School board delays Mandarin-immersion vote
Original post made
on May 23, 2007
Wanting more community input and time for compromise efforts, the Palo Alto school board agreed to delay voting yes or no on the highly controversial Mandarin-immersion choice program until June 5.
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Posted by A.J.
a resident of Green Acres
on May 27, 2007 at 4:44 pm
There are many reasons that have already been given that implementing the choice MI program first would hurt, not help, FLES. Let me see if I can cover a few of them.
The poster above already mentioned that resources are finite, not just money, but energy and focus of parent volunteers, administration and staff. We have already had one try at implementing FLES and an immersion program at the same time, and FLES did not survive it. That's not surprising, since FLES is the harder of the two, since it serves ALL the kids in the district, and resources were already focused so heavily on SI.
What we haven't done is introduce FLES first and make sure it is on solid footing before we introduce another language program that could compete with it for resources. (Kind of like serving the broccoli first before the cake, so the broccoli gets consumed. Putting the cake first, at least with most kids, would endanger the broccoli consumption, whereas the other way around, it almost never would. We can't know that it will happen again for sure, but we've already seen it happen once and it's a good bet based on human nature that it will happen again if we do the same.)
Immersion is a big, long-term commitment for families. If families who value language are faced with only the choice of putting their child in an immersion commuter school or staying in the neighborhood with their friends and having no language instruction at all, you're going to end up with some families who make the former commitment because they value language when they otherwise would have chosen the latter as a compromise for other non-language-related benefits if some early language instruction had been available. That means some language-oriented families who otherwise would have helped the success of FLES are then committed for the long-term to immersion. (I'm not talking about people like PACEr's who would never consider anything else but a specific type of immersion, I'm talking about the larger majority of parents who take broader considerations into account and are willing to compromise on language - but find they must choose between all or nothing.)
I see this happening with SI all the time -- many families sign up for the lottery not because they think that type of immersion is the only way, but because they value early language education and there are no other language education options for their child in their neighborhood school. Again, I am not saying that immersion and FLES are the same, I am saying most people weigh lots of factors in their decisions, and with SI, if they value language, their choice is a huge commitment or no language instruction at all in school.
I've known several parents who got into the SI lottery then opted to go to the neighborhood school. Some families in similar circumstances will opt in. Again, the population of people putting energy into the language programs would be different if FLES were offered as a viable choice first, and more energy would go to FLES than otherwise. FLES needs this more than a focused immersion program does just because providing something for everyone is a harder and less glamorous task. Broccoli first.
Also, if a lot of people are invested in FLES, many cheaper options to improve fluency would flow from it, options that would likely be more acceptable and popular, such as summer immersion to augment FLES, or after-school immersion programs perhaps even taught by existing staff at schools. There's a Chinese school in Mountain View that creates fluency with just an hour or two taught in Mandarin every day. Having an existing immersion school that requires its own facilities would compete head to head with such extensions of FLES, in fact it would make their chances of implementation pretty much nil.
SI was not a stepping stone for FLES before, it was a hindrance. I have heard nothing but handwaving and unsupported assertions that MI would help FLES. There's no evidence that it would, and some evidence that it would hurt.
The issue of fairness cannot be overstated in a public school system, either. Doing FLES first simply because public schools have a mandate to provide equal access to everyone is the only reason anyone needs to give. What's the rush to implement THIS immersion program, why can't we wait to implement FLES and augment it with cheaper, more appropriate (to our district) fluency programs to see if that largely satisfies the demand for language education in our schools?
If it comes down to the wants of a few families for their kids, hence the timetable, I urge everyone to read my proposed compromise above. A new, permanent program that requires its own separate school is a big commitment in this district given the overcrowding. If MI is worth doing, there's no reason to rush into it in the face of so many problems. Except that the people pushing it have their own reasons. Why not essentially honor that and give them what they want while also honoring the needs of the district right now and not adding a permanent new program&school just because of the age of a few people's kids?
We have to assume that the Board has some commitment that the 9 who signed that letter comprise everyone in PACE at the moment, otherwise why would they even respond to it knowing that an indeterminate number of other people could still come forward and threaten or do a charter at any time? Without that commitment that the 9 comprise the total membership of PACE, the letter is pretty worthless per the Board's purposes. (Not that I think a charter would be such a bad thing, but that's another subject.)
And as far as the legality, I suppose I should ask: why would entering into such a contract be ILLEGAL, or any less legal than making major decisions for the district based on this letter by the 9?
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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 31, 2007 at 1:05 pm
Uh, no. Even the Stanford school focuses on spoken and receptive language. It also confirms what I said earlier that if you want your kids to speak Mandarin as a first language in the U.S., you need to pretty much speak Mandarin to them. So, even a school that caters only to the Chinese community demands that the parents be able to speak Mandarin. Why? Because kids prefer speaking English. The classes are there because even kids from Mandarin-speaking families don't just necessarily learn it. Stanford is popular, in part, because it doesn't focus solely on written language--as you claimed--and, indeed, offers simplified Chinese writing.
In other words, Fact Checker, I became aware of this issue because I have several friends who are ESL and are trying to get their kids to speak their mother tongue. The kids who seem to manage best are the ones who spend time overseas in the country where the language is spoken.
Yes, I agree that the racial obsession apparent at the Stanford Chinese School is unhealthy "Heritage language"--you run across stuff like that in the deep South. It speaks to a deep fear of assimilation. For better or worse, though, assimilation and exogamy happen in the country.
I see you're not up to a Google search. So much for fact checking.
The reason you don't see long-term stuff on Mandarin is that the studies don't exist. MI for English speakers in the U.S. hasn't been around that long. I was alerted to the issue when a couple of people whose kids had been through SI said that their kids' English composition skills weren't up to par. Some other people mentioned similar experiences.
Test scores at the immersion schools--Escondido here and Meyerholtz are comparably low (though perfectly acceptable) for their districts, but immersion kids are supposed to catch up. However, as I mentioned, UC Berkeley, which has an enormous number of kids from bilingual homes also has a record number in need of remedial writing courses. And these kids are *excellent* students.
Seriously, though, writing skills aren't measured by standardized tests, so the issue's been poorly tracked, particularly with something like Mandarin which is such a recent introduction.
I'm not sure, frankly, why people get twisted up about this. It's pretty obvious that writing in English takes writing in English. I mean, would anyone say that if I learn to speak Mandarin, but don't write, but do write in English, I will, somehow, write better Mandarin than someone who practices writing Mandarin?
As I've said, there are reasons to think the trade-off is worth it. Many professions don't require strong writing skills. And, as you say, your family can supplement. Also, because your kids come from, I assume from what you describe, a highly fluent English household, they're in the group that does best in an immersion setting--strong language skills in the first language correlate with strong language skills in the second.
For my offspring, I chose the other trade-off, weaker second-language skills at the outset (though with the potential to pursue fluency) and more practice in English. Of course, my choice, which is probably the preference of most parents around here is getting no support at this point from PAUSD. I have to go outside the system for it.
Which brings us back to the big split--why no second language for most children and immersion for a few?