to handle immersion. One of the dishonest aspects of pro-immersion educators (I'm not referring to PACE here--but scholars) is the claim that immersion's suitable for everyone. It really isn't--I think it's an unfair burden on kids who have reading and writing issues. I think it's tough on kids who, frankly, need to be doing something else besides studying after school.

I think it's fine for kids to be exposed to other languages early and often--but I don't see, particularly given the data in Canada, that this exposure must be or even should be in the form of immersion at public schools--unless it's an issue of getting a child up to speed in the language of the country where he or she is residing.

Posted by Junk Research, a resident of Duveneck School
on Mar 27, 2008 at 4:20 am

I disagree completely with your statements. I am really beggining to feel you are confused and trying your best to justify your point endlessly with no real impact. Case in point your statement:

> It really isn't--I think it's an unfair burden on kids who have reading and writing issues. I think it's tough on kids who, frankly, need to be doing something else besides studying after school.

Immersion is designed to avoid specific after school studing for the language. It is during the immersion time that you learn the language.

You and your research has lost its credibilty - big time. People feel it but dont say it bluntly as I am saying.

Posted by check the other schools, a resident of Community Center
on Mar 27, 2008 at 9:18 am


Go to ISTP and ask what sort of "after school studying" is required. They even offer after-school classes in the language to support the children with their home work.
Other immersion schools on the peninsular also state that homes that don't speak the target language should look at employing nannies, au-pairs or accommodate teaching assistants in their house to re-inforce the language after school.

You're saying that all these schools have all got it wrong. You obviously know better, somehow.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 27, 2008 at 12:24 pm


You need to look at some of the sites on immersion. Yes, they have homework and--more specifically--some of them will tell you that the families should expect to spend time outside of the class working on *English* literacy skills.

This is part of the reason why immersion is not suitable for kids who are native speakers of neither language. Basically, immersion programs count on high-level English skills within the family for kids being immersed in a non-English language.

This is why kids do better when they start learning languages in third grade. By this time, basic literacy in their first language is established and any issues with reading and writing should have been detected.

Posted by Junk is Right, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 27, 2008 at 2:07 pm

The above is simply misinformation.

If your kid is in an immersion program, there is no need for after-school classes, nannies, au-pairs, teaching assistants or additional time on English literacy skills. That is the beauty of immersion, after all. The best time to start is by kindergarten--it's effortless for the kids; if you wait until third grade and do it as FLES, it just becomes work.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 27, 2008 at 2:31 pm


And you know this because? What are your sourcese? Why are you certain that they're right?

Are you more of an expert, for instance, than these people:

Web Link

They would be the Center for Advanced Language Acquisition at the University of Minnesota:

"Myth #2 - "Having homework assigned in the second language is too hard. We are expecting too much from this child." Homework, in any language, is an extension of what the child has learned in class. If he understands the concepts, then the issue is how to appropriately transfer the knowledge. It isn't about unrealistic expectations, it is about using information and knowledge at an early age. Keep in mind that the child has learned the concepts in the second language. Having homework in the second language is important to the immersion experience."

I mean, one of the unanswered questions regarding the MI/Ohlone mash-up is how do you teach a language which requires heavy rote memorization with no homework? It's an unanswered question because there doesn't seem to be a no-homework model for Mandarin Immersion.

In fact, I'll make this easy for you--find me an example of an MI program where no homework is given.

Posted by check the other schools, a resident of Community Center
on Mar 27, 2008 at 2:40 pm

oh dear: Web Link

What is the homework like?
Although Mandarin Immersion students are generally assigned more homework than the General Education students, it is a reasonable amount of work. For example, four worksheets of Simplified Chinese characters are assigned every week in addition to homework in English assigned for the core curriculum. The goal is for our kindergartners to be able to write 50 characters by the end of their school year, although they will recognize many others.

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