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Private schools say íSi! to foreign language

Original post made on Oct 6, 2007

While Palo Alto's public school district considers teaching elementary students foreign languages, several private schools in the city are already doing it. Their programs offer an average of 95 minutes of weekly instruction in Spanish or Mandarin and aim for language familiarity rather than fluency.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, October 5, 2007, 12:00 AM

Comments (40)

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Posted by Lynn McAllister
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 6, 2007 at 12:36 pm

Why no French???? You can travel the world with French...that is a very odd disciminatory lapse...I'd like to know why... no choice, no alternative to languages that not everyone would agree are the most necessary.. where was the discussion on choice??? Unbelievable.


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Posted by PleaseReadMoreCarefully
a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2007 at 10:39 pm

Lynn,

They're PRIVATE schools - they can offer (or not offer) whatever they want! And they often do so based on demand (or they risk losing their students to other schools).

As for the "value" of French, my HS French education has been worth "zilch" to me - if I had to do it over again, I would have taken Spanish instead in a heartbeat.


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Posted by PA mom
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Oct 7, 2007 at 2:02 pm

The International School of the Peninsula offers French and Mandarin.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2007 at 8:13 pm

Pointing out the obvious, but of course that private elementary schools offer foreign language programs doesn't mean that it is either important or right for PAUSD. They need to differentiate their program (otherwise why go and pay tuition?) and elementary language offerings is a fairly straightforward way to do so. I do note that Challenger offers an optional, extra-charge after-school program - that may be a worthwhile model for PAUSD to explore.


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Posted by Foreign Language Supporter
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2007 at 9:13 pm

Children learning a different language gain so much more than just vocabulary and grammar. This is a way for children to explore and begin to understand culture, geography, diversity. They begin to see the world and their place in it. It is truly remarkable.

I enjoy traveling to all corners of the world and knowing essentially that the youth that I have the benefit of running into will typically speak 3 functioning languages--their native language, English and another tourist language (typically German).

It is also worth noting that while French may have done "zilch" for you in your adult life (to think about all the wonderful espressos you could have enjoyed on the Champs Elysees), the skills that you acquired to learn a language in general are actually skills that are hard gained and permanent. You just have to have the desire to access them again.

Grazie, all.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2007 at 10:07 pm

On the culture, geography, diversity point - I've always thought that teaching kids verb tenses and conjugation, agreement of male/female nouns and adjectives, pronounciation of new vowels/consenants, etc., is an awfully long way around to teach them about foreign cultures. I agree that learning about the world's diversity of people and societies is very useful - I would prefer more focus on teaching that in elementary school (perhaps through exposure to visitors from those foreign lands) than on learning some phrases and dialogue, plus some of the above, in a single tongue.


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Posted by Brit
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2007 at 9:02 am

Rather than making comparisons in this discussion with other countries that speak a different language and then teach English as a second language, would it not be useful to make a comparison with other countries that have English as a first language and see what they do. Obviously, the UK has English as a first language and would make sense to compare, but there are others such as Australia and most of Canada which could easily be usefully compared. As far as the UK, all the arguments against learning a foreign language can be made there, but I never hear them. I always hear that there is more of a push at all levels to get the schools to teach at least one language to all kids as a priority. It is for the advantages of learning a language within the school day for all children, not the privileged few whose parents can afford it, that makes this push happen. Universities require a foreign language, many institutions insist on it as a requirement for entry level jobs and those with a second language often get paid more as a result. Go to any tourist spot, restaurant, museum, etc. in London and you will see the employees with flags on their lapels, this means that they are fluent in that language and are able to help visitors out in their own language. They get paid a bonus for being able to do this. How many times do you see that here? I have yet to go to a tourist attraction in this country and see the same, even finding tourist literature in anything other than Spanish appears to be the norm.


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Posted by Periwinkle
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 8, 2007 at 3:55 pm

America has enjoyed years of hegemony since WWII. We have taken our advantage for granted, and lost much of it. It's time to learn second and third languages of all kinds - not just the language ju jour.


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Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 8, 2007 at 4:25 pm

Multiculturalism is not the answer to maintaining our "hegemony". Continuing with our system of individual rights is; let the others attempt to catch up with us.


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Posted by Periwinkle
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 8, 2007 at 4:48 pm

They already have


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 8, 2007 at 5:10 pm

Brit, I did check a while back on UK language programs. They have about the same percentage of primary schools offering foreign languages as we do.

Also, I would argue their situation is quite different - they are a small country living on the edge of an economic Leviathan and tourist destination (the EU) which uses a variety of other languages. As a result, I would think there would be much more benefit to learning a second language, as well as occasion to use it. That they were about the same level of penetration as we are suggested to me that we in the US are not so crazy afterall ;-)


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Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 8, 2007 at 5:12 pm

Like it or not, the USA is still the world leader--by a long shot.


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Posted by Periwinkle
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 8, 2007 at 6:58 pm

Terry, To hear you talk, one might think you believe that American youth will not be working overseas, in numbers that far surpass anything we've experienced, prior.

Incidentally, since when is teh UK a world power?


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 8, 2007 at 8:16 pm

Peri, not sure I get your point. Are they? Is there data? Also, the rest of the world is learning English at a furious pace, given the benefits of speaking the language of business and popular culture.

I'm not against foreign language study for those who want to pursue it, not at all. I just don't find it an important priority for all kids vs. the many other challenges we face in education. When all kids (not just the elite) are doing great in reading, writing, math, science, history, and civics, then foreign langauge for elementary kids become a bigger priority for me.


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Posted by Periwinkle
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 8, 2007 at 10:31 pm

Terry,

this is a highly touted document, recently completed

Web Link

read pages 18 and 19 - pay special attention to the word "globalization"

English will be the dominant language, but students who have not availed themselves of second language learning will be at a disadvantage to their peers that did. Argue against that.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2007 at 1:47 am

Thanks Peri. But maybe I am missing your point again. The link is to a draft strategic plan for Colorado University at Boulder. The pages mentioning Globalization say that school would like to be more international and will do some things between now and 2030 to achieve this. They do mention that students should have some proficiency with a second language - I believe second language study and some proficiency is already required by most better colleges (it was when I went 25 years ago).

Again, I'm not opposed to study of foreign language; it just seems like a low-priority for our K-5 kids right now vs. say closing the achievement gap among kids, and achieving excellence in writing, reading, math, science, etc. An optional program, after school for nominal tuition, seems like it would meet the needs of those families for whom this is a priority, while not taking focus off the core curriculum in the classroom.

I agree, kids with a second language have some advantage over those with one. But the advantage seems small, compared to say, excellence in reading, writing, speaking, math, science, and knowledge of the world (aside from how they make conversation).


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Posted by Periwinkle
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 9, 2007 at 10:37 am

" kids with a second language have some advantage over those with one. But the advantage seems small, compared to say, excellence in reading, writing, speaking, math, science, and knowledge of the world (aside from how they make conversation)."

Why make a zero sum game out of it, with an "either/or" dichotomy between languagaes and other stuff?

Speaking? Knowledge of the world? Reading? Writing? Speaking? operations? All these are impacted by language study. This is a cognitive fact.

Language is easily incorporated into integrated curriculum models - especially if the system isn't biased or weighted toward teaching to tests, which is where we are now. It's a pretty sad state of affairs.


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Posted by whoa
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2007 at 10:57 am

I guarantee you, Peri, that you will lose your goal if you make it "foreign language" or "teach to test"..Keep it to "figure out a way to incorporate foreign language without taking away time from reading, writing, math" and you win.


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Posted by Periwinkle
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 9, 2007 at 11:02 am

whoa, I do not support teaching to the test, and further support integrated curriculums that are created from the "ground-up", by teaching peers, free of the idiocy of politicians and other who mostly don't know what they're talking about.

How is it that Europeans can manage to outscore American students in almost every area, AND learn second languages?


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2007 at 11:41 am

Private schools say Si to foreign language, and their customers say Si to paying for it. As it should be. Foreign language education holds different value for different families. It belongs in a market system where the people who value it, pay for it and the others don't. The customers of that speciality subject determine the value based on what they are willing to pay. Just as if we held a basket weaving school, the market would value it accordingly - and the private schools could say Si or No to it as they saw fit.

In a system of scarce resources that need to be spread in the most cost effective way, to provide first and foremost, excellent basics, and to serve ALL kids an equal basic education (which is a public school's mandate), foreign language is not a universally high priority. It doesn't belong in the public elementary schools education unless we have the money for it over and above the basics, or unless we place it HIGHER than other curriculum and priorities we wish to forgoe in exchange, and unless we can serve all kids equally. That's the nature of public education.

Otherwise, it belongs in private school. So congrats to the private schools for serving a need that they find profitable and that customers are willing to pay for.

I wish our PAUSD Board and Superintendent would find a way to stay focused on their top priorities. And figuring out how exactly they define their top priorities, rather than blowing around in the wind with whatever fad makes itself uncomfortable.

The surest way to ensure that PAUSD does not succumb to the charter school fad is to make sure this district is blowing the doors off the competition by executing superbly. We don't execute superbly by offering these rinky dink lottery programs with long waiting lists that serve and enrich a few, while they enrage the rest.


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Posted by 1/2 "European"
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2007 at 11:49 am

Peri..hmmm, do you honestly believe that the European countries don't do a LOT of "drilling", stay in school longer, have tons of homework, and teach to the test? If you have family in any of the European countries you are talking about who say "no" to any of the above, please tell me which country it is.


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Posted by 1/2 "European"
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2007 at 11:54 am

Mind you: I completely support a "foreign language" program in our schools. But, I speak 3 languages learned in various ways from babyhood to adulthood, so I know that there are many ways to do this. I have found that the biggest proponents of the "immersion" method ( not that this is under discussion here, just as an example) are the ones who are monolingual, and have fully bought the PR that to learn an FL one has to start at 5 or 6 years old. Not true.

So, just to let you know, we are on the same page for FL, it is just a matter of what the goal for an FL in our schools is and how to execute the goal.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 9, 2007 at 12:35 pm

1/2 "European", European schools do all the things you say, AND teach a foreign langauage or two, in addition to all that. How do they manage that? If they can, why can't we?

btw, European schools manage to do this without onerous unfunded mandates like NCLB. Yes, there is drilling and testing - but in no way do Europeans "teach to tests" to the same degree that American schools have had to do these last 20 years. That's a fact.

Also, Parent, anyone who equates learning a second language with learning how to weave baskets, is suspect in their knowledge of cognitive development and education, right out of the box.


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Posted by Brit
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2007 at 1:01 pm

Yes, European schools in general do teach to the tests insofaras they have exams which must be passed for progression through the grades. But that tends to be at one time during the year. There are not the endless testing times that we seem to have here which are disruptive to the flow of the school year. Also they have more hours in the day, more teaching days to the year and often, though not always, more homework. The homework unlike what we have here, is not busy stuff but essays and papers which our high schoolers seem to have problems with because there is not enough of it. The teachers do not like giving this type of homework because it takes up their free time in grading it.

Take away all these long weekends and give the teachers a few days at the beginning or the end of the year for their development and then let the kids stay in school for good chunks of time and actually spend their time learning.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 9, 2007 at 1:51 pm

Brit says: "The teachers do not like giving this type of homework because it takes up their free time in grading it."

An accurate post, except for the last quote. Teachers Do give this type of homework, I've seen reams of it. As humanities, social science, and other non-lab-oriented teachers how many hours they spend correcting essays.

We do not see more of this kind of thing because teacher time is used up, tending to enormous amounts of reporting paperwork and curriculum planning, to meet the needs of unfunded mandates like NCLB.


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Posted by sohill
a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2007 at 2:28 pm

the words "european schools" are not meaningful. Anglo-saxonic education is very different than the one modeled on the napoleonic schools. Some countries have home rule based schools others have centralized systems. Those education systems (like the Uk) home rule based have gigantic variations from one community or school to the other or even within the same local authority. Centralized systems are more homogeneous (but not totally) and that's where you see compulsory languages learning. Putting "european schools" all in the same basket doesn't add much to this discussion. You can always find a public school even in the US that educates the way it is described as being "european" (whatever that is, what is it btw?)

Languages are one of the very few examples of a flexible code and that's one of the reasons why our students even young, should be exposed to several languages: the cognitive processes it unleashes are extremely valuable.

there are ,of course, other reasons for learning foreign languages (which I will not go into too much) one of which is not to look uneducated, philistine and lower class:as useful as good manners ( matters of convention). Other might be to read foreign news yourself... (traduttore, traditori?) Very useful when you want to know what's REALLY going on.


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2007 at 5:01 pm

I always wondered about the purported "cognitive benefits" of second language learning. If that's true, should ELL's and immigrants, in general, have a big leg up over mono-lingual kids? But we see them as having a disadvantage. Hmmm...

Peri asks why we can't do it all, why is it either/or. Anything is possible, Peri, but there are always trade-offs. Talk to an elementary teacher if you have a chance. They will probably tell you that the day/week is packed with curriculum and activities, and the idea of taking even 40-60 minutes a week out for language instruction (and of course, how much language gets learned in 40-60 min/week?) seems quite impractical. In addition, adding an additional corps of language teachers is, I believe, an added cost that would displace other things in the budget.

Other schools, here and in Europe, do offer FLES. Of course it can be done. The question is whether PAUSD should do it and do it right now (kinda like that MI question last year). My personal view is that now is not the time and I would like to schools to focus on some of the very concrete challenges we have - like enrollment, facilities, achievement gap, and technology, to focus just on the elementary level.

And Brit, I did find the reference to the UK schools I mentioned earlier. Here it is: "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."" My take on this is that the UK (and apparently other English speaking countries) place about the same emphasis on foreign language learning as we do. That doesn't make it right, but it is a confirmatory data point that suggests that non-English speaking countries may have more reasons to learn than we do.


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 9, 2007 at 5:38 pm

Terry,

Australia puts less emphasis on foreign languages. Only 12 percent of its 12th graders study a foreign language. Most of the profs of Asian languages are over 50. Sounds like they're even more insular than we are on the foreign language front.


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Posted by sohill
a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2007 at 7:37 pm

terry,
you say:
"I always wondered about the purported "cognitive benefits" of second language learning. If that's true, should ELL's and immigrants, in general, have a big leg up over mono-lingual kids? But we see them as having a disadvantage. Hmmm..."

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Who are WE? Did those immigrants who came from the dialectal regions Italy not produce a disproportionate number of Supreme court justices? Did those who came from Portugal not produce a Nobel winner? Did those yiidish speakers, russian speakers, mandarin speakers gaelic speakers, spanish speakers, swahili speakers not produce the people who make this country great? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

It is a matter of time before you will start seeing the real estate effects of having deficient schools ( schools are not the only fact in real estate prices , specially in the Bay area but they are a factor in PA). If my children were school age, I certainly wouldn't buy in PA. and now I certainly would advise anybody to do it before this foreign language issue is resolved.


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Posted by sohill
a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2007 at 7:39 pm


Sorry,where you read

I certainly wouldn't buy in PA. and now I certainly would advise anybody to do it before this foreign language issue is resolved

you should read

... I certainly would NOT advise anybody ...


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Posted by sohill
a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2007 at 8:12 pm

I will refrase again:

I certainly would NOT advise anybody relocating to the bay area with children to buy in PA. Those i will be advising are not friends. Just assorted people relocating. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2007 at 8:36 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Historically immigrants and children from non-English speaking households have been viewed as a disadvantaged academically. Many are poor; many of the parents are less educated; so there are plenty of disadvantages. Many non-English speaking immigrants do fine of course (including my grandparents and my wife's, as well as the ones you mentioned) but before recently, I have never heard anyone suggest that their children being bilingual (English in school, another language at home) is an affirmative advantage for them (aside from being able to ace their home language course in school). I am dubious of the studies I have read that show an overall academic lift effect from bilingual ed, since they don't appear to control well for other variables (motivated parents, motivated teachers, self-selection into the programs, "Hawthorne effect").

Other towns are doing it? Sure, maybe - it seems like a flavor of the month. What mom or dad doesn't like saying "My second grader is studying Mandarin; isn't yours?" But that doesn't make me any more excited about it than, say, showing Baby Einstein videos to a toddler. It's marketing to the parents, not hard benefit for the kids. Sticking to fundamentals seems more important to me than adding on electives.

I'm not against foreign language study; but I just don't find it a priority in the elemtary grades for PAUSD. And I'm more concerned about doing the right thing for us than I am worried about what other town are doing or what your friends might think.


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Posted by Si! Oui!
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2007 at 10:22 pm

I happen to think that language acquisition IS "fundamental". I say expose kids to a foreign language as early as possible.

Perhaps one finds as a "priority" that which can be measured on a test; and if that be the case, then why bother with Art, Music or P.E.?


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 9, 2007 at 11:41 pm

My understanding is that the spoken part of the language is more ably mimicked by children. They can learn languages without an accent. And that there is a window of opportunity that ends around middle school.

After that, it's completely possible to become fluent in another language, but there will be an accent.

So, if you need your kid to speak a second language like a native, instruction needs to be early. But if it's a matter of comprehension and just being able to communicate in it, it may be easier to learn while young, but it's not necessary.

Also, it doesn't seem like six years of immersion are needed to learn a language. I think Spanish and the other romance languages require about 100 hours for spoken fluency for adults? And double or triple that for Russian and Mandarin?

The thing about languages is that they can be taught in relatively short intense bursts. They're not like math and science where years of cumulative knowledge are needed to progress.

I mean, who's going to speak better Spanish? A child who has a once-a-week Spanish class for four years or the kid who goes to Mexico for a Summer and only speaks Spanish for ten weeks?


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Posted by Now you get it
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2007 at 12:11 am

See? With all the discussion of whether foreign language is core curriculum, or a need, or a nice to have, or easily available for reasonable cost in the private sector, etc. That's where the MI program as a choice makes the most sense.

FLES will have the tough task of answering the core or not core, mandatory in some flavor or not (like music or art), which flavors to offer, etc. questions.

Not withstanding the neighborhood children getting displaced by choice programs, MI certainly makes sense to implement as a choice. So parents can choose or not to enroll their kids in this. Not forcing everyone to agree that it's a need for all students, but recognizing that to some parents, it is core and needs to be offered as an option.


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 10, 2007 at 12:37 pm

Now,

It only makes sense if there's A) room and B) cost-neutral.

Now that the grant's been okayed, the program appears to be *far* from cost-neutral. And there's still no room.

Again, Mandarin instrustion is widely and inexpensively available in the area. There's no unmet need here. The only "need" is a desire of parents not to pay for the instruction.

And, again, if no language option whatsoever is available to the vast majority of kids in the district, there's a terrific problem with parity.


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Posted by John
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2007 at 2:15 pm

OK, lots of misconceptions.

-All the caviling about the grant doesn't change the fact that MI is cost-neutral.

-The complaint about no room is a red herring. There will be room once the program is expanded.

-Language immersion is not merely a bit of language instruction thrown into the day. Thus, the issue of whether the "vast majority of kids" in the district have language is irrelevant and does not bear on parity. (Additionally, adding language instruction would not be cost neutral, so it's a non-starter.)

As has been mentioned, we have a choice policy, and under that policy it made great sense to approve MI so that the district can meet the educational needs of more parents in our community. It would be possible to change the policy, but it was adopted because some parents' needs were unmet. Making choice schools more difficult to approve would just end in having charters within the district, which the board wisely realizes would not be a good thing.


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Posted by like squeezing a rock
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2007 at 2:33 pm

"-The complaint about no room is a red herring. There will be room once the program is expanded."

John, where will that room be?


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Posted by John
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 10, 2007 at 3:42 pm

Rock,

I would guess they'll put two full strands at Garland, but no need to get ahead of ourselves. We have time to figure it out.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 11, 2007 at 12:03 pm

John,

Of course, it means the program's not really cost-neutral. We all know that.

So you're counting on Garland? Even though it will take three years to get out of the Stratford lease? Even though the north cluster already faces extreme overcrowding? And the board voted just last spring not to re-open it?

Fact is, given the time and money involved in re-opening Garland, the district doesn't have lots of time. And given the couple of million dollars the district said it would cost to re-open Garland and the loss of revenue.

Well, reopening it for MI means MI's anything but cost-neutral.

Garland's not a large site, by the way. Two full strands at Garland? Where do the neighborhood kids go? Crosstown to Barron Park?

MI isn't the center of the universe.


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