Wasted Energy? How Important Are Language Skills in Public Education Anyway? Schools & Kids, posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 18, 2007 at 9:44 pm
Are we all wasting our time focusing on Foreign Language instruction, both Mandarin Immersion and FLES?
I took 5 years of French in public school, some 30 years ago. The benefit was almost nil. All the schools in those days, like now, taught French and Spanish. I've never noted our business or cultural relationship with France or Spain (or other French or Spanish speaking countries) doing anything special (vs., say, Germany or Italy or Japan) as a result. And small wonder, since my French education enables me to read a menu and perhaps the odd museum sign in Paris.
Going back many many years, written and spoken Latin and ancient Greek were required studies for the educated person. Few take Latin and just about none Greek - in fact we mostly find the whole idea quaint (though I much enjoyed my one year of Latin). I look back on mandatory French and Spanish and think the same - it did just about nothing for us. Additional science, math, history, world culture, economics, art, etc. - just about any of them would have been time better spent for the vast majority of kids.
Many proponents of Mandarin Immersion - AND broader elementary language instruction (FLES) - hold out the growing importance of China in business as a key reason to learn Mandarin. But is it true? I have read that in a decade or so, China will have more English speakers than the US, and that English instruction is now mandatory in China from 3rd grade on. So many Chinese, esp those dealing with foreigners, will speak English (as do many, many foreign-facing Europeans). And that's not because the US is important - it's because English is the lingua-franca of business worldwide. So how useful will our efforts really be?
Wouldn't it be better to see our reasources - dollars, classroom hours, adminstrative attention - go to things we KNOW are and will be important - math and science, writing and reading, history and world culture. Understanding Chinese history, culture, and politics seems FAR more useful to me than trying to learn Mandarin (either by immerision or otherwise). I don't have to speak French to fathom how the French behave or understand the drivers of French business and politics.
So let the flavor-of-the-month come and go - be it MI or FLES. Let's beef up our basics, esp in K-5, and make sure our kids are prepared for whatever the world serves up in 30 years.
Posted by Daunna, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2007 at 8:14 am
I studied math K-12 and took a required course in college. I enjoyed advanced math--I remember thinking some of the proofs were "beautiful." Great intellectual satisfaction. But in my everyday life I just don't use math beyond the stuff I learned in elementary school. I'm not an engineer or scientist, although I did become a tech writer (no math needed). I got an M.A. in liberal arts, and math was just not important for my particular needs.
I use math for pretty mundane activities such as:
- shopping and figuring out the tax before I get to the checkout so I can pay to the penny if I've got the right change
- shopping and comparing the cost of the giant economy size vs. the large size - leaving tips
- doubling or halving recipes
- figuring out square footage to buy paint
- figuring out my car's gas mileage
- playing a whole note longer than a half note
- converting Fahrenheit to Celcius and vice versa when I need to cook overseas
- converting francs, lira, marks, dinars, pesos and other currencies into dollars, and vice versa when traveling
My grade school math has served me very well for my limited math needs in life. I don't regret the math I took in secondary school and even college, but I just didn't need them.
On the other hand, I studied French in high school, like you, but I went on to use it, first with a pen pal, and later in travel. I also acquired a few other languages in life, enough to be functional but far from eloquent. Foreign languages have enriched my life immeasurably. I have visted with people in their homes because I spoke enough of their language to have meaningful conversations. I used my Italian in Rome to solve The Mystery of the Vanished Tour Bus and explain in French and German to the other stranded tourists what the problem/solution would be. I have bargained for better prices in Latin America, Egypt, and Iran because I knew enough of their languages to do so. I relied on Spanish to learn the histories of my children adopted from Chile. I've talked to doctors in Farsi, Spanish and French. I have used languages other than English as a lingua franca. I'm not a polyglot. French is my strongest foreign language, but once you learn a first language, the second is easier, and all the others after that are easier still. Even Mandarin and Arabic.
You, Fred, studied French but had little use for it. I studied French and found lots of use for it. I studied advanced math and have as much use for it as you have for French. Different strokes for different folks. We need variety and exposure to many fields so that our kids can find a path to something that excites them and will be meaningful in their lives.
Posted by fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2007 at 8:27 am fred is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
Sure, I agree Duanna, I'm not saying eliminate French as an option. But we are talking about where to expend the incremental resource, and I don't know why we have focused so much on foreign language vs. other things. There was recently a benchmarking study done by PiE - it showed we were lagging other elite districts in MANY areas at ALL levels (and are leaders in almost no areas).
It seems like the agenda setting is being done by special interest groups (PACE), with the board and the community responding on that agenda (with FLES). How about we set our OWN agenda and focus on what is really important to Palo Alto's kids?
Posted by k, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2007 at 9:18 am
Thanks, Fred, for mentioning that benchmark study - I recall awhile ago I watched on TV when they (BoE and others) discussed our district and other districts - seems like that ought to be pondered by all of us a bit more. What came of it - are there plans based on the findings?
Posted by fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2007 at 9:29 am fred is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
I do not believe there are any plans based on the study (except likely by PiE to use it as a fundraising tool). It is a useful eye-opener, though in the absence of strong leadership, it is difficult to know where to start. What do we turn to first - the fact that we have fewer middle and high-school math tracks (we have 3 vs. 4-5 for others); lack of elementary art; fewer language options, both in K-5 and upper grades; higher student:computer ratios? The list goes on for a while (it is a LONG report). I do not believe, btw, that we should simply follow with other elite districts do - we may be spending our money more wisely than they do, or simply have other priorities. But it would be very nice to have a process to digest and use that information. It seems like a good starting point for a new Superintendent's strategic review.
Posted by Euro Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2007 at 10:32 am
At my school I had to study three languages, no choice. Some studied four. I am not able to say that I speak any of these three languages and I can definitely say that I did not enjoy learning them. However, I would not change the fact that I spent my time putting in the effort to learn them. To begin with, my English skills are definitely better as a result. Grammar and comprehension are the obvious frontrunners, but the ability to think through what I am writing or saying in a clear uncluttered way without using slang and contractions comes in a close second. Being able to speak and write so that someone who is not a native speaker of English is very important and something I would not be able to do if it was not for the fact that I have spent time and effort learning another language. It is incredible how the average American speaks to someone who is struggling with our language, they tend to use language that it is hard for a non-American English speaker to understand, let alone someone who is struggling to speak basic English. Speaking slowly and loudly is not very helpful to someone who doesn't understand the words being used.
Secondly, learning a language helps you to understand that there are cultural differences beyond the language differences. The use of hand signals, eye contact and other non-verbal communication is very important and something as normal as the common handshake is very differently accepted by other cultures, and by learning the language we can get insight into some of these nuances.
Lastly, the fact that if you learn a language you are actually better educated is probably the most important factor. Education is not just about SAT scores and getting degrees. Real education is being able to apply what learning you have to making you a better and more interesting person, getting better rewards out of any activity you pursue, whether it be for pleasure or anything else. Education should be life long, not something that ends the day we walk out of college. If we think that way, then it actually shows how little we have learned.
Posted by Asian Parent, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2007 at 11:43 am
The value of learning a different language depends on when you learn it and how much you use what you learn. It also affects how how you process information. Try mastering a tonal language as an adult and see if you can discern pitch changes that any pre-K child can hear. But just like everything else, "use it or lose it."
Posted by Euro Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2007 at 12:50 pm
As an example for my earlier post concerning how learning another language helps you speak to someone who is unfamiliar with American culture and speaks only basic "emerging" English, try the following exercise.
Explain in basic English the rudiments of the game of baseball to someone who knows nothing about fielding sports, e.g. baseball, cricket, etc. Do this without using jargon words like "strike, pitch, inning, infield, outfield, home run, run, foul ball, etc." It is very tricky, but to someone who has no idea of the game you could quite literally be speaking a foreign language. Now, imagine having to speak all the time using this type of language.
This is what it is like for someone learning a language. A student will speak like this automatically and gradually learns to include slang, contractions, cliches and more technical jargon. Someone who speaks good English will be able to write well with the same techniques and be able to use a wide range of vocabulary rather than depending on words which may mean different things to different people depending on their backgrounds.
Learning a foreign language gives you these insights. Speaking only your mother tongue leaves you sadly ignorant on this front unless you really do have spectacular insight.
Posted by fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2007 at 12:59 pm fred is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
Euro Mom -
Your examples ring true, and certainly there is a benefit to language instruction. I did not mean to imply in my initial post that we should eliminate foreign language instruction, merely that it did not seem a high priority for additional resources (including School Board and Administration attention) given the other issues facing our schools and the future challenges facing our kids.
I consistently worry that small interest groups set the agenda and frame the debate for Palo Alto, not the concerns and issues of the community at large or leaders concerned with our broader future.
Posted by Andrea, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2007 at 2:10 pm
I agree with Fred. It seems that suddenly the agenda has changed to placing FLES and immersion programs at high priority, when prior to the Mandarin Immersion proposal, they were not at or near the top of the priorities for the district. It seems that the tail is wagging the dog.
And I'm not convinced that FLES is important enough at this time, given all the other items on the district's plate, to spend district resources pursuing it. The BOE has many more pressing and important issues to grapple with and resolve.
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2007 at 2:43 pm
Re: PiE and our Board.
Sure, they use it! Ms. Townsend just used it to justify the secret appointment of the Paly principal to a second-in-command position that nobody knew about, and thus couldn't apply! She clearly stated that, according to the PiE benchmarking study we were very understaffed at our District level, and that is why the 4 Board members voted decided the way they did!
Don't waste your time Fred. A lot of people don't understand the concept of FOCUS on the top priorities for our kids' future, master that, THEN move on to the rest of the really nice, and highly educational and good, stuff like art,music and foreign languages. Around here, it tends to be the squeaky wheel syndrome.
I will be convinced that we are ready to put our energies into art, music and foreign langauges in K-5 when our district shows it is in the top tier, even the top 30%, nationally with Districts of the same demographics in k-5 in Math and English Language Arts.
Most of us would happily pay more taxes if it meant a longer school day for more time to FOCUS on math and language.
In the meantime, I think we are going to see more people choosing to live in much less expensive areas, with better city services, ( like Mountain View), then taking the money they save and putting it into private schools that focus on the critical skills for the future of their kids.
Luckily I am past that phase of my life, but if I had young kids, that is what I would be thinking about.
Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2007 at 4:29 pm
There is a considerable body of research that has been conducted over a number of years that point out numerous benefits to US children who get exposure and education in foreign languages from the early grades. From what I can tell in your postings here, you are not familiar with this research, but are instead providing a point of view based on a very narrow set of metrics which draw upon your personal experiences.
I believe I am correct in stating that among the school districts with which PAUSD likes to compare itself, as was done in the recent work by PIE, foreign language instruction was among the areas where PAUSD was "behind" its peer districts.
I have spent a great deal of my working life traveling internationally, and even in those countries I visit where I am not a speaker of the language (which is most places) I do think there is a discernible difference in people who have been exposed to foreign language as part of their education in terms of how they deal and perform in environments that are highly different from what we have in the US--even when English is the language in use during interactions. That is something that draws from my personal experiences, which leads me to believe and conclude that language instruction will become increasingly important in the coming years, for reasons that run deeper than just what is spoken in a business discussion.
You certainly seem to have a point of view, and my active support in this town for foreign language instruction is well known and goes back many, many years. So, yours is not a point of view that I share. With all due respect, my personal anecdotal experience and yours are both worth very little in informing this type of discussion.
What does concern me is that your reasoning to me does not appear to be grounded is objective well regarded analysis around this subject. I would love for you or anyone to come up with research and thorough empirical evidence that foreign language instruction--both FLES and Immersion--are harmful, or even just plain not beneficial, to students. There is plenty of evidence that points to its benefits. If you have comparable information that can buttress what you believe, as I have to support what I believe, I welcome learning about it.
As for how it fits into the priorities of education for our students in this district compared with "other things," I think using the PIE benchmark study is one of several tools and information sets our district must use to make such determinations. Our kids do pretty well on other tests they take on such basics as math and english, for the most part. The high school level courses in the basics are top notch, and our students are regarded by select universities as well prepared for college. So I have a difficult time understanding how to make a trade off like "more basics" -vs- language instruction. "Added effort" on basics for many of our students may provide incremental benefit, if any, whereas language instruction opens up a different set of learning questions and benefits. I welcome your helping me understand better how to make a trade-off between two such seemingly disparate categories of instruction.
Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2007 at 5:29 pm
Paul - not a discussion of language educaton being harmful or not beneficial. Question of priorities. The act that you're still in a different conversation, after one full year of debate on MI, says you have been stubbornly closing your mind to the real issue.
Of a list of 10 things, where only 5 are affordable, what do you do? What do you not do? When we all have to agree, how do you reach that agreement?
I say, we let the loudest whiner call the shots, or the one with the most influential connections? or the most money? How would you recommend we make that decision Paul? Should everyone get a voice, or just the one who can game the politics the best?
Hopefully (for someone like you who favors language education) the next time this happens, it won't be the person who wants to remove language from the curriculum all together, so they can save money for a hockey rink.
Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2007 at 6:03 pm
Always nice to hear from you parent.
I have consistently stated my opinion that it should be considered and become a priority. I also have consistently stated that one of the reasons this has been such a problematic matter for the community is the lack of clear, complete policy around the matter of language education in elementary schools, which has been the case since Spanish Immersion was introduced in the mid-90's.
And it is my hope that as part of the next priority setting and strategic planning process that it does indeed become a priority. Strategic planning and priority setting processes are not perfect instruments, but they can serve as important guideposts for a period of time, after which they should get revisited, as will be the case starting later this year.
And if you have any research along the lines that I inquired about regarding the lack of benefits of language education, please share it with others
Posted by Erik K., a resident of Los Altos Hills, on Mar 19, 2007 at 8:22 pm
First of all, Student... how can you , a "student", call my friend Daunna, an adult with a job, "short-sited"? I think it's more apt to call someone who tells a college graduate "good luck on the SATs" short-sighted. At any rate it seems clear to me that Daunna was speaking from personal experience and not to the usefulness of math education as a whole.
There's a perfectly good reason to teach foreign languages, however archaic they are: : because a language is a way to think. The more languages a person has, the more ways he or she has of formulating thoughts, the more approaches he or she has to any given problem. Words express ideas, and any language, even an obscure one, can express some ideas that basically cannot be expressed in English. In that sense all languages are useful.
Should languages more relevant to professional life be taught first? Sure, but PAUSD's mostly been doing a fine job in that regard. America certainly has little need to trade with France and other French-speaking nations. Demand for French classes reflects that; there's only one strand of French classes at Palo Alto High. As for Spanish not being a useful trade language because America trades relatively little with Spain... There's a little place called Latin America. You might want to look it up. Last time I checked we were doing some business with the folks over there
As for the alleged "focus" on foreign-language education versus "basics", it's not that those programs would actually cost that much in money or in administrative time. It's just that complex, feasible foreign-language programs have been proposed to the School Board, and no complex, feasible programs in other subjects have been proposed. What exactly do you expect the school board to debate?
If you, sir, have a complex, feasible program in mind to boost education in the "basics", present it to the school board. Absolutely. Be our guest. We would all love to hear about it, please.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2007 at 8:23 pm
Thanks for your comments Paul. I'm not sure I agree that my, or your, personal experiences are so valueless - I find it is always useful to think about how big picture discussions reflect on my own personal experience, to see if the big claims actually make any sense (my experience = they frequently do not).
In any case, you are right, I'm not familiar with all the literature on the utility of language instruction. But as Parent pointed out, that's not the core issue. Art, music, math, science, reading, writing, history, world cultures -- I am sure every one of these subjects has serious studies supporting its merit in the curriculum. Foreign language is worthy of consideration too, of course, but it seems by no means obvious that it is at (or near) the top. (And we can save for another day the topic of special education, which presents pedagogic and financial issues that in some ways dwarf the issues discussed here.)
Here's the SARC for Briones School, where my children attend: www.briones.palo-alto.ca.us/Pages/BrionesSARC-2003-2004.pdf
And here is Gunn: www.pausd.palo-alto.ca.us/community/about/downloads/SARC/HenryGunn.pdf
I would submit that while average scores of 80th percentile and 70% proficient or advanced (see bottom of page 3 on Briones, middle of page 5 for Gunn) isn't terrible, I would be happier if the numbers were meaningfully higher.
I'm pretty familiar with the benchmarking study - not sure how much insight it really offers, it tells us more about what OTHERS have decided is important that what we should think is important. If other districts offer FLES, so be it. Maybe we should lead the way with English writing proficiency. We need to decide if that is a priority for us.
The issue that concern me most is the one mentioned by Parent - how do we choose. Language seems to have mindshare for the wrong reason - interest group activity. Who is trying to lead us in thinking about priorities broadly and raising standards in our schools?
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2007 at 8:38 pm
Erik - thanks for your comments. I don't enjoy the sarcasm much, though, and would enjoy these forums more if we all refrained from it. I will try to as well.
You make an excellent point I think - the vacuum of leadership in ideas from the Superintendent, the District, and the Board creates an environment where whatever idea is forcefully and/or thoughtfully proposed gets ample air time. That's the problem - our leaders should lead us, not just react to what gets tossed on the docket.
I don't know what the right answers or the specific programs are - but as tax-payer and a parent of students in the district, I look at the result (SARC reports) and feel that those we pay to manage it probably can and should do better. And my concern is if they (and we all) allow priorities to be set by interest groups, we will end up with a result that few of us really like.
Posted by Simon Firth, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2007 at 9:47 pm
Thank you, Paul for you eloquent and thoughtful contributions here -- I am with you one hundred per cent.
I especially support your questioning of what it means for our children to be educated. I think we have a tendency in this community to equate success in education with high test scores and with entrance to brand name colleges, regardless of their match for the particular child. A number of recent books, among them Denise Clark Pope of Stanford’s ‘Doing School,’ show the poor logic behind such thinking. A shocking percentage of children who score very well on their English SATs and enter ‘top tier’ institutions, for example, still need remedial composition work in their freshman year.
Pope’s thesis is that this happens because the kind of learning encouraged by ‘teaching to the test’ is quickly forgotten. Instead, she argues, we need to foster real, and resilient, cognitive skills in our children, especially their abilities in creative thinking and critical reasoning. I agree.
To do this within a revenue-limited public school system might mean putting less pressure on our best students to score off the charts in their standardized tests and instead advocating that they learn how to think clearly and creatively, and argue well (and giving them space and time to do it). It might also mean we advocate that students consider colleges with which some of their friends’ parents may not be familiar. As the people behind books such as ‘Colleges that Change Lives’ argue, students from lesser known colleges often outperform the graduates of famous schools. And as Time reported in its Aug 2006 article, ‘Who Needs Harvard,’ “for students aspiring to go to graduate school, the more personalized education offered at small schools can often provide the best preparation. Pomona College sent a higher percentage of its students to Harvard Law in 2005 than Brown or Duke.”
One reason for this, Pope’s work suggests, is that the ‘high achievers’ who get into the famous schools expend too much of their effort on playing the college-entrance game, a skill that has little relevance when it comes to succeeding in college , or in later life, where you are need to be able to develop your own theses (or business plans, or marketing strategies or project outlines) and advocate for them persuasively. The fault lies with university admissions policies, parents and teachers all, but leadership from a ‘high-achieving’ school district would be a good place to start redefining what it means to be educated – by which I do not mean lowering our expectations of our students, but redefining what excellence amounts to in education.
Fred is worried out the test numbers in the SARC reports. I say, though, that it’s teaching students to get better numbers on these tests that’s the problem. Yes, we need to expect high achievement. But do these tests really measure that?
Fred also says our problem in the PAUSD is how we choose our priorities – he advocates art, music, math, science, reading, writing, history, and world cultures before languages. I think the problem is more fundamental than that. It’s how we test for educational achievement that’s the problem – and so long as we keep bowing to the all powerful API, STAR and CST, no additional focus on ‘the basics’ like math and English are going to help.
I do agree with Fred, and Eric, in their analysis that we have a problem with an absence of leadership in advocating for what our district’s teaching priorities should be. It’s not just that someone needs to be a persuasive advocate for a particular set of curricular subjects, however. We also need both a BOE and a superintendent able to articulate what an education is for today, what it should constitute and how it should best be delivered in a public setting. I’m not sure we’re getting that right now.
I think this ties in with the question, asked on an earlier thread here, of whether the PAUSD really is a great school district. There’s a knee jerk assumption that it is simply because it scores well on standardized tests. I wonder, though, if it could do a lot better by its students than it does right now? For me, certainly, a great school district would have the courage to do more (and ask more of its students and parents) than to focus on scoring high on standardized tests and sending students to well known universities.
Having said all this, I do believe that languages are vitally important – precisely because they help develop the kind of reasoning and thinking skills that I’ve spoken of above.
So, I think we really do need to address languages in the next round of priority setting and find a place for them for ALL children at the earliest possible grade level.
Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2007 at 10:12 pm
Personal experience does count for a great deal, but one's own personal experience is not necessarily an indicator of what it appropriate for a larger group. It may be, but it should be part of other information that goes toward such an end. I think we largely agree and understand the point here, so I won't say anything more on that.
Here's my perspective on how we got to where we are. Others likely have a different take on it, but I will try to make it as factual as possible.
This community got to the point on language instruction it is today goes back at least to the early 90's when my children were not yet enrolled in the school district, and a group of us tried to get a foreign language instruction policy for the elementary schools established. A POLICY. What came about was Spanish Immersion, which was also something we advocated as part of the policy, but an overall policy never was developed. Still don't have one today.
Viewed from a policy perspective, I and others who have been interested in this matter for some time came to believe, based on extensive university level research, and findings from our own experiences visiting schools with language instruction as part of the pedagogy, that the overall standards and levels of performance of students in PAUSD would be improved with language as part of the curriculum here. This is not a flavor of the day, month or year for some of us who have spent time over a number of years on this topic.
More recently, language instruction policies in school districts around the country have been getting revisited quite extensively. Attribute it to the "flattened world," districts attempting to achieve a competitive advantage for their students, a fuller understanding of how foreign language instruction has shown to contribute to improvement on other academic measures (albeit indirectly), or as occurred in Palo Alto, largely because a group of parents felt strongly enough about the importance of language instruction, in this case advocating for a second immersion program in Mandarin.
There are all sorts of factors that affect this nationwide phenomenon, but little old Palo Alto is not alone in dealing with the question of how language instruction plays a role in elementary education in the coming decades. To my way of thinking, how we got to this point gets overplayed in the discussion. This is an important discussion for the community to have, and we got to this point the way we got to this point. Others districts are having the same discussions and got to the same point another way.
And so it comes to the question that I and others have posed to the school board both publicly and privately--in conversations I have taken part in as recently as this week: shall it be the policy of the PAUSD to make foreign language instruction a priority for elementary school education? And part of the way that question gets answered is whether it contributes in a positive and meaningful way to the academic levels we want our children to achieve. And how such contributions toward higher academic levels compare to other aspects of the curriculum that are part of the basic and non-basic education PAUSD must provide our students.
This question needs to be asked and addressed as part of the strategic planning and priority setting process that PAUSD will undertake shortly after the next Superintendent is hired. (Lucky person, to land here and be able to have a major role in shaping the school district's priorities at the start, not have to carry out for a period of time agendas set on others' watch--but that is a different thread.) It may well turn out that in the course of the process, the advocacy position in support of language instruction will prevail, and it is possible that it will not "make the cut." The good news is that it will be addressed, finally, after more than a dozen years and entire of cohort of students has passed through these schools here since it was first surfaced in a significant way.
Once the policy is clear, and priorities are set, how FLES, immersion or other approaches fit into the picture should follow in a more straightforward manner. If the policy is not made clear, I am afraid the community will be struggling with this issue and the acrimony that seems to attend it, for some time. Won't affect me! My youngest graduates from PALY next year. But I will continue to advocate for it, and participate in a constructive way to bringing it about, if the policy is in place that calls for that.
I perceive that you are a relatively recent arrival to this town, and if I have that wrong and have gone on excessively about the background to this story, I thank you for your patience in reading this. If I have it right, I hope it helps your gain a fuller understanding of what, in one reasonably informed person's view, is going on here.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2007 at 10:31 pm
Simon, that is a very thought provoking posting. Thank you.
I am not sure I would as quickly dismiss the SARC and other scores. Unpacking these aggregate scores tends to reveal under-served groups, not just bored elites. For instance, the Gunn SARC shows significantly (30-50% percentage points) lower number of Latinos, blacks, economically disadvantaged, and students with disabilities achieving proficiency. It is sometimes easy to forget these less vocal groups exist in a town with so many high achievers.
I also would say, for my own children at least, that I would like to see them at least do well on the standardized tests, but that is not all that I hope and expect. The tests serve to provide a floor, not a cieling.
I think it would be great if we had high-school (or even appropriately structured lower-grade) courses in critical thinking, logic, innovation, etc. I'm not aware of curriculum that provides this, but I imagine it is out there. I don't see the need to use what generally amounts to rote mastery of vocabulary and verb conjugation to expand their minds to handle new challenges.
But your general point is valid, I think - it would be quite worthwhile to hash-out what "an elite school district" should really deliver. Even better, it would be great to be led through that exercise by thoughtful leadership. Is this too great a task to expect of our next Superintendent?
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2007 at 10:49 pm
Thank you Paul, we are just 2 years in the district and your background is helpful. It seems like we all agree it would be useful to have a thought-out policy on what we want our kids to learn and how they should be taught.
I am somewhat concerned about whether we will get that, since it seems like, in my short time here, the city council and school board are quite reactive and hesistant to make decisions and move on. I'm not sure if you were serious or kidding when you called the new superintendent-to-be "lucky" - it may be like walking into a hornet's nest. I have generally found when great hopes are placed on a person to be named later, those hopes are usually disappointed. In any case, that person will need a lot of support.
And, btw, I am curious about this - for sure, foreign language instruction is at least somewhat salutory - of course it does not do harm. But my earlier point was that every valid subject can make that claim. Are you (and the studies your reference) saying that language study somehow has a more positive impact on educational results than studying math, writing, art, etc.?
Posted by Anne, a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2007 at 11:13 pm
Thank you for your energy and intelligent contributions to both this forum and to education in Palo Alto. I am especially grateful since your children are too old to benefit now.
My husband had a very low-key exposure to German throughout elementary school, a little bit over a long period of time (starting early). And although he has never used the language at the same level I have from years of high school and university-level instruction, he was always able to hold his own in German-speaking countries (with German-speaking family). It is remarkable to me how that early instruction stayed with him despite the lack of later language instruction in his schooling. It's a much different experience for ME when we are in German-speaking territory than when we are, for example, in French-speaking countries where he knows nothing and I have to interpret and say EVERYTHING.
I think language instruction is very important for young students, for many reasons already given. I think a lot of other things are important, too, and I think this district can improve and enrich the educational experiences of our kids if we put our minds to it. I do think prioritizing is essential for that. I hope we will see prioritizing as a way to get as many of those educational opportunities as we possibly can, and not as a way to ignore them.
Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 20, 2007 at 12:41 am
While I don't like how the language debate has been handled--I think second languages should be taught in the elementary schools.
Unlike literature, say, there's a window of opportunity with languages. It's much easier to learn a language as a child than as even an adolescent. Children can learn languages without an accent, adults pretty much can't. Ironically, we tend to start teaching languages at the age (middle school) when it becomes hard to learn them.
Kids don't need to become fluent in a second language, but some sort of early exposure--where they both hear and speak it valuable in a way that it just isn't later on.
Also, it's hard to learn a language independently--you can't just read a book and learn all about it nor, unlike art, are you going to get it just by practicing on your own.
Instead of pushing down the curriculum in areas like math and reading where there's no longterm benefit to reading at four instead of seven, we'd be better off with some foreign language instruction as a matter of course, as it's done in most countries.
One of the problems with the latest round of MI at all costs is that it has every chance of derailing FLES given the wishy-washiness of the school board. I don't think PACE has ever supported FLES, has it?
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 20, 2007 at 6:38 am
Erik: Your sarcasm reveals a fundamental disconnect between what we are supposed to be, in the district, and what has happened, lately.
Part of your sarcasm is that you assume "complex" language programs have been proposed to the Board ( bingo...complex equates to cost) but no other "complex" programs have been proposed.
This assumes it is our system to leave it up to an individual to gather the money, time and people to set up a program in a school district. That is not correct. We elect Board members to set the policies and priorities from which we set the procedures to follow the policies.
Our priorities were, presumably, set by a districtwide system several years ago. Our procedure for re-setting our priorities was delayed this year...it should have happened this month, but because of our over-busy Board and District Staff, they delayed it, and we are now out of date.
Had we followed our rules, our system, we would now have new Strategic goals and priorities, one of which might actually have been inclusive of foreign language, or at least a plan for how to reach a foreign language goal for ALL the students.
We have no hope of moving forward on any district wide plan this year.
This is just one example of many of the willingness of our District to not follow its own "rules", and if it did, we would prevent the vast majority of anger in our District, and be positively managing our way forward.
Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 20, 2007 at 9:21 am
The choice programs guidelines are guidelines for the DEVELOPMENT of choice of programs. The following of the guidelines are not a green light for all programs that come across the superintendent's desk that have filled out the report properly.
The choice program guidelines specifically say that approval of a preliminary proposal does not mean a final program will be approved.
They also say that the choice programs must fit the district's missions and GOALS.
What are goals?
synonyms for GOAL (from Meriam Websters): INTENTION, INTENT, PURPOSE, DESIGN, AIM, END, OBJECT, OBJECTIVE, GOAL mean what one intends to accomplish or attain.
How does the district define its intent, aims and objectives? How are goals set? Who defines the districts goals? The community and the staff and board, in a combined effort, through the three year priority setting process.
Is there any 6th grade education person on this board who is going to claim that a 3 strategic planning process, where community comes together to define the priorities of the district for the next three years is NOT intended to be a guideline for the goals of the district over the next three years? Is it just a group fiction writing workshop or something? If not outlining the direction of the district, what is it supposed to be for?
Does any crackpot that comes along get a permanent 1/2 school program just because they fill out the forms? No, it has to be program that fits the district's goals (among other things).
C'mon. Just stop already. You can wordsmith the policy document all you want. The MI program doesn't fit PAUSD community defined goals or priorities and it also
-doesn't serve enought kids,
-is not cost neutral because it uses up district staff,
-it uses unfair admission practices,
-it won't be demographically representative of the community
-it doesn't work
-etc. etc. etc.
No where in the choice guidelines document does it say that following the guideline document guarantees the approval of a program.
Perhaps if you had brought a program that closed the achivement gap, (clearly one of the districts stated 3 year goals), we wouldn't be having this conversation right now.
By the way, charter schools don't have to have any relationship to the goals of the district, or the goals of anyone really - so yes, in case of charters, any crackpot that comes along CAN start a school just by filling out the forms correctly.
Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 20, 2007 at 10:15 am
I confine my remarks to matters around the role that foreign language has shown to play in elementary education and policy questions around that. I do not generally comment on the school board or the administration on these or other matters.
To your specific question about whether langauge instruction provides better benefits than additional instruction in math, writing, art (your examples): I am unaware of any study that does what you describe. The research I have seen examines students who have comparable curricula, except one also has language instruction as part of it and the other does not. It then compares performance of the student groups, and the findings are that students whose instruction includes language generally present better academic performace on various measures. I am not a research expert, and I don't follow this stuff actively, but that is the general thrust of the research findings that have been going on for many years over many studies by many groups, largely at the university level (Stanford, among others.)
I do have an opinion about trying to make trade-offs the way I think you are going with your questions. Care must be taken when trying to approach it that way. Merely saying "we have an achivement gap in area XXX, so how can we possibly consider changing the curriculum to (in this case) include foregin language instruction" is not how professional educators approach this type of question. It is not, nor should it be characterized as a zero sum game. It may be easier for people to think about it that way, but in my view, "easier" quickly degrades to "simplistic," and risks creating false trade-offs that pits different aspects of education against one another in a Coke/Pepsi type challenge.
I will give you a specific example. In testing in PAUSD, there are children who consistently perform much lower than their peers. It is critical that we understand how we can provide these kids the resources that a district can provide to help narrow and hopefully close such gaps. In doing this, should other things not take place concurrently that also are important in educating our students? Of course not. It is a issue with its own set of challenges, but other issues with their own challenges must also be addressed. To a great extent, the resources and strategies needed to deal with the achievement gap issue have not been shown to require us to "take away" resources from other areas--the needs and tools are different. I am not deeply versed in issues around low performing students, but I do perceive that taking resources from other areas in order to address these needs is not going to fix that problem. It is more complicated than that.
The larger point I am making in this illustration is if there is a need to improve an area (say math), that does not necessarily mean that other aspects of the curriculum must be frozen in place unless and until that area is "fixed." It simply does not make sense to try to tackle the issue in such a fashion. (And I have no doubt that others will weigh in around my contention, taking other points of view Such is Palo Alto.)
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 20, 2007 at 10:43 am
Thank you Paul, that is an informative response. I certainly agree with you more than I disagree.
I for sure agree that just because one thing requires focus, everything all doesn't have to stop. The district should be able to handle more than one initiative at a time.
That said, I am pretty sure it can't handle MANY initiatives at a time well - where well is defined as something that is rolled out consistently, managed and monitored to make sure it is being done right, and then measured to see if we get the result we are looking for.
So it isn't zero sum, nor is it come one, come all. My experience with organizations is that they can usually handle up to 2-3 major initiatives at a time.
So if FLES (or whatever elementary foreign language program is chosen) fits in the top few items, so be it. If not, as we in Red Sox Nation say, there's always next year.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 20, 2007 at 10:46 am
Paul, responding separately on the research issue. That type of study makes sense, but I wonder if other subjects (music, art, math, writing) can make similar claims, i.e., that in side by side studies, where one group gets something additional, they do better. Could be Hawthorne effect, self-selection into enriched programs, etc. Or it could be an many of this enrichments have salutory effects.
If you have an online reference or two to pass along, I would be interested in reading.
Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 20, 2007 at 11:02 am
I proudly wear a BOSOX 1975 cap, harkening back to a great World Series against the Reds, at time I was a student there. Red with a blue bill.
On the research question, I honestly don't know if there are studies parallel to the sorts of language studies with which I am familiar, along the lines of what you describe, examining other topics. I will conjecture that there likely are, and if there is any "research on research" that compares such studies latitudinally, it would be quite interesting. if you really are curious, Google the question or try calling the Ed Department at Stanford, they may be able to help you find out what it available. Maybe a good opportunity for someone who is getting an advanced degree in education to examine more fully. Too bad I already have a day job.
I believe the work of the group of which I was a part, USEFL, can be found on the PAUSD Web Site. If you cannot find it there, I am sure the District office can point you to where it can be found.
Posted by Lingua, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 20, 2007 at 4:21 pm
one of the purposes of education is to prepare our chilidren for the future; we must find ways to give ALL of our children exposure to langauage skills. why on earth we don't have console games that teach language as an embedded part of a game is beyond me; we can accomplish this sort of thing many ways - let's get to it!
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 20, 2007 at 6:29 pm
Thank you Ligua for the interesting article - for those who did not click through, the link points to an article about increasing demand for bi-lingual workers for US companies.
Future job skills don't seem, to me anyway, a good reason to teach language in elementary school. Many would be taught, but very few would likely use it (if they retain it) in future jobs. And of course the world's most useful language for business is -- English.
As for the "console game" appraoch - this is part of what I fear from FLES; a little bit of language instruction, spread thin over many youngsters. Adds complexity, diverts focus, little or no measured result - simply "exposure," from which some take away something, most nothing (kind of like music instruction in the elementary schools today).
Is that a worthwhile program to invest in and add (more or less permanently) to our curriculum? Tough call - I would love to see that additional 60 minutes/week (say) given to writing workshops.
In the end, I think there are multiple worthy contenders for that hour, and top down priority setting should drive the selection.
Posted by A.J., a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Mar 20, 2007 at 8:36 pm
I don't think you could be more wrong about music or language. The benefits of music are legion -- the most important, I think, is how it contributes to happiness, frankly. You don't give kids music in elementary so that they will all be virtuosos later in life, you give them early music because it gives them the ability to connect with that language when they are most receptive to it. Music also helps other academic pursuits, including math. And as with language, the early exposure allows them to pursue it then or pick it up later in a way that they couldn't otherwise.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 20, 2007 at 9:11 pm
Thanks A.J. I like music and studied quite a bit as a child.
It's an interesting question (to me anyway) about why we ask schools to provide music education in the elementary grades. We provide 48 minutes/week on average in PAUSD, which I guess provides exposure, but I'm not sure what beyond that.
I am generally skeptical of collatoral benefits arguments - we study X because it enhances Y (which is also used to justify foreign language instruction). These claims need to be examined closely, since it not obvious to me why this would be true, or whether the limited exposure we supply at PAUSD would actually have that effect. Also, if 48 minutes a week of music helps your math, I bet 48 extra minutes of math would help even more.
BTW, I have plenty of other curricular peeves - I would not pick on music especially. For instance, HomeEc in middle school? It was my kid's favorite class. Don't get me started!
Posted by A.J., a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 12:20 am
I wish we did provide music education in the elementary grades. We don't provide it for kindergarten, and we only provided it below fourth grade in the past because of the initiative of some music teachers who are now retired. Do we provide it below fourth grade now? I don't even know. I'm pretty sure we don't at our neighborhood school.
Music in particular has so many physical, attitudinal, cognitive, social and personal benefits, I consider it an important fundamental subject. The fact that I did not have the opportunity to study music as a child is one of my biggest educational regrets.
I really mean that about happiness. You know, someone on NPR today mentioned Little House on the Prairie, how people lived in so much deprivation in those times. For Christmas, they were thrilled to have a penny and a tin cup all of their own. Back then, they certainly valued the basics in school. They also treated music as indispensible, and a good music education as an indispensible part of an educated person's experience. Music -- music people claimed for themselves -- made for a rich life. People used to gather for singalongs, ordinary people played sophisticated instruments; music fostered community and brought daily joy into otherwise bleak lives.
As much as I am personally an advocate of bringing language to our elementary schools, I consider music a higher priority. But that's my priority -- I don't think it's really helpful for us to pick apart subjects one at a time, we really need to have discussions like this in a big strategic planning effort.
I wouldn't necessarily knock early HomeEc, either, though I personally would consider music a higher priority in school. Kids need life coping skills, too, and the earlier they become a part of life for them, it seems the more easily they do those things when they go out on their own. Should such things be taught in school? It depends on a lot of things, again, it should be brought up in strategic planning.
I think we should also consider offering more after school elective opportunities for some of the middle-of-the-road priorities, rather than trying to squeeze them into the school day. Let people choose their priorities then. As with everything else, there are probably more and less economical ways to implementation.
Posted by Proposer, a resident of another community, on Mar 21, 2007 at 12:59 am
This has really struck a nerve with people - let me add my two cents, which is off the main topic of MI/FLES and goes way beyond PA, but is still interesting, I think.
With both globalization upon us and living in a post-9/11 world, I'd like to see a "world culture" class requirement be instituted in HS nationwide - and if it meant lessening foreign language requirements (which I believe is still at least 2 years at the HS level for most colleges) in exchange, then so be it.
What do people think - a good idea and OK trade-off?
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 8:03 am
Thanks A.J. According to my 4th grader, she believes she had music in 2nd and 3rd grade every week or two (basically singing). So not sure what that means in terms of "music education" - they spent time singing together.
Your posts have gotten me thinking. In terms of "access to music" - kids and music are like peas and carrots - most kids have lots of music in their lives, from the radio, internet, ipods, etc., and they tend to sing spontaneously And there are many opportunities in the community to pursue musical interests (church and community groups, private lessons, etc.). Your points about music and happiness above somewhat support that view - we don't need music education to be happy, we just need musical opportunities, and my sense is that we are not too deprived of them. I might be more supportive of school sing-alongs (nice community building and fun) than something that looks like elementary music "education."
So we get into a second dimension - we can agree something is important, but is it important for the school to do it? I would say Home Ec falls outside the scope of school - we can cover those topics at home. It is convenient to add things to the agenda of the school, but to the extent it distracts from an under-achieved core mission, we should think carefully about them.
The question I would ask is not whether music or foreign language or even Home Ec are useful subjects - of course they are, and there are many more. The question I would ask is are our kids good readers and writers, able calculators armed with some basic science, familiar with the world's people and places, and our own and some others history and culture? If we are not yet satisfied on those goals (I apologize as I did not try to tightly formulate them, but the thrust is a set of academic "basics"), we appropriately put "other good things" like language and music and art and home ec aside to make sure we do well on the basics.
We bemoan the loss of music and art in elementary schools, and tussle over includes of elementary foreign language. But if we need the dollars and classroom hours to deliver on the main goal, then we are doing the right thing.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 8:11 am
Interesting thought, Prosper. I learned more about France and French culture in one semester of comparative government than I did in five years of French, and have found it much more useful in understanding France and the world.
If we want to work with China (or Iran or Korea or India or ...) giving the average student/citizen a better understanding of their history, culture, and society seems more on point than learning how to conjugate their verbs. And much more achievable as well.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 8:28 am
Lingua, thanks for that useful link, which points to web page that assembles the arguments and links that foreign language education has cognitive and academic benefits.
But focusing closely - many of the arguments appear to focus on the benefit of actually speaking a second language (being bi-lingual) or intensively studying it (magnet schools, immersion programs). A FLES approach (early grade "exposure") would not accomplish this as I understand it.
I also suspect that some of these studies suffer from self-selection bias - for instance, the study cited which says kids who studied foreign language did better on the SAT. My hunch is that this tells us more about the high-achieving kids who sign up for high-school foreign language than the effect of foreign language study on SAT performance.
And as mentioned above - aren't there studies that show the cognitive benefits of music, art, etc. (as referenced by AJ above)? And if we really want to improve our performance on reading, writing, etc. isn't the best way likely to be simply spending more time on those subjects?
Posted by Palo alto mom, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 8:57 am
The link to the PAUSD music curriculum is Web Link PAUSD provides music education in grades 1-6, optional music as an elective grades 7-12.
Home Ec, Music, Foreign Language and many other subjects are electives in the Middle and High School - you can certainly influence what your child elective(s) your child takes. Part of the purpose is enrichment, part is learning of course, and part is for all kids to find something they are good at and enjoy in school - not everyone is great at academics, even here in Palo Alto!
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 9:02 am
Thanks You PA Mom, for that information. One slight correction - I believe HomeEc is actually required in sixth grade as part of the WHEEL curriculum, at least at Terman. It is an elective in seventh grade.
Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 9:29 am
To address the comments about how relevant music and language are in elementary schools since it doesn't necessary teach anything that actually advances the students is a similar comment about how we teach history, geography or science in these lower grades. What is actually taught in say science is not necessarily anything lasting. Some of the things my kids have done in science class seems pretty ridiculous to me, e.g ball science with ramps or stones, rocks, grit and soil studies. However, it teaches the basic scientific idea of asking questions and seeing why something happens. I have drawn a picture of the moon every night for a month and actually seen my kindergartner not learn anything about the moon, but actually ask questions which are quite scientific (why can't we do this in the summer when it is warmer?, if the clouds are just water, why can't we see through them?, what color is the moon?) and really want to know the answers. The idea of education at this age is not just to teach the three rs which is the most important, but to instill the idea of learning, finding out more about the world about us, and that learning different things gives us interests we would never have had otherwise and what I find interesting may not be what you find interesting.
Elementary education is not about getting good grades, it is not about knowing everything about the Ohlone Indians (or whatever item is at present on the curriculum) but teaching a child to open his mind to all that he is presented with in life and find answers for himself. Therefore, the more varied the subjects taught the better. One child may discover that languages are the most fascinating subject imaginable and another that the sound of the different instruments either on their own or blended together is the most wonderful sound and that they want to produce if for themselves, and then they can explore that subject from early childhood to the rest of their lives. Leaving any of these things until the pressures of secondary school kick in where grades become important and peer pressure takes over on what is cool and what isn't, spoil that young mind's wonder at learning something new for the very first time.
Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 9:32 am
You clearly are a thoughtful guy, displaying the ability to think analytically, cinceptually, and set up frameworks that can make it helpful in understanding things. Good for you.
Where you still seem to be falling short is not appreciating that the comparisons you are attempting to make is getting into the apples/oranges conumdrum. To lump music, home economics, basics, adding more to basics and foreign language together and then go about making trade-offs is, shall we say, methodologiclly unsound?
I don't need to go on, I have had plenty to say about this topic for a long time in many different forums.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 9:49 am
Paul, you sound frustrated, so I apologize if I am being dense. I am not trying to do it on purpose.
I do think of it as a trade-off - if FLES would use an hour/week (as art & music do), is that the best way to spend the hour? Or should we spend it on something else? Isn't that what it boils down to? There are many good candidates, so we need to decide who gets the hour.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 10:00 am
Parent, your comments are very thought provoking and have a large element of truth. Did you ever read Summerhill, about an alternative school where young kids did/studied whatever they want? It is a fascinating book and I always found it very attractive, if maybe a bit utopian.
The one thing I would add, though, is that there are basic skills that need to be imparted. If a kid had that love of learning, but not sound and rapid multiplication and division, or spelling or grammar, or the ability to do basic research and write a clear essay, I would say we had failed them. There is a core curriculum that needs to be served.
The question is whether an hour / week (or more) taken away from the core to add language to the curriculum provides a benefit greater than what is lost in core teaching. I'm not sure, but I suspect not.
Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 10:54 am
Don't take what I say as a display of frustration. You are right, the pie can only be divided in so many ways, and it is a matter of figuring out how best to divide it. And what ingredients are in the pie.
Let's go back to objectives and outcomes. That is what everyone wants to be the best for our kids. Nobody disagrees there.
What I think is more difficult for anyone to appreciate is that we are not just into a "plug and play" question here. Here is an hour, how do we best put it to use is not going to get us very far.
Accept for the moment that by and large, the elementary curriculum in ths District is generally regarded as pretty good. Perhaps room for improvement, but outcomes for most typical students rank fairly high. The educator at the school level, the Site Council, and others will say--how can we possibly introduce something else? We already work very hard, have a full day, something is going to give if we allocate time to Program Z, which is a new thing that has shown to improve outcomes overall. I have been in such discussions here in Palo Alto, and it is a very difficult question to answer when posed that way.
What about a comparable school district elsewhere that does have Prgram Z? I think we find that it was not grafted onto the schools' prior curriculum design, but instead when it was introduced, it required a wholesale re-design of the entire curriculum, day by day, month by month, grade by grade.
So, back to my pie analogy. Language instruction is more like re-doing the recipe, not dividing up the pie differently. Some of the other things you are teeing up to compare it with are more about dividing the pie, not what is baked into it.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 11:09 am
Paul, that is a helpful explanation, which I didn't previously understand. I totally agree that just jamming another item into a fixed day is likely to lead to frustration and less-than-ideal outcomes.
Wholesale review of the elementary calendar is obviously a big project, requiring a start from first principles. But it is for sure worth doing from time to time. Has it been done recently (last 5-10 years) in Palo Alto?
As mentioned by you and others earlier in the thread, we need a strong educational AND administrative leader for this kind of project; otherwise, it can easily become a gridlock of competing interest groups clamoring for their pet ideas.
Posted by Lingua, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 11:24 am
Fred wants it not to be true, so he criticizes research models. This is very typical of many people here. They want "proof", but counter only with one person opinion. Where is Fred's study? This debate is more about being right, than balance in information. America is maybe the only developed country in the world that does not have serious language curriculum. This will disadvantage our youth. It is also funny to see people say Home Ec. is unnecessary. Have you been to a home Ec. class lately?
Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 11:26 am
Thank you for supporting me, but I think you missed my sentence that said teaching the three rs is the most important aspect of elementary education (it was there, I just checked). The second most important part of education is all the rest. I support language education in elementary schools whether it be for an hour a week (or rather 2 x 30 min. slots) or 20 mins a day each day or more. What is done at 6th grade, i.e. the 6 weeks so called latin wheel, is a great idea for an introduction to language concept but it has no follow up until at least 7th grade and even then it is only an elective.
I would really like to see language taught seriously at 6th grade with some type of FLES earlier. I have now had three children go through the 6th grade wheel and although I loved the idea when I first heard about it, I now think it is a huge waste of time the way it is done at present.
As an alternative, I would like to see the time spent with language taught regularly and the other wheel subjects given as a 40 minute period once a week for a semester or alternatively as a 40 minute period alternating every other week. In other words, home ec and art could easily alternate once a week for the whole of the school year as a 40 min. period and drama, industrial tech and keyboarding could be done more intensely for a longer than six week period following the Wheel system but not as frequent during that time. This would free time for language instruction starting at 6th grade. I would then take away language as an elective in 7th and 8th grades and make it a required class, leaving only one elective period in its place. I know that for those who choose music as an elective it takes away choices, but that is what happens in high school and maybe it would then give an additional choice later on in high school.
Posted by A.J., a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 12:24 pm
First, thank you for fostering discussion in which we can agree, disagree, and add more information while keeping things civil. It makes this forum so much more useful.
We certainly do have lots of opportunity for music, but mostly opportunities to be entertained. I saw a really wonderful article once about how recording media have made it possible for us to be entertained with music, unfortunately to the detriment of our willingness to participate in amateur musical pursuits. Even superlative performers like Barbara Streisand develop fear of performing because they are compared to their recordings. Pervasive in our culture now, amateurs develop fears of playing around with music because -- especially minus some music education -- they compare themselves to the perfect recordings they buy.
Music education gives kids the tools to own music, participate in music, understand music, and it exposes them to a world of music they don't get from the entertainment industry. It gives them the opportunity to make music a part of their daily lives in a way that they would not get from recorded entertainment.
I love certain kinds of traditional music, for example, but I have been unable to participate in the community activities of making music in a way that others who have had some musical education can. We have a certain paradigm of music in the West that can be taught and understood, and it makes creating and participating in musical activities (as opposed to being exclusively entertained) far more possible.
You are right that school cannot provide all types of musical education. I don't think we could expect schools to make all of our kids instrumental virtuosos -- although that is a priority in music magnet schools and does happen in some educational environments. Again, what we do will have to come out of a review of priorities, what we want for our kids, and how to best give it to them.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 12:27 pm
Lingua, thanks for your comment. I feel bad that you feel I am arguing inappropriately - I spent time going through the long article you posted and gave my opinion of it. I hope you will give my offerings the same consideration.
I agree that we want to get it "right." I am not sure the studies you referred to are on point for FLES, though, for the reasons I mentioned. FLES would be about 60 minutes/week in instruction (though perhaps I am wrong there). So studies of bilingual students or students in intensive programs do not cover what is being proposed. I do find that much academic research, like statistics, can be spun and I try, as we all do, to examine with a critical eye.
I've been assuming that Foreign Language in the abstract is "good" - the question at this point is whether an incremental program (FLES, which I think is the only broad approach on the table) has more benefits than the time spent on subjects it would displace.
On your second point, us vs. the rest of the world, we have one advantage most others don't - the world's lingua-franca, in commerce and many areas of entertainment, is English. If it were German, say, I believe that we would have strong German programs (and many fewer Germans would study English). Since just about every other developed country has a much smaller economic base speaking their home language, and in the case of Europe, many more languages spoken in adjancent developed countries, it makes a lot of sense for them to study those languages. Our facts and circumstances are different, so I am not sure we should reach the same conclusion they do.
One other data point - England's language study practices seem about the same as our own. According to the UK Dept of Education and Skills website, about 25% of UK schools require foreign language study (I believe that is all schools, not just primary). There is push on to introduce language in to primary schools and "increase the value we place on foreign languages." Though I would say that given England's smaller size and participation in the EU, they stand more to gain than we do by foreign language study.
And finally Home Ec - I haven't been to class (my kid doesn't let me even ask to observe anymore, though I did in the elementary years), but I have seen the curriculum the last 2 years as my oldest has gone through it. She enjoyed it quite a bit (schoolwork you can eat). I thought there almost certainly were much better ways to spend precious instruction hours.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 12:48 pm
A.J., first thank you for the kind words and I agree we all stand to benefit from a civil though sprited debate, not least that it will encourage others to participate.
I love your love of music and agree very much with your point - making music is different from listening and almost certainly much better for you. This probably applies to the arts as a whole.
Your mention of magnet schools got me thinking on how this bears on language immersion proposals. Music is very good and important (paramount to a few); kids learn music more easily at an early age, and in ways that are hard to replicate; therefore some music-minded folks might propose we have a music (or performing arts) "choice" school in Palo Alto to serve this community.
I doubt many (any?) would support or propose this - but is it so different from the Mandarin school proposal? Would it be hard to hire elementary teachers with music skills (I imagine not)? Would it require extensive curriculum work - some, but mostly I think just working music into the existing curriculum.
Would there be a market for it? I expect that if it were built, there would be. Many, like A.J., think the arts as important as anything else for raising a child, and if you got regular ed plus supplemental arts, that would be wonderful.
Should we do both then? One or the other? My main point in this thought experiment (which I encourage others to tear down)is that language, music, and art are competing priorities, and we need to weigh them both against each other and our ability to just deliver the core curriculum against high expecations.
Posted by Worker, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 3:58 pm
Does that mean we should make PAUSD reserve an entire elementary school, or even a half of an elementary school, for a Home Ec immersion program for the (undoubtedly) very few people who feel the way I do.
Is that a reasonable expectation for appropriate use of public resources, or is that just selfish of me? Sure, I can go out and FORCE the issue by making them give me a charter. And does that make it Right? Noble? Just? Or Just Selfish?
Posted by Adjudicator, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 4:56 pm
"Is that a reasonable expectation for appropriate use of public resources, or is that just selfish of me?"
Well, I hope that you work within the system first, trying to get a choice Home Ec. program installed. Do that for a year or five. Also, be a good citizen and make sure your proposal is revenue neutral. And also select a tried and true curriculum that has solid research showing its educational benefits in programs around the world. Also, test the waters and see if you can find sustainable support from fellow parents.
Then we will call your actions right, noble and just.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 5:04 pm
Adjudicator and Worker - thank you for your thoughts. Thus far we've been able to keep this discussion constructive and generally avoided sarcasm, without compromising spirited debate. Sarcasm and satire have a hallowed place in political debate - but if possible, maybe on another day.
Posted by A.J., a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 5:58 pm
Back to the topic of wasted energy -- can someone please explain why MI couldn't be implemented in a less resource-intensive way? Do the people at PACE really think their proposal was revenue neutral even with the facilities needs? (And if getting land and buildings is such a low hurdle, why don't they bring them to the district themselves? They would get a completely different reception then, they must know that.) Are there any other models for immersion education than the one proposed, one that could more easily be incorporated in our local constraints of space and money?
Lest I get flamed, my personal opinion is that PACE would benefit from a change of leadership -- someone who is less interested in engaging in battle at all costs and more interested in trying to figure out how to make it work GIVEN REALITIES (like other children in the district). (Someone able to find ways to compromise and still meet essential goals.) A program implementation that allowed other choice programs in the future, instead of being so resource intensive that future choice programs are significantly less likely, would not only help forward MI, but future choice programs whatever they might be.
Posted by An Observer, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 6:45 pm
AJ: "my personal opinion is that PACE would benefit from a change of leadership -- someone who is less interested in engaging in battle at all costs and more interested in trying to figure out how to make it work."
Funny, AJ, but perhaps if the leadership of the anti-MI crowd had been more like you now want PACE to be, we never would have gotten into this whole mess in the first place!
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 7:34 pm
I didn't participate in the MI debate, but from a distance it seemed like a failure of leadership all around. There was not visible room for compromise or even constructive debate, just either/or with people choosing sides.
Reading other threads and following other debates, that seems to happen often, with the opposing camps staking out their positions and often ridiculing the other side. The leaders stood aside and let these interest groups slug it out.
It doesn't have to be that way, at least not on a lot of issues. Either there can be compromise, or the debate can at least be civil, respecting the perspective of the other side. The leaders have to lead though - they need to set expectations and hopefully work out solutions.
It is too bad and I hope we can create more productive debates in the future. Just my two cents.
Posted by PA Mom, a resident of another community, on Mar 21, 2007 at 8:29 pm
Please explain what you mean by resource-intensive. What resources?
Not sure what is intended by "battle at all costs." The MI camp had a proposal, and the proposal changed in significant ways due to pressure from the community. What is your suggested compromise? I think you'll find that no one in the anti camp is interested in compromise because most do not want an MI program in any form, ever.
Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 8:34 pm
I don't think the MI argument divides that neatly into two sides.
We had Grace Mah and PACE on the MI choice side.
On the other side, there were people who didn't want MI at a neighborhood school, but were okay with it at Ohlone; B) People who wanted FLES instead of a small choice program and C) People who didn't think elementary language of any sort should be a district priority at this time. There was no single leader of any of these groups--Group B was the most organized.
After the vote, I think the MI supporters split--actually, they'd begun to split before that. We now have A) Grace Mah and PACE supporting an immersion charter or at least the threat of and B)immersion, but only as a choice option.
I'm not sure if this is a failure of leadership exactly . . . or, rather, I think it's a lack of leadership on the part of the school board. Their vacillating has led to a situation where it looks like being the squeaky wheel is the way to get what you want.
What would have happened, say, if PACE had, in the first place, had had to demonstrate why an immersion program would be good for the district as a whole?
I mean, in some ways, it's odd that the pro-MI and the pro-FLES crowd have been on opposite sides. I mean, there is real common ground here.
Personally, I would have been more impressed if Grace Mah and PACE had at least taken a deep breath and tried to figure out if there was a way to begin achieving their goals through FLES instead of immediately hopping for the charter option.
Well, okay, maybe that is a failure of leadership. I prefer Paul's more flexible approach in this thread.
Posted by A.J., a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Mar 21, 2007 at 10:53 pm
Thanks for answering for me, OhlonePar. You said it better than I could have.
I could think of a million ways that PACE could have compromised and gotten something closer to what they wanted than nothing, in a positive way for the district. Okay, maybe not a million, but a few dozen at least.
Had they been willing to compromise for now and work for FLES during the year and immersion summer programs, our elementary kids might be looking forward to the prospect of learning a selection of languages (including Mandarin) by next year, including summer immersion. I can think of other compromises that would come closer to what they seem to want, but they didn't seem to want to compromise, at least not in ways that would have accepted the major concerns of the opposition.
"PA Mom": saying "I think you'll find that no one in the anti camp is interested in compromise because most do not want an MI program in any form, ever." That's funny, because I ended up in the anti-MI camp in the debate, even though I want MI for Palo Alto, because of the short-sightedness and selfishness of those pushing the proposed program. I think if you go back and read the debates, MOST of the opposition was not opposed to MI in any form ever, MOST (probably all) of the opposition was willing to consider MI under certain conditions that met a higher standard of considering community resources. MI advocates were never willing to consider that, to consider the oppositions' concerns as legitimate, and to work with that, they simply took the knee jerk reaction you have here and thus sunk themselves.
They could have chosen to work with other people and work out a compromise, but they instead, as you have, they chose sour grapes. Better leadership with a more positive, community-minded, can-do attitude could have made for an entirely different debate and outcome. (No, I don't think it could have gotten them the outcome they were pushing for, but I think it could have netted something that met the core goals of immersion education.)
The negativity of the MI group in the post-vote debate only made the job of anyone who might want to seek success through compromise that much less possible. Please don't write back with fingerpointing, the conduct of the anti-MI camp isn't really the relevant issue -- the anti-MI camp isn't trying to get the district to give them buildings. It's the conduct of the MI group that is relevant to whether there is success or not. If you want something, something HUGE like that, from a community of people, you have to be willing to deal with the realities of the community. I can see many ways that diplomacy and compromise, instead of attacks, sour grapes, whining, and believing the world is just out to get you, would have gotten the goal.
Posted by A.J., a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Mar 22, 2007 at 12:01 am
I just read my own post again, and I think it sounds harsh. I stick by what I said, but I should have said it differently. My apologies for that.
The community had many legitimate concerns in this debate, especially around how priorities are established. The rules for how residents can develop choice programs (and other dramatic changes to our schools) should be improved to give new proposals a chance to be a part of the priorities discussion. I think the MI people were rightly frustrated at being asked to consider district priorities without a clear procedure for doing so. However, just because those procedures aren't in place doesn't make for an insurmountable obstacle. If MI is worth having (as opposed to wasting everyones energies arguing), then it's worth considering how to do that.
Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 22, 2007 at 1:47 am
You sound deeply frustrated. But is there anyone who isn't at this point? It's kind of impressive how the board has managed to make *everyone* unhappy all at once.
If the board had made it clear early on that it had drawn up priorities and needed to stick to those priorities, they might have had the sense not to lead PACE so far down the garden path.
Maybe then PACE would be less bitter about getting turned down--indeed, they wouldn't have had to pull up the $60K for the feasibility report because the Board would have already noticed the exploding enrollment problem that made additional choice programs undesirable at this time.
This same oh-so-wiser board might even have encouraged PACE to work with other FL proponents to work for something that benefitted the whole district--particularly when some complaints started from some of the neighborhood schools . . .
FLES and MI supporters could then have been on the same side. Maybe then the idea of a hypbrid--summertime immersion, schoolyear FLES--would seem like a sort of compromise that would benefit the district and everyone's kids, instead of being seen as some sort of inadequate consolation prize.
Again, a stronger board, I think, could have done a better job with this.
PA mom, if I were in Grace Mah's shoes, I'd use the FLES/summer MI approval by the board as the starting point for an eventual MI program. If everyone gets some foreign language, there's a greater appreciation of what FL instruction offers children. It's a way to start building deeper MI support in the community.
Hmmm, actually, if I were Grace Mah, I'd have played it more like Susan Charles--MI could be used as a basis for FLES for other kids.
On the plus side, Grace Mah has kept cool under pressure, something I know her supporters admire. On the negative, though, I think she is not someone who really engages in debate and persuasion. A certain kind of outreach would have prevented a lot of anger and divisiveness that occurred. I think even now if PACE stepped back and slowed down its plans for MI (Summer MI today, tomorrow the school year!), it would build up some sorely needed good will.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 22, 2007 at 4:57 am
Thank you all for moderating the tone so that it is easier to listen to each other. I enjoy this thread.
I didn't participate in the MI debate, so don't have all the facts. But the strangest thing seems to be the role (or lack of role) of the Superintendent. The Board of Ed clearly did not cover itself with glory in terms of setting expectations and managing process. But Boards usually need to be led too, and in my experience, a strong Superintendent will do this. Otherwhise, that person loses control of eductional policy. The Superintendent can't simply be a by-stander in the debate, and, frankly, it was shocking to me that she would come out with a last minute proposal that was roundly voted down by the board. This seems like an utter process failure, perhaps indicative of weak political skills or just weak leadership.
Posted by PA Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 22, 2007 at 7:56 am
The bulk of your answer is ad hominem attack and condescending lecture. I won't respond to that.
You give no answer on resources. The MI proposal was cost neutral, so it's unclear what resources you object to their having. Their kids would need chairs, desks, a roof and walls, too. Beyond that, there were no plans for resources.
Your remarks on compromise lead me to think you haven't looked carefully at immersion. If you had, you would realize that the benefits are completely different from FLES. When you ask PACE to settle for FLES, you are not asking them to compromise, you are asking them to give up their project and adopt an entirely different one with none of the benefits of the one they asked for.
It is as though a group came asking for an advanced math curriculum in high school, and you said: "You'll need to compromise. You can have an additional Spanish class and we'll work hard at improving the math curriculum in elementary."
You don't want compromise, you want your way. That all or nothing approach has taken us to the point of a charter school.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 22, 2007 at 8:10 am
PA Mom and A.J., thank you for your exchange. You both seem quite knowledgable. Let me ask a question - have there been other groups in the past 5 - 10 years that came forward with specific proposals for new curriculum or programs? What happened to them? As I mentioned in my earlier post, I'd never seen anything like that come from a parent group vs. generated from within the district administration (with input from parents or course). I wonder if it a regular occurance here in Palo Alto or this area?
Posted by A.J., a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Mar 22, 2007 at 9:58 am
I have apologized for my tone in the last email; let me do so again to you directly so that you actually read what I have written. I am sorry for the tone of my last email. It was not, however, an ad hominem attack, and there are many good points I hope you will hear.
This is one of the problems with the MI group -- not listening to or hearing the concerns of the other side. Most of the opposition do not believe the proposal was cost neutral. Whether you agree or not, if you want to make progress, you have to deal with that. What PACE done so far -- ignoring that a lot of people think the proposal is not even close to cost neutral and continuing to simply insist that it is -- hasn't forwarded the goal.
What if you accepted that the opposition believes, in good faith, that the proposal is not cost neutral? Is there no way to move forward?
If you actually read my post, I have in no way suggested that FLES and MI are the same. It's as if in your response you have set up a straw man and are arguing with yourself. That is another one of the problems with MI and why it didn't reach its goals. Compromise could mean a lot of things, including other types of immersion curricula within existing schools.
I am very frustrated, because I WOULD HAVE LIKED TO SEE MI SUCCEED. But not with the current proposal. Do you know what parents at Addison and Walter Hays went through over overenrollment problems, trying to get extra strands added so their kids could go to school with their neighbors? If you did, you might have some appreciation for why people are so concerned about locking up facilities resources right now.
Please, I know it's really hard -- especially with posts like my last one, because I did get really frustrated -- but try to let the emotion go, and LISTEN to what people are saying. It doesn't mean you have to agree, just listen. Try to just make an exercise of writing down the top concerns of the opposition. Then, just let yourself assume that they are right (or that you have to work with them regardless) -- aren't there any other solutions for how to bring MI to Palo Alto? THINK! Write down some strategies, then choose the one that stands the best chance of getting the most done and bringing the community together to support your idea. A lot of people in this community -- a lot of the opposition that you think doesn't want MI under any circumstance -- are begging for a better solution that they can support. THAT is a good compromise. It might not mean getting your own separate buildings, or going to school at the same time as everyone else, or having that exact curriculum as proposed (aren't there others worldwide?) -- is the only other choice nothing? Or engaging in an epic battle for a charter school that promises to hurt everyone (per Grace Mah's public quotes), with even more concerns spurring opposition?
I suppose if MI supporters went into this with the goal that it was THAT proposal or nothing, then they got one of the choices they envisioned. The bitterness is natural because it wasn't the good choice, but the outcome was within the scope of their goals. However, if MI supporters went into this with the goal of providing some kind of immersion program for the future of Palo Alto, they really sunk themselves by being so inflexible and lacking any ability to listen to the opposition or come up with creative compromises TO REACH THE GOAL (not the specific proposal necessarily, but immersion education in some form).
I think one of the other problems is that MI supporters really only did this for their kids. A laudable goal (for them), but unfortunately the timetable set up the biggest hurdles. Are there any other creative solutions where those kids could still get an immersion education outside, and then get dovetailed in with a program that does get implemented? Coming up with an answer to that is probably easier if one lets go of the timetable altogether, comes up with a solution, then figures out how to bring in the kids they want to benefit from the program. Again, I am only suggesting this because I do want to see MI succeed here. I wish MI supporters could see how they are sabotaging themselves and that there are a lot of people in the community who would have been on there side -- and still would be -- if they (PA Mom, I'm going to let you figure out the end of that sentence rather than finishing the "lecture." Whether you choose to make it into an argument or something helpful is up to you.).
Posted by A.J., a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Mar 22, 2007 at 10:09 am
I really don't know the answer to your question. I think that one of the biggest problems with the MI proposal is that it does seem to preclude other choice programs in the future in the most significant way. (One of the "resource intensive" aspects.) It was one of the major reasons SI was opposed, and now MI is reaping the consequences of that.
I think if SI didn't exist -- given the scope of the MI proposal -- MI would have stood a better chance of getting through. Before anyone flames me, that is not a judgment of the SI program, it is only a comment on how this type of setup allows for or doesn't allow for other new programs. Maybe it's the only way; if it isn't, we should consider ways that allow not only an MI program, but others in the future depending on the wishes of the community.
Posted by pa Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 22, 2007 at 10:49 am
"Shall it be the policy of the PAUSD to have foreign language instruction as part of the curriculum at the elementary school level?"
Paul, in principle, I would dearly love to see all kids learning a foreign language here. So, yes!
In our case, I have two worries:
1. What if FLES is implemented in a minor way, with little time per week given to the foreign language? This possibility concerns me because it runs the risk of little return for a large investment. That is, would the district pay millions just so that we can brag that Johnny can count to zehn? Can you point us in the direction of research showing the benefits of FLES, especially broken out by how many hours of exposure the kids get?
2. What if we ended up with a hodge-podge of languages across the district schools? For me, the greatest benefit from FLES would be to lay the foundation for further language acquisition. But what if I choose Hebrew for my kid in 1st, but it's not offered in 6th. Does she start over with, say, Chinese? And will she be in the same class with kids who have done Chinese since 1st? And how to handle kids who come in from out of district with no second language? As has been noted elsewhere, it is a no brainer for the Germans (or Chinese) to pick English as the main foreign language, but for native English speakers, the choice is less obvious. I wonder if it would make sense to select just one or two languages for FLES. Any research?
Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 22, 2007 at 11:11 am
There is tons of research, and there are two task forces that have done work around foreign language instruction for the PAUSD.
There will be a new task force around FLES starting this fall. I have offered to participate, since I was involved in one of the earlier task forces, so I have some institutional memory. Its "mission" is not entirely defined yet, but that to my way of thinking is among its first orders of business.
We do not need to develop something from whole cloth. There are plenty of other school districts around the country from which we can learn, and then develop a specific approach that is tailored to our community.
It is my belief that the overall effort will require two years from start to implementation--that is my opinion, please, people don't jump all around about Paul's opinion on the time frame! Year one is general "discovery" and development of the overall curriculum design and other frameworks, year two is site specific implementation, which will require active effort by all the principals and several teachers and parents/Site Council.
That is assuming, of course, that there is a policy. ;+)
Posted by Simon Firth, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Mar 22, 2007 at 11:24 am
Thank you Paul, for continuing to ask this question. I was one of the many in the community (yes, there were a lot of us!) who absolutely was not against MI in principal but was against voting in its favor until your question had been properly answered by the BOE.
If the Board’s answer to your question is ‘no,’ then MI at the elementary level should clearly not be supported (despite the -- to me illogical --argument put forward by some MI supporters that MI represented neither a language program nor an addition to the PAUSD curriculum).
If their answer is ‘yes,’ then I think we can g ahead with planning for MI but we also need FLES implemented at the same time -- since I think the BOE is right in insisting that elementary school children should be given the same curriculum.
I think AJ is right that in some ways Spanish Immersion was the huge elephant in the room – and maybe explains why the BOE has wanted to fudge Paul’s question. If they decide it is not their policy to offer languages at elementary, then they really ought to shut SI down and give the classroom space back to the Escondido community – which now can use it. That of course would not be popular with others.
If their answer is ‘yes,’ (which I think it should be) then offering MI to a handful of lucky students does very little to address their newfound policy priority. They would need to get FLES going first – precisely because they had said language education in elementary is a priority – and then could look at MI as a totally valid option for delivering that instruction. That, indeed, is what many of those of us being characterized as die-hard anti-MI obstructionists were asking for. Is that really so unreasonable?
Given all that, and taking AJ’s point about the apparent inflexibility of MI’s proponents, I agree with her that a forceful effort on the part of MI’s most ardent supporters to get FLES going first would guarantee a huge swell of support for MI.
Any new immersion and choice program would still need to make sense to the Board from a financial and facilities view point (as others have pointed out before, proponents of choice programs have a right to ask but not a right to prevail), but it sure would make a big difference to the way the idea was supported by the broader school community.
Posted by pa Mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 22, 2007 at 11:46 am
Again, you are casting a lot of blame here.
Cost neutrality--well, how do you suggest moving forward? The district did a study and concluded the program could be done on a cost-neutral basis. Someone could do another study, but it is apparent that the skeptics would not believe a second study, either, if it proved cost-neutrality again.
"Compromise could mean a lot of things, including other types of immersion curricula within existing schools."
Please elaborate, I don't know what you want to change about the curriculum. (The proposed curriculum was just the PAUSD one delivered in Chinese.) Keep in mind that existing neighborhood schools would object to having even one or two strands taken over by MI (is that what you mean?).
"It might not mean getting your own separate buildings, or going to school at the same time as everyone else, or having that exact curriculum as proposed (aren't there others worldwide?) -- is the only other choice nothing? "
I'm not sure how closely you followed the debate, but the final proposal was for a pilot program in modulars on Ohlone, so I don't follow what you're saying about separate buildings. I also don't know what you would like to change about the curriculum. What part of the curriculum do you object to? As far as I know, no one had a problem with it except those who rejected all research and believed that immersion was educationally unsound.
"I suppose if MI supporters went into this with the goal that it was THAT proposal or nothing, then they got one of the choices they envisioned. The bitterness is natural because it wasn't the good choice, but the outcome was within the scope of their goals."
Well, A.J., we should say the same about MI opponents. If they decided to kill MI choice at all costs, then the charter proposal was bound to come up. So the outcome was within the scope of their goals.
Posted by jaded, a resident of the Evergreen Park neighborhood, on Mar 22, 2007 at 3:18 pm
I'm not sure why a charter school is even up for discussion any more. MI proponents can pursue the Charter school option if they wish, that is their perogative. And it was put up as an option multiple times by those opposing MI - so, yes, this was in the scope of their goals.
The fact that MI proponents choose to pursue a charter school should not alter PAUSDs decision to turn down an MI choice program. Really, an MI choice program should no longer even be discussed by PAUSD and waste additional time/resources. What if another group wants to open up a French Immersion charter school, is PAUSD then going to simply offer an FI choice program?
Posted by A.J., a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Mar 22, 2007 at 7:15 pm
Don't be so defeatist! "Someone could do another study, but it is apparent that the skeptics would not believe a second study, either, if it proved cost-neutrality again."
How is it clear that the skeptics would not believe another study? You're sinking yourself! And how do you know in advance that it would prove cost neutrality? The "skeptics" brought up some very significant holes in the study. PACE didn't address those, didn't try to work with people to find common ground, only kept insisting that the study they themselves anonymously funded proved cost neutrality, never mind the pesky concerns about flaws in the study, facilities and district overenrollment issues.
I'm trying to encourage you to think about working with people to find a solution that works. That's the best way to get what you want -- clearly, ignoring everyone and assuming they were all just against you for no reason hasn't worked. Ignoring everyone and trying to force something that promises to hurt everyone (per Grace Mah's public quotes) is also likely to be a fiasco because it will guarantee even stronger opposition and damage to the district you want this extra resource from. It's probably the least likely and most energy-wasting way to try to get what you want.
You also keep assuming that the opposition is this organized, goal-oriented entity. It isn't. You're dealing with other parents in this community who are trying to get the big picture for all the children in the district. Try it with them -- it might help you get what YOU want, too.
Look, you're the one who wants a school district to give you something huge, something that impinges on everyone in the district. I personally think that, implemented right, it will be an asset to the district. But implemented wrong, it could make it almost impossible for future choice programs, cost all flexibility when it comes to dealing with looming overenrollment issues, cost a lot of time and resources that weren't considered in the study, etc., etc.
Look, I have followed the debate, and I can't recall people rejecting immersion as educationally unsound. I can recall a lot of people who rejected immersion for now on the basis of prioritizing offering some language for every child before immersion for a few. That doesn't mean people wouldn't also like to see immersion, it's just a matter of finite resources and priorities (which still need to be worked out). It also doesn't mean you can't get immersion for Palo Alto -- but it might mean you are guaranteed to face stiff opposition if you want to force Palo Alto to give your kids what amounts to a private school language immersion education by 2008.
You wrote - "Please elaborate, I don't know what you want to change about the curriculum. (The proposed curriculum was just the PAUSD one delivered in Chinese.) Keep in mind that existing neighborhood schools would object to having even one or two strands taken over by MI (is that what you mean?)." No, I didn't mean taking over neighborhood schools. But thank you for opening the door to some productive discussion!! This is a really important sentence -- that the proposed curriculum was "just the PAUSD one delivered in Chinese."
That's where the potential for compromise exists -- are there other immersion approaches that offer the same benefit, but would allow better dovetailing with the existing constraints of the district? (As I said, I have many ideas along these lines -- but I'm not the one trying to make this happen, I don't know what MI advocates find acceptable and not. Surely the SI model is not the only one.)
"If they decided to kill MI choice at all costs, then the charter proposal was bound to come up. So the outcome was within the scope of their goals." How was the charter proposal "bound to come up" unless people pushing MI were just angry and wanted to punish everyone else for not giving them what they wanted the first time? The charter proposal was just the next step in contentious inflexibility, if the discussions are any indications. No one decided to kill MI choice at all costs. That's bitterness talking.
The opposition got what they wanted, meaning not having this particular program forced on them at this time. The opposition didn't choose to then have MI advocates threaten them with another painful battle, MI advocates chose that (instead of more diplomatic measures or compromise).
I know you think I'm against you, but I'm not. I'm trying to get you to think about how you can incorporate (rather than ignore) the concerns of your opposition and still get what you want (in terms of your core goal of getting language immersion education, not the specific proposal that was rejected for good reasons). If you could, that would be a GOOD thing for Palo Alto.
Posted by Lorraine Sparaco, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2007 at 12:12 pm
Resources, resources, resources. How about looking at them in a different way. MI proponents can't see how a choice or charter school will take any addidional resources from the district. How about whether they will LEAVE any resources for some who are in need of additional resources. For example, at the last BOE meeting, two EL teachers spoke eloquently and passionately about the challenges they face trying to meet the needs of English language learners so that these students can find success and stay in the educational system through hign school and on to college. These two teachers are spread woefully thin across the district and tell of having only minimal time to devote to their students each week. And their work is one of the keys to meeting one of PAUSD's stated goals: closing the achievement gap. My question is how can MI continue to preach that MI will not use extra resources while teaching students who are mainly not at risk. Hiring teachers to teach a foreign language to a few students, while the district seems to be lacking enough resources to provide support to those who are at risk, does not make sense and frankly reeks of selfishness on the part of PACE. And the concern shown by BOE when discussing the achievement gap rings hollow and seems to be mainly lip serivce. Perhaps if those EL students only had a louder voice, we would now be devoting time, resources, staff, etc to seeing how we can meet their needs. PACE leadership was at the same BOE meeting last Tuesday; did they feel any twinge of guilt at all when those EL teachers spoke?
Posted by Language supporter, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2007 at 2:46 pm
The great thing about the MI proposal is that it is cost neutral: having it or not having it would not change the resources available throughout the district. Killing MI will not free up any resources for EL learners or for anyone else.
The real question here is why the anti-MI crowd keeps calling on the MI people to give up their project so that they can get money for their own projects. These anti-MI demands make no sense and are selfish.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2007 at 3:08 pm
Language and Lorraine - thanks for the comments and the passion. I found it interesting that both of you said/implied the other side was "selfish."
I think you are both exactly right - we are all selfish, generally, and we need a process and leadership that channels those "selfish" desires into something more like the common good. The current process - up or down on one group's specific proposal - seems to create this divisiveness. Imagine if every item proposed for the school budget were subject to this kind of up or down vote - we'd be like Christians and lions! It shouldn't have happened and was unfair to all concerned.
The process is broken and the leadership didn't do its job. We should turn our passion and energy on fighting that problem, not each other. Otherwise we'll just repeat this cycle of conflict many times over.
Posted by Lorraine Sparaco, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2007 at 3:57 pm
Language supporter, I don't have a "project". I'm advocating for the district to fulfull the goals it already has in place. I am also wondering why they don't have enough resources for the English learners of our district, but apparently entertain the notion that they can miraculously come up with resources for some who want their children to learn Mandarin in a special immersion program. My point was that, if we can find the money to hire special teachers for MI, why is that money not made available for the EL population first, since it would clearly meet one of the stated goals of the district--to close the Achievement Gap.
MI is not a stated goal, not a priority. In fact I don't think there are currently any foreign language priorities in the district. But because of a vocal few, it has become the number one user of one of our precious resources--time. How great it would be if extra the time already spent on MI had been devoted to some of the important issues which have been challenging this district.
One can only imagine how much of the district's leftovers will be available for the EL programs and other programs to meet the needs of at-risk and/or special needs students. We talk a good talk, full of compassion and promises and goals, but let's see if the we can actually walk the walk.
Posted by language supporter, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2007 at 4:23 pm
Ah, a misunderstanding, then.
Why the district doesn't have enough money for English learners? Prop. 13.
How the district can miraculously come up with money to hire special teachers? Can't and wouldn't have to. The proposal doesn't require any extra hires. That's the great thing about the proposal: it's cost neutral.
You are right that MI is not a stated goal, but of course that is not what choice programs are designed to do.
Posted by A.J., a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2007 at 4:32 pm
Can you please explain again how something that requires new land and buildings is cost neutral? And don't say it's because the kids would already need land and buildings -- that wouldn't require splitting out a whole new facility, and wouldn't be a new program that would bring others here in an already overcrowded district.
Posted by A.J., a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2007 at 4:42 pm
and "language supporter"
Please consider your response very carefully. I am a language supporter myself but have been alienated considerably because of the attitude of the MI camp. I continue to maintain my support for language DESPITE MI-ers, but you may want to consider what effect a flip response has on others who may be on the fence. (You wonder why there has been opposition; don't work so hard to get it!)
Opponents of MI as proposed have brought up legitimate concerns that the study, sponsored by MI advocates through anonymous donors, has significant flaws and omissions. Please answer them seriously and don't just keep harping that it is cost neutral. You have opposition because many people don't believe that, for good and specific reasons. If MI supporters had addressed those concerns seriously instead of ignoring them and harping on "cost neutral", they might not have lost. It makes it seem like no one is answering because they know the real answer -- that asking for a separate facility in Palo Alto, some of the most expensive real estate on earth, doesn't work out to cost neutral in almost any realistic scenario.
Posted by Lorraine Sparaco, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2007 at 4:53 pm
Language supporter: If every classroom in the district already has a teacher, and if we implement a new program, where will the Mandarin speaking teachers come from? If your answer is that the district already has Mandarin speakers, who will remain in their classroom to teach? If it's a new progarm and it requires teachers, why does it get to go to the head of the line and get it's special teachers, while programs designed to close the Achievement Gap need to make do with leftovers? Why is that ok with you?
Posted by language supporter, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2007 at 5:57 pm
You and I must be talking about different things. The MI proposal was not for new land or new buildings or a new facility. I agree entirely that that would be wasteful and not cost neutral. The proposal was for a program housed within existing facilities. The most recent proposal was for it to go to Ohlone.
Lorraine, the language teachers may come from within the district or be new hires (in which case they replace teacher attrition). Reshuffling the classrooms does not mean you need extra teachers.
MI would not "go to the head of the line;" they would not get any extra teachers.
Posted by Lorraine Sparaco, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2007 at 6:23 pm
Language supporter, you can stubbornly spin the idea that new teachers will come from teacher attrition, that the program will be cost neutral, etc. In the end, MI will get special curriculum, special teachers, special classrom space and on and on. Special needs students, EL students, and at-risk students will need to subsist on the leftovers. I hope you come to the next BOE meeting where the EL teachers tell their story, and I hope you sleep well.
Posted by pa mom, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2007 at 6:23 pm
Dana Tom brought up the point about facilities for MI when he voted against implementing it. The issue is that in 3 years time when MI outgrows Ohlone, it will require a permanent home, but has nowhere to go, unless Garland or another school is opened. This would force the district to prematurely open a school with concomitant costs, possibly into the millions. This was my main issue with MI - where does it go when it outgrows Ohlone, without costing the district millions to open a new school??? As you stated, if new facilities (reopening an existing school) are required, this proposal would not be cost neutral.
I'm not a believer in, "we'll just cross that road when we get to it," when all our kid's educations are at risk.
Posted by language supporter, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2007 at 6:50 pm
Oh, no, no question of opening Garland just for MI. THAT would not be cost neutral. If MI is a success in three years, the district should look for a new home for it. If one can't be found, they'll have to shut MI down.
Posted by pa mom, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2007 at 7:16 pm
I think it would be a huge wasted effort and very disruptive if the MI program is shut down after 3 years for lack of facilities. One issue using the Garland site is that the school currently leasing Garland has a lease that requires something like 3 years notice to break - this would require PAUSD to give notice NOW if MI starts 2007. The BoE has already stated that it's too soon to think about opening a 13th school. Maybe in a couple of years this would be necessary. If someone can come up with a long term plan to house MI that doesn't cost millions, or displace existing kids, then I'd really like to hear it. Otherwise, I think it would be crazy to implement MI only to set it up for failure.
Posted by Wolf, a resident of the Palo Verde neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2007 at 9:12 pm
It seems that after a long stretch of decent discourse, this thread is now devolving into the pro/con MI bickering. Let's try and get beyond that.
The thread succeeded early on to focus on a key question -- it is all a matter of priorities and goals. And the discussion went some ways in this direction, navigating between Home Ec, music, languages, etc. What came out quite clearly was that after the general agreement on the "basics", there is little agreement on all the rest. In fact, there seemed to have been one more agreement: in excellent districts it should be about much more than the basics.
This poses a dilemma. Were we a very homogeneous district, there might have been a chance for us to come to a widely shared agreement about what those extras are and thus define what "excellent education" is. Yet we are not homogeneous, and probably we had never been, and it is hard to believe that we will come to such widely shared agreement.
There are two basic ways to address this dilemma. One is to work hard on crafting a consensus that will be shared by (almost) all, as to what constitutes an excellent school district. This is what this thread focused on, and indeed this is what mostly happens when such discussions occur in real life, e.g. during district's goal setting. The weakness of this approach is that it *presumes* that there is such an agreed-upon common curriculum, and that we "just need to discover it."
The alternative way to approach this dilemma is to acknowledge that there is *no* such curriculum agreeable to all, beyond the basics. This acknowledges the differences in our -- and our children's -- interests, needs, and aspirations. And this leads us to offer a rich curriculum that is acceptable to the *majority*, and in parallel to offer variants of such curriculum tuned to the needs and interests of various smaller groups. This is the concept behind CHOICE, and this is the reason why we offer Hoover, Ohlone, and SI in elementary child-centered, direct instruction, and SI in middle, and a whole slew of electives in high school.
The beauty of the choice model is that it is the least coercive, and hence has the best chance to maximize overall satisfaction. And that the choices do not need to satisfy everyone, but only large enough subset of parents and students that subscribe to it. Choice has many more positive attributes, but I think I should stop here.
Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2007 at 9:21 pm
Placing MI at Ohlone isn't cost-neutral. The school's at capacity, so modular classrooms would have to come in. There would have to be a program administrator.
But, of course, the big thing right now is that the PAUSD can move kids from overcrowded neighborhood schools to ones that aren't full. This saves the district money. Anything that restricts that kind of movement, as would the MI program, and restricts expansion of a large, popular choice program, like Ohlone, is going to cost the disrict money as long as overcrowding's an issue.
Longterm there's a cost-of-attrition issue. Any school loses students. The restrictions of MI make it very hard to fill in spots past first grade. Even if you lost one student a year, you'd end up with 14 kids in fifth grade. You don't have the same transfer option that you have with the other schools, the pool of qualified students is very small.
Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 23, 2007 at 9:30 pm
Wolf, I do agree with you that this thread was worth keeping as a non MI thread as useful stuff was being said. But, I would like to make one comment before we try and revert back.
MI as an issue is beginning to get around this city. At the beginning it was small and got bigger. Then there was the vote, then the news of the possibility of a charter school. Up til this time the views around town were those of parents and those extremely interested in school issues. It is now being discussed by others who are just coming in on the subject and have heard only very little. If someone who is interested in learning more starts reading this thread then it makes sense that they may start talking about this not realising all the previous "stuff" that has gone on.
I am very pleased that this issue is now getting about more and people are talking about it. If someone wants to read all the opinions presented before I would suggest that they look up some of the old threads and read the views of both (or more) groups and then add to those already started threads. It is easy to keep abreast of new posts if you look at the middle section of the three blue statements at the top of these posts and you will always find the latest posts, regardless of how old the topic is. You can then comment or ask questions there and join in on that thread while leaving this thread as the one about whether language itself is worthwhile or a waste of energy.
Posted by A.J., a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Mar 24, 2007 at 12:33 am
This is the first time I've actually seen an MI supporter admit that facilities were outside of the scope of their study, and that it seems to me is relevant here (i.e., are immersion language skills in one language worth committing scarce and enormously expensive facilities and land for in a certain way, at a time when our district is overenrolled).
I do think language is worthwhile. I frankly see what MI'ers want as excluding language for all kids because of the very significant resources that it will require in the way it was proposed. Do I think that means we shouldn't consider MI in some other form? No, but so far Mi advocates haven't proposed any compromises, only more resource-intensive threats (i.e. charter school).
I disagree with Wolf, I think strategic planning is really important, and the future of MI in this district would have benefitted from the chance to be a part of strategic planning. There has been so much acrimony now, I hope when strategic planning does proceed (imminently), this won't sink any possibility for future MI (and other language) in some other implementation.
Posted by pa mom, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 24, 2007 at 1:12 am
When you mention the "the beauty of the choice model," I have to ask you, what about the affect of this model on the neighborhood school concept? Now, I know this has nothing to do with languages, but you brought up choice and so I want to interject that choice has a direct impact on neighborhood schools and there are many in this town who highly value their neighborhood school. Am I supposed to avoid mentioning this because now I'm descending into the choice versus neighborhood morass? Yet, I simply don't know how you can talk about one without the mentioning the other; these are issues entwined.
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 24, 2007 at 8:05 am
Not to get us off track, but to address Wolf, in case there are people new to this discussion here, let's not mix up "choice" as it pertains to instructional differences, such as Ohlone, and choice as it relates to curricular differences, such as a language immersion program.
Both are "choice", both impact a school district in terms of unintended consequences,and both have benefit to the kids in it. But the "different curriculum" choice, any "choice" that teaches kids in that program a subject not taught to the rest, adds to the mix the fact that some kids in a district get a subject that nobody else gets, which gets to the heart of the concept of equal opportunity in education.
I think that the whole "choice" discussion is another thread, relating to this one only in the sense that it is one which plays into the planning of a District. In another thread, if someone wants to start one, we can discuss ..
*Does our District want to have all alternative/choice schools, or not?
*If not, what "percent" of choice schools does it wish?
*And, if any, what process do we use to determine which is the next "choice" school? Part of that decision begs the question of if it is acceptable for a District to offer subjects to one group of kids and not another.
Answer those in a way the majority of taxpayers are willing to support, and bonds/parcel taxes might pass.
Posted by language supporter, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 24, 2007 at 8:19 am
I don't think you followed the debate carefully and this led to your confusion about facilities. Facilities were never, ever a part of the proposal. You keep repeating that MI would require "very significant resources," but your only example of these resources is misinformation.
The district required that the program be cost neutral: that means it would not have cost any more to educate the kids in MI than in a regular classroom.
The point you never grasped is that MI would never have excluded language for all kids; that is a separate and resource-intensive question.
(I don't know if the charter proposal would require great expenditure for facilities. That is what the board wants to know, so they can compare it to the cost-neutral choice option.)
During the debate over MI, the board added a new (and onerous) requirement on all choice programs: that they not affect the enrollment at neighborhood schools at all. (This condition is not applied to existing choice programs--and therefore seems ad hoc and unfair to me, but there was a lot of exceptionalist thinking around MI.) So, your worry about neighborhood schools is moot.
MI at Ohlone would be cost neutral. Modular classrooms would have to come in, but the district has to add those anyway because of increasing enrollment.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 24, 2007 at 9:26 am
I tend to agree with Wolf, I'd prefer this thread went less into the MI debate. Feel welcome to start another thread on that, it clearly holds interest for many.
I also advocate reading your posts 2-3 times and editing out unnecessary digs at other posters / groups. It is one things to state a fact ("The MI proposal did not include new facilities") and another to throw in a gratuitous zinger ("I think you did not follow the debate closely and that led to your confusion"). (I choose that example because it is handy, not because it is particularly egregious or that I agree/disagree with the poster - so apologies to person whose example I picked.)
The acrimony, in my view, severely hurts our community, more than the presence or absence of MI, FLES or anything else. The only hope for a strategic planning process that leads to anything like consensus is that we respect each other's views and interests and try to get along.
Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 24, 2007 at 12:39 pm
I don't have a stake in this FLES, MI, and neighborhood schools debate. But after reading this discussion, I've decided to vote for school vouchers the next time it shows up on the ballot. One size does not fit all. Instead of this incessant debate, just let the parents decide which school suits them.
Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 24, 2007 at 2:30 pm
First, kudos to Fred for keeping this thread this calm and productive as long as you have.
The modular classrooms wouldn't have to come in anyway. Right now, the district can send overflows anywhere where there's room. Thus last year, some schools had double the number of kinders for which they had room, while others were substantially below. I think Duveneck had 60 more kinders than for which it had room. The district as a whole, however, only had an overenrollment of 15. Lots of these kids went out of district (private schools), a couple of bubble classes were opened and kids were overflowed.
Once you set up a small, fixed program, you lose some of that flexibility and that costs money.
If you set up MI at Ohlone then, *once again*, you make expansion of Ohlone's own program impossible. As Ohlone's program has a substantial waitlist and it's the most popular choice program in the district, you're limiting overflow to the Ohlone program from overcrowded Palo Verde and the north PA schools. You can't overflow kids in to an MI program past first grade and, frankly, it's not clear if it's as desirable to as many people as Ohlone's program is. (It's harder to get into SI, but there are also fewer applicants.)
Also, once a choice program is established it needs to stay together. Whereas Addison can have a lone bubble kinder class, you can't squeeze in an MI class wherever's there's room and move it when things become overcrowded.
Dedicated space in a district where space is at a premium costs money.
It may be close to cost-neutral to run an immersion program outside of the space issue, but in the real world, space is a big, expensive issue.
I think AJ made an interesting point about the MI supporters wanting MI for their kids. This has been my impression as well--why there's an unwillingness to wait for when there's less of overenrollment issue. Five or ten years down the line might work better for the district as a whole, but not for one's incoming kinder. I think that goes to the heart of both the sense of urgency and narrow focus of the PACE crew.
I think there's a real impasse as a result. PACE parents want MI now for their kids now. But no matter how it gets pushed, it's not the right call for the district as a whole at this time. There's isn't widespread support for it--I think support has actually eroded as the program has become more widely discussed--and there are other priorities whose supporters feel are getting pushed aside.
One of the reasons I've suggested things like summer-immersion programs (truly cost-neutral since there's space.), supported by traditional year-round instruction is because that seems like the sort of thing that *would* have district-wide support. And, who knows, if parents put their children in ten weeks of an immersion program, they might become supporters of year-round immersion. Or not. But either way, kids could get valuable language instruction (and there's a greater flexibility in language choices) sooner rather than later.
Immersion courses were originally relatively short, intensive programs--A ten-week immersion language at college level is the equivalent of a year of normal language instruction. Why is this an alternative that PACE refuses to consider as, at least, a temporary compromise. Heck, if they set it up now--and I'll bet the district would be more than open to this--their kids could pick up enough Mandarin that they could possibly create some sort of MI older class if there was space for an MI strand a few years down the road.
Posted by language supporter, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 24, 2007 at 4:29 pm
"Okay, then, if MI doesn't need facilities, we have no argument. Bring them yourself to the district, and I will be happy to call the whole thing cost neutral."
I cannot follow your point. MI doesn't need new facilities. They don't need the district to provide them. They don't need to bring any to the district. No new facilities.
Your discussion of overflows is is irrelevant to modulars. The district has decided it needs modulars whether MI is approved or not. Space is simply not an issue.
You're right that a lot of people lined up with demands for their own programs etc. once they saw MI getting traction. It was interesting how everyone suddenly had their own urgent issue--though none of them had previously organized themselves and none of them have done so since.
Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 24, 2007 at 4:44 pm
How many modulars, how long they stay and where they go are *all* relevant to the discussion. Modulars cost money; the fewer the better. MI will need six modulars together at some point. That makes it impossible for the Ohlone program to expand at its own site and accept overflow. MI is too small and too inflexible to give the PAUSD the best bang for the buck because very few kids will be able to transfer into it past first grade. They'd pretty much have to come from outside the district (i.e. the International School)
The priorities were established before MI came on the scene--particularly the achievement gap. You're hearing about it now because PACE has shown little compunction about taking money from those programs.
So, what about summertime immersion? Since languages are successfully taught that way, why couldn't they be taught this way in the PAUSD?
Posted by Now I get it, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 24, 2007 at 6:27 pm
Right, so you agree no need for extra modulars for MI.
You again claim that MI would take money from other programs in the face of all contrary evidence.
As for district priorities, they are irrelevant because choice programs are intended, by definition, to fulfill needs outside the priorities.
Your real point is buried in your response: MI at Ohlone might, conceivably, make it impossible for your child's program to someday expand. I can see you have no compunction about making this selfish goal your prime motivator, but it's not the goal for the rest of the district.
Posted by A.J., a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Mar 24, 2007 at 6:43 pm
Is there any way to get the MI-ers to understand the whole facilities issue?
PAUSD wasn't just putting up modulars at Ohlone to leave empty just in case someone with a choice program just happened to want to take them over.
As long as you are not willing to understand that facilities cost money and are a precious commodity in this district, you will not "get" the opposition and you will continue to hamper your efforts. I say this again, if you think facilities are such a non-issue, THEN SUPPLY THEM YOURSELF. If you bring them TO THE DISTRICT, I think you will find a huge level of support for MI!!!
(How else do I get through? Anyone have any ideas? I really thought I was making progress there by getting pa mom to admit that the cost of facilities weren't considered in their study.)
Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 24, 2007 at 9:10 pm
Now I get it,
Ummm, first, no, you've misunderstood me. Please look at the comments about modulars again.
Ohlone is not *my child's* program. It's a choice program in the PAUSD. Like Hoover or any of the neighborhood schools, it can take transfers into the upper grades. MI pretty much can't.
I have no vested interest in Ohlone expanding. (I have one in making sure it's not shut down and is well run.) However, if you look at the number of applications, it's obvious that the school isn't meeting demand. It's illogical to limit its future ability to meet that demand in exchange for a choice program that has *no* proven demand. I'm sure there is some, but how many, and who, etc. isn't known.
Put another way, Mandarin Immersion may be the best thing for your child. That doesn't mean it's the best thing for the district as a whole. In fact,it's pretty clear that it's not at this time. It may well be just the thing when overcrowding is less of an issue.
The district's first duty is to provide equal access to education to all of its students. It's not to provide choice programs when there's no space for them or granting that space adversely affects the district.
And A.J.'s right--drum up space and modulars and there will be fewer objections to MI in Palo Alto.
Posted by language supporter, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 24, 2007 at 10:25 pm
Your anger and lecturing are getting in the way of whatever you're trying to say.
I'll try again. I agree with PA mom that new facilities would be a deal breaker, purely because that would undo cost neutrality.
However, MI does not need any NEW facilities. That is, passing MI or not passing MI will not change the money the district spends on facilities. The district will be adding modulars to accommodate enrollment growth whether MI is passed or not.
This does not mean the MI kids don't need classrooms. It just means MI has no impact on district finances.
If I understand you, you'd support MI if PACE supplied the district with new facilities. So, I guess what you're saying is that it is not enough that MI be cost neutral. You'd like to require MI parents to subsidize the district. It's not clear why you think this would be wise. It would obviously be unfair and counter to the idea of public schools. I suppose you'd hold any choice program to the same standard, so what you're really saying is that if anyone wants a choice program, they should pay the district. Or is it any new program? Will you ask those who want FLES to donate buildings, too?
Posted by an incoming Ohlone parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 24, 2007 at 11:29 pm
And for those of you afraid that people off the Ohlone wait list are getting the shaft, I happen to have won the Ohlone lottery for this fall and would GLADLY move to the MI section of Ohlone, if a program starts. So, my "English" Ohlone spot would open up to someone on the wait list. I'm sure there's others in my position.
Posted by A.J., a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2007 at 12:25 am
language supporter, pa mom,
I'm sorry that you think I am angry and lecturing you. Please get past that, I'm really not. This is really not about you, this is about MI. I just don't have any idea how to get through to you. I wish I could help you understand so that you could be better able to get an MI program for our city. You make it really hard to stay supportive of your effort, you know that? I'm not here to argue with you, I'm trying to help you see why you have opposition and how you defeated yourselves (and how to hopefully turn things around in a way that is positive for MI and the district). There was a glimmer there, for a moment.
No, I don't think it's realistic for MI to bring facilities to the district, because facilities, EXISTING facilities, separate facilities, existing facilities used for a new purpose instead of for existing purposes in a place where they are scarce and precious, are all expensive and rare. I'm trying to help you understand how monumental that is. The district isn't awash in facilities, and they aren't handing them out for nothing at Ohlone, either. OhlonePar has made some great points, it's probably not even worth my rehashing it.
I do feel as frustrated as I did when it was obvious that with poor negotiating and lack of interest in understanding the reasons for opposition, MI was diminishing its support in the community and sinking its chances before the vote. As a language supporter myself, I feel like it's a real tragedy.
I hope the effort finds the right people, at the right time in the future.
Posted by MI Supporter, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2007 at 12:33 am
AJ and OhlonePar,
(Side note to OhlonePar - I heard from Susan Charles directly that no students enter Ohlone after 3rd grade, so it's not as flexible as you claim.)
Please understand these facts:
1. The school district enrollment is growing. Modulars are planned and have been put out for bid to add to some campuses this fall. We will have more students to put into the modulars which have been approved. The new students are not MI students, they are new Palo Alto students.
2. MI as a choice program would be comprised of Palo Alto students. Students who would need to fill classrooms and have teachers and materials. Moving these students around from their neighborhood schools to Ohlone frees up neighborhood spots.
3. There are some current Ohlone lottery winners who would transfer to the MI spots, if it was started at Ohlone. Current Ohlone wait list kids would backfill those spots. We don't know how many Ohlone spots would be opened up to the wait list.
4. A portable has been designated to be installed at Ohlone. The upcoming AAAG meetings in May will probably determine the final destination of that portable, to Ohlone or not.
OhlonePar, your comment, "The district's first duty is to provide equal access to education to all of its students. It's not to provide choice programs when there's no space for them or granting that space adversely affects the district," could mean that the portables should be placed in the neighborhood schools before expanding Ohlone. Putting the portables at Ohlone isn't equal access, only to those in the Ohlone lottery.
If, you say the Ohlone portables are OK to fill with Ohlone kids, who's to say that it couldn't be Ohlone MI kids? Not you, it's the board's decision. There is a real demand for those spots, parents have signed an enrollment petition expressing interest.
5. MI is not requiring new facilities or new buildings. The growing enrollment is requiring new facilities or new buildings.
6. Many of your assumptions are not true. MI does not have to have six modulars together at some point. The program could be split between two campuses, for instance. That's a compromise, AJ, that PACE has considered.
7. Susan Charles said that the site could fit up to 6 or 7 modulars. That was at the board meeting, in case you didn't hear. MI could use three modulars and Ohlone could expand to three new modulars.
And see where the new modulars are going, whether MI is implemented or not.
Then, imagine a number of children from across the district filling any three modulars together over three years to complete the pilot.
If the three year MI pilot fails (low enrollment, poor accountability test scores, fails to be cost neutral, does not fairly enroll the full demographics of the district), those three classrooms could just continue into the next three years with increasing MI curriculum to cover grades 3 - 5. No new K/1 classes would be added, and as the students leave the school, those rooms could be filled with more Ohlone students.
Posted by A.J., a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2007 at 12:43 am
P.S. It's kind of hard to answer your last post, because it's kind of a rant, but yes, I would hold any future choice program to the same standard, because this model that requires a whole separate school facility for every choice program is not sustainable for choice programs of any count up to infinity. I think there are numerous ways to use existing resources in a smarter way to make future choice programs more possible (mentioned this in a previous message).
The great thing about FLES, is that it doesn't require any change in facilities, doesn't mean anyone taking facilities from someone else and treating it like it's nothing, or asking for a new building after three years. It gets taught to kids in their existing schools, kids who now have no opportunity at all for language instruction now, and everyone in the district gets the same opportunity. I personally think after school electives, such as taught at Bullis are the best model for how to implement this, but it has to be worked out in strategic planning, IMO.
Summer immersion doesn't have the same burden on facilities, either, because many of the schools are not in use in the summer. So there could be the potential for several immersion languages without competing for resources the way a school year choice program would. Do you not see the difference? The European model is some instruction during the year and summer immersion. No, maybe that's not everything you want. But in a public school district, everyone can't always get everything they want at the expense of all the other kids. And no one has discussed that model seriously, so you can't even say that it wouldn't be adequate to teach fluency (maybe it is, maybe it isn't -- hasn't even been considered).
As a language supporter, I think that's a better deal for this district than nothing and all this acrimony, or even an MI program that is a resource hog (with all the beneficiaries not even aware of it). A lot of other people agree with me -- many who don't prioritize language as much as I do and who would just as soon MI went away entirely because of how demanding supporters are being -- which is why you have so much opposition.
So -- for Fred's sake -- getting back to the original topic of whether language is worthwhile. Yes! Yes! Yes! Even if we have to fight over it. Wish it were not so.
Posted by MI Supporter, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2007 at 1:05 am
I don't know for a fact how the lottery would be run, but it makes sense to first let existing Ohlone K/1 students who want to learn MI get first priority.
Or would you suggest that Ohlone K/1 kids be entered into the same blind lottery as all other PAUSD students? If the Ohlone kid didn't get MI, you'd let other PAUSD child get into Ohlone MI first?
Seems the commitment to the Ohlone Way makes most sense to preserve in the MI lottery. I'd even suggest that Ohlone kids on the wait list get first priority into MI, again to preserve the Ohlone teaching methodology and environment.
I don't understand the comment about shoes. I guess you don't deny the facts as I have stated. And that some of your assumptions are incorrect.
Posted by A.J., a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2007 at 1:37 am
I was calling your analysis self-serving, in the nicest way I could think of, that's what I meant about the shoes.
Let me just respond to your last post in the nicest way possible: if you are going to suggest that MI be supported by this district in a way that it requires a separate facility, and that the district is going to pay for new portables for Ohlone and MI, so that existing Ohlone students get priority over all other kids in the district for a small choice program -- when no one else has any opportunity for language instruction -- you really don't understand anything about public schools and you are looking for more controversy and opposition in the community. Le plus ça change...
Posted by MI Supporter, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2007 at 2:42 am
you don't get it. MI is not requiring separate facilities. three modulars, which are eventually going up anyway. did you look at the facilities plan? did you go to any AAAG meetings, did you look at any board packets describing the need for a 13th school or 15 modulars? (the board picked the 15 modulars.)
why can't you see that the modulars are being bought anyway, regardless of MI or not? when OhlonePar says, "Modulars cost money; the fewer the better," she is in denial that more modulars are needed for the growing enrollment.
making creative use of those modulars is not a crime, it's thinking out of the box.
most of you are just against *any* new choice program. so just say that and don't misinform the rest of the community about new facilities or throw the cost of summer programs and after school programs into the laps of those interesting in paying. go ahead and bash all the choice programs, advocate taking them away, or alter the EXISTING school board policy supporting choice programs.
a new choice program gives access to everyone, in a public school. paying for supplemental language is already available, so that's not news.
really think of something new, no cost to the students, and maybe we can talk.
for those of you looking for fles, just say that. and think of how to get the money to pay for it, how to implement it fairly to all the schools at once, how to choose which language(s) to roll-out, how to hire those additional specialized teachers, etc. MI is not denying you fles. in fact, the Ohlone plan would have rolled out MI FLES in the second year of the pilot. but you all refuse to see that vision.
back to the original question, i think it's pretty clear that some people feel languages are not a waste of time and others feel it is.
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Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2007 at 6:44 am
Energetic discusson. Can anyone answer my question about how SI gets backfilled? Can MI get back-filled for attrition - is it practical?
On facilities - I have to admit, having read all the posts a couple of times, I'm still not really clear on it (sorry to all, I know many have tried to explain). My best understanding is that both sets of posters have part of the truth. If we are adding facilities anyway, giving 3 to MI *could* be costless. On the other hand, taking 3 rooms out of the "pool" could, depending on circumstances, create non-optimal outcomes elsewhere (as when you shrink any pool) by reducing flexibility. So the posters who don't see any harm are being optimistic; the ones who see harm are being pessimistic; it could in fact work out either way, which may be why we talk past each other.
But am I right that MI wouldn't be 3 classes for long - it is really about setting up a whole 12-classroom facility, i.e., a school. One idea that I don't really agree with is that we'd start it, and if in 2-3 years it couldn't be given a school, we'd just kill it. The seems to be setting ourselves up for a battle royale, much worse even than the current one. I wouldn't advocate incubating a program that didn't have a clear place to go.
I'm also unclear about MI-at-Ohlone. Isn't this creating a choice-within-a-choice program - if you want MI, you have to choose The Ohlone Way? That seems like just expediency and hence bad policy. I also think it would potentially be problematic for Ohlone, if it fact the people who choose MI did not really want the Ohlone way (took it because they had to). It's one thing to house a program; another to create a program-within-a-program.
Going back to the start of this thread (anybody remember that?), despite all the passion, I'm still not clear that all this energy is worth it. With Achievement Gap issues, and, frankly, what in my view are unnecessarily low expectations in the elementary and middle school grades, I believe we should focus all this energy on executing the existing curriculum, not expanding it either through choice or FLES. Still just my two-cents worth.
Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2007 at 8:29 am
Back fill on SI has not been a burning issue. Turnover has been very low, and there has not been a situation where the census fell below "critical mass." I do not have detailed first hand knowledge of kids who have left the program and how kids have been brought in after K-1, but my hunch is between Spanish speaking families already in the community, and Stanford grad students who move here with their Spanish speaking famiiies, keeping the census at balance has been fairly easy to accomplish for the very few openings that have occurred.
The key point is that most experiences with Immersion programs is that the retention rates are high, and no programs find themselves at risk due to attrition. Could it be a problem if MI were introduced in PAUSD? Yes, but this is a red herring, not a major consideration, but in theory a slight risk, which do occur in life from time to time when some action is taken.
As regards facilities--this is a thorny issue for the District. It is a plain fact that modulars are being added due to growing enrollment. It also is a fact that if another choice program--in this case MI--were introduced at this time, it would draw from the exisitng pool of students, no new students would be attending PAUSD due to the new choice program (interesting tangent I could go on about what happens if there were a Charter, but I will stay on point.)
The two bones of contention, as I perceive the facilities matter, have to do with enrollment in neighborhood schools, and opening a 13th elementary school. Choice programs, and how many choice programs, complicate this issue, because facilities is definitely a pie slicing operation. Even if choice schools were not part of this district, we would be experiencing some of these challenges right now.
There are plenty of other strings about facilities, so I will just make a couple of observations. First, there is a very clear process being followed via AAAG, to address this matter. This work is getting top priority in the district right now, resources at Churchill are focused on it, other things are waiting in line in order to get the facilities and attendance/school enrollment determined in the short and medium terms. I am not involved in this at all, but there are many people who are, and from what I understand, anyone who wishes to participate in the discussions around this are welcome to do so. The key deliverable will be setting boundaries for what school different neighborhoods will flow to going forward.
The 13th school has been held out as a way to preserve the nieghborhood schools and also provide the opportunity to provide more choice programs in a school facility that has such a mission. The idea would be three campuses, Ohlone, Hoover, and Campus "C" would offer choice programs exclusively, and a school such as Escondido, current a hybrid of neighborhood and choice (SI), would go back to serving exclusively as a neighborhood school. SI, along with other language immersion or perhaps some other choice concept, would move to Campus C.
On the surface, this seems like a very logical and appropriate way to preserve both the neighborhood and choice models that the community values, and are district policy. It largely comes down to a financial question, if I have followed the discussion correctly, as it is relatively more expensive to operate 13 elementary schools than it is to operate 12 schools with modulars--same student count in both cases. At some point, adding more modulars becomes impractical, and then a 13th school must be opened, so demographic projections on future enrollment become important in determining when that point of inflection will arrive--and if it will last.
Not an easy question! Largely has nothing to do with achievement levels, curriculum design, language instruction, choice programs. But, add those matters into the mix, and it does require some clear minds to understand the calculus, and such clear minds may come to different conclusions about what we do at this point. And that is where we are.
Fred, on your achievement gap question--it is an important item, and I make the offer to buy you a cup of coffe at your Peet's of choice so that I can provide you with an understanding, from my point of view, of how addressing this requires a different playbook and resources than are needed for addressing foreign language policy matters. You ultimately may not agree with my premise that they are separate challenges, both important, that can be handled concurrently. I perceive you still think there is a direct trade-off between the two, which is not how my experience suggests is the case, but I may be missing something here that you can help me understand. If nothing else, we can talk about the Red Sox.
Posted by A.J., a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2007 at 10:20 am
I was trying to get you to understand, because I'd really like to persuade reasonable people like Fred that language has a place in this district. I really wish you could see that your way is less likely to be successful than a more reasonable approach that takes better account of other needs in this district. You can call me "crazy" for trying to help you understand the magnitude of asking for facilities (read Paul's and Fred's msgs before you attack me again if you want to understand) - I'm trying to help you understand why your refusal to understand the issue created opposition and will create more opposition. This is something I will oppose, too, because I want language for our district.
Since you WANT something from this district of significant magnitude, IF you want it, you stand the best chances if you negotiate with people rather than alienate by refusing to deal with their concerns.
Can I ask a question? Are your kids going to school in PA public schools now? You don't have to name the school, but I'm just curious.
Posted by MI Supporter, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2007 at 10:54 am
The Ohlone model of combo classes, allows the MI pilot to be a one-strand program. If the pilot is successful, the ensuing K5 program would take only six classrooms, not twelve.
SI ran on one strand for many years, then switched to 1.5 strands after class-size reduction. One strand used to be 25 students to a class. When PAUSD changed class sizes to 20 students per classroom, SI grew to 30 students per grade. Thus 1.5 strands. SI ran at that program size for many many years. Only this academic year was the program expanded to two strands, which will result in 12 dedicated SI classrooms in 6 years. That's only adding three "new" modulars since SI currently uses nine classrooms.
So yes, Escondido will take three classrooms out of the pool, too.
Ohlone, if it expands, would take three classrooms out of the pool.
The MI pilot, if placed at Ohlone, would take those three classrooms that Ohlone is already taking out of the pool.
MI at Ohlone could eventually add three more classrooms to provide a full one-strand program.
It's almost like a shell game, but the district staff does this all the time. Kids don't come in 20-packs. Attend the upcoming AAAG meetings, and you'll get a flavor of how enrollment growth and facilities (including modular placement) are managed.
As far as the Ohlone Way and MI goes, clear expectations are set that this is an Ohlone program taught in Mandarin. Parent expectations will be adjusted as the principal and staff implement the full Ohlone method in MI classrooms. As an earlier post mentioned, there are many people who are happy with MI being at Ohlone.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2007 at 11:08 am
Wow, it's been a while since someone called me a "reasonable person" ;-) I have to show that to my wife.
Paul, I agree with you the we may be able to handle 2 things at once, and the resources for, say, FLES and gap-closing may be separate enough that we can handle both, particularly at the district level.
The big issue there, as you laid out very clearly many posts ago, is the issue of fitting new things in to the elementary school day/calender - the "where do I get that extra hour" problem faced by teachers. Following on your post, I asked my teacher-friend about that, and she roundly confirmed your view, that just jamming in another hour or two a week of new material was not going be well-received and probably wouldn't be effective.
So the either closing the Achievement Gap or adding FLES (or other enrichment) may require a re-jiggering of curriculum and schedule, which of course is a big undertaking (though perhaps a necessary one).
Thank you for the coffee offer, but not necessary - I already think your argument is reasonable. It comes back to priorities and resources (including hours in the day), which need to be mediated in part by the strategic planning process.
Posted by pa mom, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2007 at 11:53 am
Fred - Here's my take on facilities for MI and I again ask, where do you put MI after 3 years without forcing the opening of a 13th school and at great cost (2-6 million dollars)?
Point - Ohlone has combined classrooms Kinder/1st, 2/3, etc. PAUSD admin. suggests 2 classrooms of MI to start.
MI at Ohlone:
Year 1 - 2 classrooms - K/1 and K/1
Year 2 - 3 classrooms - K/1, K/1 and 2nd grade
Year 3 - 4 classrooms - K/1, K/1, 2/3 and 2/3
Year 4 - 5 classrooms - K/1, K/1, 2/3, 2/3 and 4th grade
Year 3 - MI outgrows Ohlone. If PAUSD oks 4 portables for MI year 4 it outgrows Ohlone - where does MI go without a 13th school? Note again that the school at Garland site gets 3 years notice before being forced to leave. And we simply don't know at this point if a 13th school is really necessary. Opening a 13th school for MI is not cost neutral.
In a couple years we'll know for sure if a 13th school is really necessary. I think that's the best time to consider MI at Ohlone. Why is this issue getting so much attention now? Simply put: Grace Mah. She is now using the threat of a charter school to get the BoE to revisit the idea of MI at Ohlone now.
I also find the fact that she has applied for the open country school board position very interesting, as this is the board that would consider an MI charter if PAUSD says no.
Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2007 at 12:36 pm
Just in case someone missed my earlier comment, there will be a FLES task force in the fall which will examine how to re-engineer the curriculum so that foreign language exposure can be included as part of the overall pedagogy.
It will not be trying to figure out how to wedge some amount of time into an existing curriculum in order to add language. That is not worthwhile. It will be examining districts and schools that can be reasonably compared to PAUSD which already include language as part of the basic curriculum, and determining how this can be done at the schools here.
Assuming language does become part of the next set of priorities, and can be funded, I would anticipate the work of the FLES task force would be followed by a 6-12 month process of figuring out how it will be specifically implemented site by site. After which point, it would be rolled out to the entire district.
Townsend asked Charles how MI would fit with her vision of Ohlone. Charles said that she discussed this with her staff, and they agreed they did not want a direct instruction program coming to Ohlone and that it must fit into the Ohlone way of teaching. As long as there was enough time to prepare, staff agreed that MI would fit. Townsend asked what Charles would do if not everyone interested in a program could get in. Charles responded that limited space in a choice program was always difficult. Townsend then asked if there was a concern that if Mandarin came to Ohlone, another subject might suffer. Charles said she did not see this happening. Townsend asked if the accommodation of additional students had been considered. Charles said 5 modular classrooms could be added without affecting play space. Townsend asked if Charles anticipated the same ratio of native Mandarin speakers to non-native speakers as Escondido had for Spanish Immersion (SI). Charles responded that she would be basing Mandarin Immersion on that model.
Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2007 at 1:09 pm
I believe that such a question and appraoch would be an appropriate one to include in the work of the FLES task force.
My writings may be long, but I try to keep things in bite sized chunks, and you provided several morsels in your recent posting. But, at a high level, if it is determined that the one good way to achieve the types of outcomes that are expected here and that meet the next set of priorities is by adding more time to the school day, and that implies additional funding, and BTW probably some work around the contract with the teachers' union, that would be an important thing for all of us in the community to consider.
I hope you agree that we are nowhere near to the point where that is the conclusion, and I suspect even if it does emerge, there may be some others as well, each with its own implications. Stay tuned!
Posted by anonymous, a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2007 at 2:11 pm
"no new facilities" -- so, MI can fit forever in the 3 modulars at Ohlone? Or are you suggesting any further facilities needs are free? (Yes, I am being facetious. Lots of people above are pointing out what you are missing, don't know why you keep answering back to me but not them. I've given up that I could convince you and really don't see any purpose in continuing this back and forth, but you can answer the others.)
I want to bring language to Palo Alto, but implementing MI this way isn't cost neutral, and it locks up resources in a way that will make it that much harder to bring anything else new to the district. FLES with summer immersion, for example, allows for many different languages, and allows the flexibility to change from year to year without all this trauma. IIt would make language available to all kids in the district. (Saying the lottery is available is different than saying all kids can take the courses.) Summer immersion is an acceptable immersion model in other parts of the world. And it doesn't lock up facilities resources for the district the way SI and MI as existing and proposed do. FLES can also be supplemented with public or private after school immersion programs, especially since our day is so short.
Paul, I'd like to suggest the Bullis Charter School model of offering after school electives. Kids can take up to two per term, I think. That way, kids who had no interest in language could skip it, several languages could be offered at once, plus other subjects. (At Bullis, they get things like computer animation!) This would also avoid having any arguments about changing the length of the school day -- maybe? On the down side, offering after school electives in this way MIGHT (though maybe not) make it more difficult to offer language through just one teacher driving around the district, though I suppose not if every school didn't get daily language. When I suggest language there after school, I mean FLES of course, short stretches of time for each course. Immersion could also be done after school, perhaps for longer stretches of time, kind of like an afternoon session?
Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2007 at 3:39 pm
Thanks for your suggestions. I am going to suggest that those of you having specific ideas for the task force make sure to provide them in the fall, when there is a formal process in place. I think trying to put them into discussion here is great, but I don't think I can or should respond to each and every one of them, but rest assured that I do read them.
These postings have a way of following their own natural path, and if this one evolves to a discussion around variations of what types of language education could be part of PAUSD for the elementary level, I am sure there could be some very worthwhile ideas from such a conversation. That is a bit of departure from the original posting, and I must admit in all the noise the last while around language, I don't know that there actually has been one around this particular topic--am I wrong about that?
So, it may be for either this string or a new one, the question becomes: "If there is a policy in place that foreign language instruction shall be part of the curriculum in PAUSD at the elementary school level, what could it look like?"
That could be a very interesting conversation, and I suspect that a number of people who have expressed points of view around priorities, immersion, choice, and neighborhood schools may find themselves siding with many people with whom they may have had differences around those other related topics.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2007 at 4:59 pm
Well said Paul. At this point, I think I'm just about the only one on the thread saying "no" (or at least "probably not") to elementary language instruction.
A side point though - as I think about it, who is on this forum? And who attends PA School Board meetings and join task forces? Primarily highly engaged people with, on the whole, high-performing kids. This is conjecture of course - no way of knowing for sure. But if true, there is another important constituency - the less engaged, less educated, less rich (again surmising), with less high-performing kids. These people (and some others) may in fact be the ones with the greatest need for focus on core curriculum, not new language enrichment.
One of my problems with the PiE benchmarking effort is that it (purposely) chose "elite" districts that, for the most part, are less diverse than Palo Alto. Wellesley and Scarsdale don't have trailer parks (if you didn't know, you can see Palo Alto's at the corner of Los Robles and El Camino, behind Blockbuster). It makes more sense to provide enrichment when the achievement gap is already closed.
As discussed above, language instruction and achievement gap closing may be orthoganal, but maybe not. The devil as always is in the details.
Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2007 at 5:32 pm
Fred, I appreciate your comments and all the thoughtfulness you put into this subject. It does seem that you are a late arrival on the MI issue as I haven't seen your name appear until recently. I am glad you are here. I would suggest that if you haven't done so already, that you look into all the threads that have appeared on this topic on this forum from the beginning and you will see that many of your remarks have been made before and some of the very heated debate that has gone on. It may take you some hours to go through, but if you are as keen as you appear to be, then I commend you to this task.
Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2007 at 5:47 pm
I will launch a new thread along the lines of what I teed up a few comments back. This existing one certainly has had some legs and could well continue, I do think that setting priorities is by no means an topic that has been exhausted, and as has been brought up here, the way we go about evaluating different aspects of the kids' education and arriving at an understanding as to how to prioritize these things for the collective good of all is an important thing for people to be thinking about and expressing their opinions about.
While my family is blessed with two wonderful children who have done well in this school district, I do hope that others share my view, as suggested by Fred, that those kids who are part of this community's responsibility who are not achieving at level deserve all that the District can do in support of helping them. It is easy to lose sight of these kids when they are not sleeping under your roof, and I don't think anyone has any ill intentions toward children whose achievement potential has not been fully developed. But, we all suffer from benign neglect from time to time, and this discussion is a helpful reminder that we not allow ourselves to remain in such a state.
Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2007 at 7:32 pm
Okay, this is mostly in response to some of MI Supporter's comments:
First of all, Ohlone's been approved for three, not six, portables. Susan Charles thought they might be able to fit in six. She is, however, not an expert on facilities. And, no, she said six, maybe, not seven. I was at that board meeting.
The Ohlone site is already at maximum capacity--yes, there's room for portables, but the site's on a small street with about ten parking spots. It's not well sited for a long-term expansion. It's one thing to put a couple of bubble classrooms in there, another to put in a six-portable program there. And, of course, once MI goes in there you can't expand the Ohlone program. I know of some fourth graders who have been admitted to Ohlone. It's true they don't admit fifth graders. Very different from a program where you can't admit most kids after first grade. Ohlone's program doesn't make it impossible to admit fourth graders, it's the principal's choice. I'm sure she could change the rules if need be. MI doesn't offer that sort of flexibility because of what it is.
Fred makes the point that do people who want MI also want the Ohlone Way. It's unclear how much of a crossover there is. It's not like there's been a survey. Ummm, let's see, it's just the Ohlone curriculum in Mandarin? Sounds good, but does anyone actually have a clue as to what that is or how it would actually work? Of course not because the whole proposal was based on political expedience instead of anything thought out on educational grounds.
And then we have some sort of half-baked notion that the MI lottery would favor those who'd already won the Ohlone lottery? So people who get into a choice program will have an advantage for yet another choice program over kids in the neighborhood schools. Yep, that will end the already existing resentment of choice programs. And, of course, we'll also get parents who enter the Ohlone lottery to get into the MI lottery, but don't actually want Ohlone . . . however, they hold their spot at Ohlone so that they might get another shot at MI . . .
It all comes down to the MI/Ohlone proposal being a shotgun wedding. Let's not even fool ourselves about it.
Okay, let's try the facilities thing one more time. The more the PAUSD can move kids around the fewer portables it needs. If MI at Ohlone has to be an Ohlone program, then half of it's not going to be at another campus.
MI can't take in most kids past first grade, so it's useless for district transfers and overflows after that point. PAUSD loses flexibility (can't transfer MI kids out of the program or kids into it, can't split up the program) without gaining a big overflow option (MI program can taken in very few kids, has to take in a high percentage of the district's native Mandarin speakers as that group is very small.)
The only way MI makes sense is if brings something so valuable to the district that it's worth the obstacles. And that's an argument PACE has *never* effectively made to most voters--it really has come off as "Mandarin for *my* kid." While MI supporters claim that MI is cost-neutral (doesn't seem to be, by the way, even by the district's own estimates.), it's far from that if it's an obstacle to getting the next school bond passed. And, since the program is *not* widely popular and people feel that other widely supported priorities have been put on the back burner because of it, getting that 66 percent could be an issue i.e. Do I want to spend an extra $500 in property taxes so the BoE can give into special-interest groups?
A.J., I didn't know Europe did summertime immersion/school-year instruction. That means curriculums using this method exist. That's great.
MI Supporter, you say that PACE is flexible about splitting up the program. Why isn't it flexible about splitting up language instruction in this way? Language instruction benefits from intensity--thus, the effectiveness of immersion language v., say, immersion science. You can teach a year's worth of language in ten weeks at college level. This sort of instruction is affordable; space is available and potentially *all* of the children in the district could benefit from it.
But I haven't heard one word of support for this--even as a way to pave a path for schoolyear MI--from PACE.
In other words, is there any reason I should think that this isn't all about your kids and no one else's? I hope so.
Posted by Euro Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2007 at 8:40 pm
Of course Europe does year round immersion and curriculums exist. It is actually the norm for a french school to teach all lessons in french so we could go and buy their curriculum. I am not sure if that would be what american schools actually want. Yes, I am all for teaching the American War of Independence through British school textbooks.
I think the summer programs in Europe for immersion language instuction tend to be more from the point of view of having fun, field trips, sport camps, etc. rather than spending hours in the classroom. They tend to have classroom time, but only about an hour a day. The rest is handson. They are usually residentail also.
Posted by Anonymous, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2007 at 11:29 pm
Choice programs are for those who opt in. The main benefits of choice programs--existing and proposed--accrue to the kids enrolled in them.
It is nonsense to suggest that choice programs should offer something valuable to non-enrolled kids. It is enough that it offers something of value to the kids who would enroll, that it's cost-neutral, and that it is educationally sound.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2007 at 11:45 pm
Anon - Thanks for staying up late to post. You have a point I think - choice programs do primarily benefit those who choose. No need for harsh words for OhlonePar though, who has contributed some very thoughtful posts here and elsewhere.
I think OhlonePar may have been suggesting the MI folks might have taken a more "inclusive" tact to get things going, i.e., summer immersion with or without regular year non-immersion instruction. Get things going, no facility issue, more kids eligible able particpate. Actually, technically speaking, non-choosers do benefit if they perceive they have the *option* to participate - and if there were more spaces, that perception would increase. Less pain, more smiles, and hence more popular with the voters.
I don't know if that kind of program is feasible or desireable, but I see OP's point.
Posted by Not for me, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 25, 2007 at 11:53 pm
Sorry, all this talk about summer immersion programs or after school programs are rather useless. They already exist in Palo Alto.
So, what's your point? That the school district compete with ACME, Champion, 9 Fruits, Palo Alto Chinese School, Stanford Chinese School, Hwa Shin Chinese School, International School of the Peninsula, Yew Chung International School?
And by foisting language education to optional times, at cost to parents, you're certainly not being inclusive of everyone in Palo Alto, as an open lottery in a choice program would be.
Posted by A.J., a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2007 at 11:21 am
Not for me,
Private language programs do exist in Palo Alto, but they are expensive and not located at the neighborhood schools, a big barrier for many of our students. We are talking about offering language in public school, where it is currently unavailable to elementary school students.
As far as I know, our consideration of what we offer to kids in public schools is not dependant on what private schools in town offer. If that were so, we could say we don't need an MI choice program, we already have one at Peninsula School which people could choose. Many families come to Palo Alto for the schools -- and often this means they are "house poor", the cost of private schools is out of the question.
The suggestion of after school electives, as offered by Bullis Charter School, means language could be offered, but kids could choose between different languages or no language at all. After school electives in this model are offered as part of the public school educational offerings, and would NOT be at additional cost to parents as a private program would be. The way Bullis does its after school electives, I believe, they have classes made up of kids, for example, in k-2, so that there is an additional benefit of socialization across the grades.
Offering such a program district-wide would be inclusive of everyone in Palo Alto. A lottery choice program in Palo Alto cannot include everyone in Palo Alto. There is an additional issue that many parents in Palo Alto value language education, they just do not wish to commit to immersion.
Posted by A.J., a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2007 at 11:40 am
You know, that last post made me think.
Wouldn't it be cheaper for the district to offer some kind of lottery/voucher program for kids who want to go to Peninsula School for MI? Families would of course have to submit to some kind of financial aid scrutiny, as they would for college, so that people who could otherwise afford private school wouldn't be taking advantage of the district. We'd have a lottery, just like for a choice program, so it limits the number of slots, then whoever "gets in" would get the state money that PAUSD would otherwise get to defray the cost of private MI instruction? (And provided of course, they get in to the private school.) This would be cost neutral.
Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2007 at 2:46 pm
Rats, the site keeps eating my posts.
Fred, yes, you understand the gist of what I'm saying. I think we're better off building a language program for which there's wider support (and benefits). I also think there needs to be flexibility and recognition of other established priorities that have been overlooked. Kids who don't meet fairly exacting standards have a tough time in this district.
Not for me, why does only one of your programs include something besides Chinese? You're putting forth support for an anti-MI argument--there's plenty of Mandarin available, not enough of the other stuff.
And I did check summer immersion at the International School--too short, too expensive for the time and no connection to the schoolyear curriculum.
I like the language-as-elective idea.
Choice may be this or that. The reality is that choice programs should benefit the district as a whole. Ohlone and Hoover kept schools open. SI diverted kids to a less-populated site. (That's changed and now it's an issue.) Part of the MI problem is that it offers no district-wide benefit and shows signs of being a burden.
Why does this matter? Because it takes 66 percent of the vote to get a parcel tax through. About 20 percent of voter never ever approve of a local tax. This makes for a narrow margin. If people feel that their money is supporting a program that was pushed through by pressure tactics--particularly if it's at the expense of other agreed-upon district-wide priorities--they're going to be a little more likely to vote no. At which point, MI becomes a very expensive proposition indeed.
We need consensus. I appreciate the MI supporters like Paul Losch who seem to understand that incremental steps that offer district-wide benefits may be the way to go.
Posted by anon, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2007 at 3:11 pm
I'm not sure I understand the Bullis after school programs. Are they optional, that is, some kids can go home early? Others can take these classes "after school" for free? How are the teachers paid for their after school time? A stipend or is it part of their regular salary?
Would you want PAUSD to likewise offer free after school programs, in all different areas, not just languages?
Just to let you know, the PiE-ish ask at Bullis is $3K/student.
Posted by anonymous, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2007 at 4:00 pm
Choice programs by definition are not intended to benefit the district as a whole. The primary benefit of choice programs goes to the kids enrolled in them. This is so for Hoover, Ohlone, SI and MI. It makes no sense to suggest that choice programs need to offer a district-wide benefit. This is has not been an issue for previous choice programs and is not for MI. You should think hard about why you are coming up with ad hoc demands on a new program.
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] We should stand up against the board's fear of the tyranny of the majority; this is why we have choice schools.
You are right we need consensus. It is a shame that no one from the anti-MI camp has stepped forward to offer real reasons for opposing this proposal. We have heard many red herrings and a lot of heated invective, but no reasoned, well-informed engagement with this issue.
MI fills the need of many families for MI, is cost-neutral and is educationally sound.
Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2007 at 8:26 pm
You're the one who wants something from the district. You've failed to sell it as something desirable for the district. You may think that's unfair, but that failure to win majority approval has the potential for ugly financial ramifications.
Nothing you say changes that. If you don't want a "tyranny of the majority" stop trying to get public funds and facilities for something that benefits only your kids. (Or, as I've said, at least try to demonstrate that more than the MI kids will benefit.)
You might consider how big an issue taxes have been in American history. Start with the stamp tax. Don't forget Jarvis-Gann and what that means for schools.
Posted by anon2, a resident of the Charleston Gardens neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2007 at 9:34 pm
Your choice program at Ohlone only benefits a small percentage of students. Will you ethically close down and go back to being a neighborhood school? How is expanding Ohlone helping the district? Wouldn't putting MI at Ohlone help the district in the same way? The only people hurt are those on the "long waiting list". So, tell me, how many people is that? And how do you know that those people don't want to be in MI at Ohlone?
So, bands, football team, and other programs which only benefit a few all deserve to be squashed?
Sorry, the big deal over taxation is over this small program of $48K. There's no real threat of not paying parcel taxes, that's another herring.
Posted by anon2, a resident of the Charleston Gardens neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2007 at 9:39 pm
The empty threat of withholding parcel tax and bond votes is nothing compared to the actual work that's being done on a charter school. Yes, the petition won't be submitted until later, but at that point, the district and board will only have 60 days to respond. They won't have a choice to respond or not or consider a choice program or alternative compromises.
They are smart to analyze this pre-emptively since the cost of doing so is much smaller now. With all of the bright ideas being tossed around on this and other threads, how about making them available to the board as they weigh the options?
Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2007 at 9:51 pm
I disagree. Ohlone makes overflow less of an issue than it would otherwise be. And, as I mentioned before, the program kept a school open.
MI is smaller and more restrictive than the Ohlone program. It decreases the district's flexibility, not increases it.
I'm not, by the way, eager for Ohlone to expand. However, there's a shown demand for the program. My point has always been why should Ohlone give priority to another program *at Ohlone* over its own waitlist? Your wants are no more important than anyone on the Ohlone waitlist. Expanding Ohlone is easier and less of a stress on the staff.
It's not a question of people paying their parcel tax--it's a question of pushing through the next one. If people feel that the board is giving into pressure tactics, they're going to be less inclined to volunteer to pony up. Particularly given the trust issues with the our soon-to-be ex-superintendent.
Bands and football don't require portables that could be used elsewhere. No one's threatened a charter football school in order to get a team after be turned down by the board. No band is demanding to take over a chunk of an elementary school. It's apples to oranges.
Once again, PACE has failed to get community support. Right now, it's in the process of losing some of what it had. Attacking me doesn't help your cause, by the way. I'm pro-foreign language despite PACE.
Posted by fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2007 at 9:59 pm fred is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
You make a good point about choice plans. I tend to agree - I think there are decent reasons to consider shutting down all the choice programs.
But it's hard to shut down choice programs once they get started. The small benefit that would be generated for each of the district's families would be felt far less than the cost to the program participants (and other supporters). Tough battle to fight.
So a good policy reason to keep a tight clamp on choice programs - once hatched, they are hard to kill.
Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2007 at 10:18 pm
There's a rational argument to be made for no choice programs. I suspect if Ohlone were proposed today, it would be as a charter.
However, like Hoover and SI, it's here and as you and members of the board have noted, once you open choice programs, they're hard to shut down. You'd have to redistribute around 800 kids throughout the district. It's not practical and there's no compelling reason (i.e. failing schools) to do so.
It seems to me that SI has been the choice program that raises the most fire. It's small and it shares a neighborhood school. The negative aspects of choice (somebody gets left out)are emphasized. MI has many of the same issues as SI, unfortunately.
I think there may be a time for more choice programs, but it seems right now that the pendulum swing needs to be in supporting the neighborhood schools. (And, yeah, if Ohlone closed, there'd be no room at my neighborhood school.)
Posted by anonymous, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2007 at 10:22 pm
No, this is based on a misunderstanding of choice programs.
There is no need to sell them to anyone: the premise is that they are educational models that only a minority wants to opt in to. Thus there is no need for MI to, as you put it, benefit more than the MI kids it will benefit.
It may be, as you suggest, that tax payers are going to shoot themselves in the foot (by voting down parcel taxes and impoverishing the district) unless MI gives up its dream.
Don't blame MI for this. It is the antis who have cocked the gun and will pull the trigger.
Posted by fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2007 at 10:52 pm fred is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
I hear you, but I think you actually do have to sell a choice program to others. Every program takes some resource that others would like to used elsewhere - at least the time and attention to manage it, plus the room to house it (which would otherwise go to some local school). I think any choice program that came along today would face opposition.
Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Mar 26, 2007 at 11:48 pm
Again, it doesn't matter what you think the rules of choice programs are or should be. I'm pointing out a basic political reality. You want a change that benefits your kids. You didn't sell it effectively. Blaming the market for ineffective salesmanship doesn't help you sell the product. You'd be better off figuring out how to make the product seem more appealing to a larger number of people.
Fred's right, I think. I think Ohlone and Hoover would both face opposition right now. They evolved in a very different environment and have succeeded enough to stay here. But proposed today? Quite possibly they'd be charters. Hoover, in particular--DI's pretty cost-effective. Project-based learning, on the other hand, is very popular with educators, so there'd be some push toward that in the schools--as there already is.
MI wants something that's at a premium in PA--school space. It was up to the MI supporters to convince people that their program should have that space. They didn't make the sale. That was PACE's job. It failed. Without making the sale, anything else is a political morass.
Posted by anon, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 7:50 am
OK, so those of you who are against any new choice program should rally the board to revoke its policy on new programs. Don't throw selling the community on it as being a requirement unless you want the board policy to require that, too.
Lots of discussion without making changes to board policy doesn't settle the argument.
Change the board policy to not allow any new choice programs.
That would satisfy many of you naysayers. Just say it.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 8:01 am
Anon - you make a good point I think. I especially like your pointing back to the Board and policy - I think weak leadership and poor policy have framed a debate that creates frustration all around. THAT is the root cause, I think, more than any particular group of people or their motivations (referring to either side of the MI debate).
I am ignorent though - what IS that current policy on choice programs?
Posted by anonymous, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 8:46 am
Anon is right. We have seen opponents pile on ad hoc requirements on MI from the beginning. It would be more honest to simply rule out all choice programs.
The basic political reality is that a vocal minority killed MI as choice by blackmailing the board over parcel taxes. It's obvious what their reasons were. Because of that, it looks like we will have a charter.
The district would be better off financially with choice rather than charter, and it would be better for all concerned if PAUSD retained control of the program as choice rather than losing control to a charter. Still, the vocal minority has arranged it so that charter is the only way for PACE parents to fulfill the educational needs of their children, so I hope they get their charter.
You complain about the charter, but you drove the process in that direction. The negative financial consequences are on your head.
Posted by natasha, a resident of the Meadow Park neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 8:49 am
Here's the thing that many MI supporters object to: The district (including the general public) put a lot of time and effort and money into creating a strategic plan. That plan is to run through this year. That plan, which I though was democratically created, set forth a list of dristrict priorities. Language was atthe bottom. I don't feel that way; my kids are learning spanish and will be taking up Russian next year. However, the majority DID feel that way, and hence the position of language study on the priority list. Given that fact, I'm not getting why MI has gotten all this staff time and energy and been allowed to divert so much energy from the communally-developed priorities list. The Benchmark study shows us behind in fundamentals; fundamentals that are higher on the list of priorities set forth by this district.
I am puzzled by why the fundamental unfairness and disregard of the democratic process is so hard for people to grasp. Opposition to ramming through an MI program AT THIS TIME does not equate to devaluing language instruction or anything else. For me, it has to do with respecting the process. It would be great if the schools all had language instruction. I don't even care if we get MI in line with a district priority on language. If the MI folks don't want to wait, then go ahead with the Charter school petition. Seriously. But why are we revisiting this issue? Seems like the Board is once again letting bully tactics win the day (as it has with other issues, eg waffling on the trust investigation and then Camille Townsend gratuitiously stating into the record that it is NOT an investigation, just a . .. what is it anyway?) and I think it's weak and unprincipled and fundamentally unfair. (And by the way, I think it was also rotten of the Board not to take this stand months, years ago instead of taking the money from anomymous donors and spending a whole lot of staff time on the feasibility study. Their capacity for foresight, Gail Price excepted, seems remarkably limited).
Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 8:53 am
What are the adhoc requirements on the MI program? They're all listed in the policy guideline. The MI program completed the paperwork (ie: answered the questions), but that's different than meeting the requirements.
Its like people who say that the requiremnt is to explain how they will be ethnically representative, but that they don't actually have to be ethnically representative. Or that they're explanation doesn't actually have to work in practice - they just need to write something down on paper.
Then why do they ask the question? Why is it even stated in the charter law? Its convenient wordsmithing on the part of the MI proponents that allows them to claim they meet the requirements by simply answering the question. Its deficient logic.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 8:57 am
Anon - you feel strongly about this debate. But please moderate your tone if you can. As a bystander, it seems to me like there is plenty of blame to go around, starting with Board and Superintendent leadership. Publically casting aspersions on others sets us back, I think, as it leads to predictable responses (and more invective) that turns people off and doesn't move us forward on the issue.
I am curious - do you know what the "rules" are on choice programs? I tend to agree, the initial bad step seemed to be considering a choice program (any choice program) in the first place at this point in the game.
Posted by natasha, a resident of the Meadow Park neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 9:05 am
Well, and that gets back to the Feasibility Study, which did exactly the same thing, and the latest "recommendation" by the Superintendent et al, which gives pseudo-financial analysis not generated by a financial analyst, of which the district has at least a few. As one example, apparently a charter school will cost bazillions in legal fess for challenges and consideration, but MI cost exactly NO legal fees and will not cost any because there will be no legal challenge, eg to diversity of population. Then another part of the analysis lists all these supposed costs of a charter school, only to say pages later that most will be reimbursed. If you do a spreadsheet you'll see what I mean. The whole document, like the Feasibility Study, is insultingly disingenuous.
Why are we discussing it indeed. That is my question. To have the Board re-debate what it took three separate Board meetings to debate is oppressive. Why are we not saying, MI folks, bring on the charter school application and we'll let the district decide it on its merits. To me, MI is gone. Next stop, charter school application, which by the way, hasn't even been presented to the District. The whole thing is Kafka-esque. Meanwhile, the other items that were identified as pressing have been pushed so far to the back that who knows when we'll see them again.
Posted by pa mom, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 9:21 am
I completely agree with you - I remember the BoE meeting where Gail Price talked about (I paraphrase)how the BoE should be stewards and protectors of the strategic plan. Camille Townsend then stated she so strongly supported MI that in this instance she thought MI should supersede the strategic plan. This to me is a failing of this board member and part of the reason we are in this mess in the first place. If, by design, languages move up in priority, then let the discussion about MI begin. Townsend's blatant disregard for the existing strategic plan was very disturbing to me.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 9:57 am
PA Mom and others - does the quote from Ms. Townsend above accurately reflect what she said and her view? If true, that would indeed be troubling and indicative of a serious problem (esp if other Board members did not stand up for the plan). We need good process and policy, steady hand on the rudder. I note, though, that both sides on the MI issue have said that the other is not attending to policy and process in order to just "get their way." Expediency is the root of many problems.
Posted by natasha, a resident of the Meadow Park neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 10:41 am
Fred, yes it does accurately represent it. Camille then went on to beg the other members who had already voted against MI to change their votes, and then gave a long speech about how short-sighted they were for not voting in MI.
Camille Townsend is also the Board member who brought us the "I think it's important that everyone understand this is not an investigation" speech when the management team and public finally got the Board to approve appointment of an investigator to determine the depth and breadth and cause of the trust issues, commonly believed to come from the actions of Super and co. But I digress.
The point is: this has already been discussed and debated for 5 years. It is not part of the strategic plan. If the MI people want to start a charter school rather than drum up community support for making world language a priority, well, go ahead. But let's please not rehash MI. Casting opponents as people who have no respect for language is inaccurate and inflammatory. I for one would like to see the community come together and hold the Board to its supposed mandate of furthering the district's goals. Otherwise, seriously, what was the point of spending all that time identifying the priorities in the first place?
Posted by natasha, a resident of the Meadow Park neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 11:30 am
I don't know if this rule is contained in the MI requirements, but it seems to be common sense that a program that is close to the bottom of articulated priorities in a district strategic plan should not be given priority.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 12:13 pm
Natasha, thanks you for joining the thread. I agree very much with you that the process is the key here, and if we don't stick to it, it opens the door wide for interest groups to drive the agenda and frame the debate. This is bad for all concerned.
Is/was there a process for "choice" plans to be considered / implemented outside the context of the strategic plan? I think others may have said or implied that. It would seem very strange to me that any material program could end-run the plan, but I don't know the facts here.
Posted by natasha, a resident of the Meadow Park neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 12:44 pm
Fred, I don't know the answer to your question. When the heated debate about MI was going on a mere three months ago, a lot of people asserted a lot of things. Part of the problem is that instead of cleanly saying "not part of our strategic plan, come back when we are taking input on the next one", the Board took a big fat check from anonymous sources who have never been disclosed in order to create the Feasibility Study. Put in charge of the study was the staff member who said the thing she most likes to do in the world is create new programs. These factors contributed to an atmosphere of distrust, an appearance of impropriety when the Feasibility Study came out and seemed unbalanced in favor of, surprise, MI. The timing of all this was unfortunate for the MI proponents because it came on the heels of the huge and very ugly trust crisis that culminated in the Super's "retiring" although an investigation is still underway to find out just how ugly things were under her and her administration. When public trust has been eroded to that degree, both in the administration and in the Board that did not act proactively or even quickly in response to the trust crisis, many people become (and became) less likely to trust the motives of the people in charge of the Feasibility Study. People opposed the MI program, the Board considered in for three meetings in a row, and ultimately voted against it. This is why it is frustrating to see the whole issue revisited yet again. Whatever the process may be for consideration of an MI program, I find it hard to imagine that it includes repeated appeals in the guise of choosing between two programs (one of which was rejected and the other of which has not actually been presented as a formal application).
Process. I'm seeing Board members who ran on a platform of accountability and process just doing any old thing as it comes along (this is bigger than MI, it's a whole systemic problem with the Board). I'm seeing Gail Price give reasoned, articulate bases for her decisions -- bases that include sticking with the process, stewarding our resources, etc. and I'm seeing Camille wave her away and border on contemptuous in the public meetings. It's not right. It's not the Board's money to spend, it's public money. And if lawfully they have a great deal of discretion to do whatever they want, they are still morally and politically accountable. I can't believe staff resources continue to be expended on the Mandarin language issues when language as a whole is at the bottom of the priorities list. And that's what it comes down to.
Posted by Another Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 12:56 pm
The Board continually misses the point. What was the point of spending time at a Board meeting last spring deciding on the policy of school sizes (with some waivers) if now with their policy of increasing the number of modulars instead of a 13th elementary school, they now have to revisit their policy on the size of schools in order to place these modulars. If every time they make a policy decision and then have to make a waiver to that policy, then they should rethink their policy decisions in the first place.
In other words, the amount of time it took to discuss the size of schools was wasted time because we are now in a position where the size of schools is going to increase because of increased enrollment. Many knew this would happen, but the Board progressed along its own path deciding that policy was important in order to not over-crowd schools, and now they are the ones with egg on their faces.
Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 1:03 pm
A non: Those are not "adhoc" requirements. Some are listed specifically in the choice policy guidelines, some have not been applied to MI:
Not affect neighborhood schools: This falls under fitting the goals of the district. The AAAG a broad task force of community and district representation (led by Marilyn Cook who is known to be a vocal supporter of the MI program), stated that preservation of neighborhood schools is an underlying goal of this district. Sorry, your program simply misses the mark on this goal.
Provide additional studies when one shows it is feasible: What additional studies? They were required to provide a feasibility study, in which they failed to prove feasibility to the board satisfaction. On one front the staff admits they have no feasible solution, which is long term suitable location. There have been no additional studies after the feasibility study requested.
Provide new facilities at no cost to the district. The choice policy guidelines state the program must be cost neutral. This is not an adhoc requirement. Nor did the board or anyone else suggest MI would be required to provide new facilities to the district.
Provide teachers at no cost to the district. No one suggested teachers were provided by MI. All along, even the MI opponents accepted that MI teachers would be provided by the district as a 'cost neutral'.
Achieve majority support among voters. No one asked for a majority vote on MI. If only they would have. I think you'd bee looking at a vote, if put to Palo Altan's about 49,000 to 1,000 against MI.
The board voted on MI 4-1 against. period. That's a democratically elected board using well documented board procedures, operating under Brown Act and various other legal requirments for operation of the Board. How was the Board action an 'adhoc requirement?"
Achieve ethnic mix representative of the city: PAUSD choice policy guidelines state the program will reach an ethnic, racial and socio-economic diversity representative of the community. Again, stated in the policy, not an adhoc requirement.
This is all well know information. Are you sure you're getting the entire story from the MI supporters? It sounds like you came late.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 1:04 pm
Thank you Board Observer - that is very helpful info. You are very knowledgable on this!
It does look like choice programs are to be approved at the discretion of the board, taking into account availability of "facilities, resources, and other relevant factors." So I think above posters are correct in that alternative plans are NOT required to rank high on the Strategic Plan or otherwise have wide support.
But on the other hand, if facilities, resources, or something else is in short supply, it seems right that the board would direct the scarce items first to strategic priorities.
So if facilities are scarce, it would make sense that the Board should shut down consideration of choice plans that need them (which I would assume is any/all), unless that plan met a need high on the strategic priorities, in which case it might get considered.
Note that all the above reasoning is generic, not with respect to MI or anything. Do people agree with it?
Posted by Choice supporter, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 1:15 pm
No, priorities have nothing to do with the requirements on choice. The choice process is entirely independent of the priorities. That is why the board agreed to consider MI.
It makes sense, when you think about it, because choice programs are intended to fulfill the needs of a minority of families, not the whole district.
The reason this is still a problem is that the board has not addressed the educational needs of some families. Those needs are not going to go away.
There are different ways to meet such needs. Choice programs are one. They are intended as a way for the district to offer diverse education while maintaining control. Because in the past districts have not been eager to meet the needs of all families (as is the case here), the state forces districts to take on charter schools.
Some members of the board are concerned that the charter option will cost the district much more than choice, and do so for years to come. That's what the district experts decided.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 1:22 pm
Choice Supporter - take a look at my post just above yours, which you may have missed since we posted at about the same time. Reading the policies and procedures, I do think priorities play into choice program, assuming the district is resource constrained on the resources the choice program needs. Choice is not a right, even if families have a perceived need.
Posted by A non, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 1:25 pm
None of them are listed in the guidelines; they are all confected justifications for opposing MI.
Nevertheless, MI did jump through all the artificial barriers: It won't affect neighborhood schools, etc.
The study showed it was feasible. Yet MI opponents repeatedly demanded additional studies, new facilities, teachers for free, majority support, etc.
As for the ethnic mix, the guidelines DO NOT state that the program will reach an ethnic or racial diversity representative of the community. This is another (ad hoc) fiction that the anti-camp has been flogging for a long time.
Posted by natasha, a resident of the Meadow Park neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 1:56 pm
Anon. No, MI is not an educational need. It is an educational want. I'm not saying Ohlone or Hoover or SI are educational need-based either, but they are already in place and were begun when the district was in different circumstances. Bootstrapping MI because there are other choice programs isn't enough. And language is not an articulated priority in this resource-restricted district.
Oh, one point of clarification: I think the Board articulated initial tendency to vote 4-1 against MI, and ultimately decided 3-2 against. For the reasons stated above and many others.
Posted by A non, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 3:51 pm
In splitting hairs about meaning, I guess what you're trying to say is that immersion is unimportant to you. But it is important--and therefore a need--to others. This, to my mind, is why we are in the present fix: you cannot see the perspective of another person and want to impose your view on others.
If you had rational reasons, say educational or financial concerns, for opposing a choice program, I would be on your side, but we know from the feasibility study that this is a sound, revenue-neutral program.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 4:15 pm
Anon - Thanks for your postings. I don't think that others are irrational or want to impose their views on you - that seems a bit strong; and of course, they could just as easily say the same about those that oppose them. It doesn't move us forward.
I think we should generally assume that we, and others, have good intentions and good reasons. Personally I think your perspective is quite valid - there is clearly a group of people who want/need MI (not to mention other elementary language programs). I think you may be too quick, though, to dismiss other's concerns about facilities and priorities - they seem sensible to me, and apparently to some of the Board members as well.
There does seem to be an element of some people not trusting the school administration (see the posting a little ways above). This is a terrible thing - loss of confidence in the team that should be leading us really slows progress. The next Super needs to really be a person who can rebuild that trust, among his/her own team, and in the community.
Posted by natasha, a resident of the Meadow Park neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 4:42 pm
Thank you Fred for attempting to get the discourse back to a civil tone.
"This, to my mind, is why we are in the present fix: you cannot see the perspective of another person and want to impose your view on others."
Interesting that you would bring that up, because to my mind, that is *exactly* what is happening when the Board votes down MI and then has to spend additional resources and agenda time discussing its pros and cons relative to a charter school application that has not yet been submitted.
I am all for pursuing MI if the district as a whole determines that language instruction is a priority. And if the proponents don't want to wait -- and I can see that they have very personally compelling reasons for not wanting to -- then they can do a charter school. Why do you see my saying that they should go ahead and petition for a charter school instead of resurrecting the painfully divisive MI debate an attack on MI instead of an embracing of a compromise?
And Fred, you cannot imagine how badly this district needs a trustworthy superintendent and a board that will do more than rubberstamp his/her recommendations.
Posted by Hmm, interesting, a resident of the Professorville neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 4:46 pm
I am new to this, so sorry if this is a repeat anywhere. Just coming up to speed.
On another thread, to address the assertions of Charter being more expensive than Choice, is a link Web Link which is by Palo Altans for Equity in Education, and it asserts that Choice programs are more expensive than Charters. !! !! !! Seems against commone wisdom, but looking at the numbers, looks reasonable.
If this is accurate, it looks like you ( I guess it is we, since I pay taxes, too) may have a solution!
Posted by a non, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 5:12 pm
"Why do you see my saying that they should go ahead and petition for a charter school instead of resurrecting the painfully divisive MI debate an attack on MI instead of an embracing of a compromise?"
I don't, Natasha. But I do think a compromise would proceed from an acknowledgment that MI supporters have a valid need. A compromise would entail accepting that the list of priorities is a list for the entire district and should not trump choice: both can proceed.
(I think this is exactly what the district had in mind when it laid out the criterion that choice be cost-neutral: the point was that it should not take resources from priority items. In other words, if choice is tossed into the priority list, then surely it should not have to be cost neutral.)
I think a compromise will require both sides to accept conclusions by expert, neutral parties (feasibility study, research on MI, etc.).
A compromise demands that immersion as a program be taken seriously: its backers have done their homework and can tell you quite clearly why a summer immersion program or FLES will not meet their needs.
At the same time, compromise demands that PACE take seriously community concerns about neighborhood schools, cost to the district and infrastructure, traffic, and diversity.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Mar 27, 2007 at 5:26 pm
Well said, Anon, and I agree with almost all of what you say.
I think compromise is a very healthy path on an issue like this. Though as we all know, compromise may well mean that each party has to accept something that, at least in part, they really don't like and probably said they'd never accept.
Anyone who has been through a tough negotiation knows what this feels like and it is hard to do. But it is well worth it if we move the district forward.
Posted by Fred, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Apr 5, 2007 at 1:02 am
AJ, you crack me up. All I know is this. Since most people actually do have something useful to say and a valid point of view, it is usually easy to find something to agree with them on. If they hear that you agree with them, they figure you must have listened to them and therefore probably aren't as dumb or selfish as they expected (note that if you start right out shooting them down or calling them an idiot, they'll think the opposite). And as a result, they will often listen too.
None of the problems I hear about in PA are so tough that smart people working together can't do a good job with them. The thing that always takes me aback is the energy invested in head-butting and mud-slinging. Maybe it is the citizens, but I tend to think the leadership doesn't serve us well; they don't seem to really lead. A shame, I hope we can do better.