MI letter to school board
Original post made
by Board Observer, Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 2, 2007
Is anyone curious about the content of the letter that Dana Tom brought forth into the public domain at last night's PAUSD board meeting?
This is the letter that 9 MI supporters sent to the board to outline the explicit conditions for the MI Choice program support, that they will accept in exchange for agreeing to abstain from submitting a charter application (for now). In addition to a bullet point list, they also encourage the board to show 'good faith' by meeting their demands expediently.
It leaves no doubt about the tactics this group has used, to circumvent democratic process in this community, to undermine the Board's decision making authority, [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
Note to the Editor: This letter is easily as newsworthy as the Management Trust letter. Will you publish it? When?
[Letter will be posted soon.]
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 3, 2007 at 2:29 pm
One poster seemed to be concerned about a "hidden agenda" of those opposed to Mandarin Immersion (MI). It would be more appropriate asking about the "hidden agenda" of the MI people.
From the beginning, they have never provided any valid reason why the Palo Alto tax payer should provide education in Mandarin to primarily ethnic Chinese residents. Their claim about "China Becoming a Superpower" and therefore the Palo Alto School System needed to start teaching the Chinese language and culture carried the same weight that having to learn German and Russian in the '60s and '70sNone!. All of those predictions (like Global Cooling) have come and gone. The MI people have really provided no other reason why public money should be spent teaching Chinese, a language which fewer than 2M (per the US Census) people speak here in America (and most of those are Cantonese).
From looking at the "Economic Super power" side of the argument, it turns out that the average per capita GDP of China is about $6,900 (per the CIA Factbook). About 50% of the Chinese population are farmers, with a per capita GDP of less than $600/year. Only about half of China speaks Mandarin, with another 100M speakers outside the homeland. English, on the other hand, as a primary and secondary language, claims about 2B speakers. While the Communist Chinese government has been pushing its language through various "outreach" programs, organizations like the UN have recently indicated that Chinese is one of the three languages in which UN documentation should NOT be provided to members (Russian and Arabic are the other two languages).
There is every evidence that China will be entering the Automobile manufacturing business within the next five years, and the airplane design/manufacture business within the next twenty years. There is no reason to believe that China plans to build manufacturing plants outside of China, when it has hundreds of millions of its citizens living on less than $2/day income to whom it has some obligation to increase their lot in life. The decline in the fortunes of the Silicon Valley can be linked (in part) to outsourcing to India and China. While the future is unknown, it's doubtful that can good Venture Capitalist will be looking to pay Americans $100/hour when they can pay Chinese employees $10/hour (or less). There is no reason not to believe that the deindustrialization of America will continue for years to come. How will Mandarin fit into this picture in twenty-thirty years?
And then there is the matter of the cultural melting pot model which has been at the core of the American education and political system for a very long time. We are seeing people saying to the PAUSD that "we have moved to the US and do not want to have our children educated in English. We will use secrecy, and every twist in the lawincluding the creation of a Charter School system which will have potentially destabilizing influence on the difficult to predict Basic Aid financing scheme of this District. As people who want our children educated in Mandarinwe don't really care about any thing else! It's difficult to believe that most people opposed to MI don't see this as an assault on the "melting pot" model of American socialization, and a threat to our linguistic roots that could easily Balkanize our country in the future. The pro-MI people have shown no interest in not Balkanizing our collective futures with their single-minded linguistic and cultural goals.
The FLAP Grant which was submitted to the US Department of Education indicated that the children would be educated in Mandarin language and culture in order to be "global citizens" (or words to that effect). This certainly doesn't send a signal to those of us who believe strongly in American values of a shared experience, a common language, and a belief in democratic institutions based on transparency and accountability. For the most part, the notion of a "global citizen" does not exist. Given the history of the 20th Century, with a few exceptions, the governance of the world has been under murderous dictators. China (and its culture) has never demonstrated any similarity to the American ideals just cited. Since the end of WWII, Mao Tse Tung and his co-rulers installed a most brutal Communist government in China, which has resulted in the deaths of over 65M people. In late February, Premier Wen Jiabao, the premier and China's No. 3 leader, said the country is "still far from advancing out of the primary stage of socialism. We must adhere to the party's basic guidelines of the primary stage of socialism for 100 years." So, what will the PAUSD be teaching these children in Mandarin about Chinese culture? Will this instruction be based on the culture of the current China?
There have been few names of people associated with PACE. A public records request for any/all petitions about MI/PACE resulted in a statement from the PAUSD that "no such documents exist". Apparently there was a petition at one time, but the PAUSD decided to throw it out, rather than to create a paper trail. Additionally, the Feasibility Study was paid for with secret donations. Repeated attempts to obtain the identities of those providing the money were not disclosed by the PAUSD. They claimed an exemption under the Public Records Act which allowed school districts to offer anonymity if it wants to. So, the PAUSD (meaning most likely the Superintendent) refused to identify the donors. When the issue emerged, the PACE people did not release the information. Clearly, PACE had something to hide. PACE did not seem to have much interest in American openness in its public institutions that most Palo Altans would like to see.
One name did appear on the PACE WEB-site which ended up being a woman who had adopted a Chinese child under an agreement with the Communist Chinese Government that the child would be educated in Mandarin. From articles about her and her daughter that can be found on the WEB, she was fulfilling her obligation to the Chinese government by educating her child in a private school in Mountain View. Clearly, having her child educated in a public school would free up $15,000 to $20,000 of her personal fundsshifting her contractual obligation to the Chinese government to the public to finance, rather than paying for this obligation herself, would be in her best financial interest. This issue of shifting the costs of private school to the public most assuredly be a driving motivation for most parents who are demanding the public educate their children in their native language.
Another issue turns out to be the PAUSD's indicating that it intends to involve the Communist Chinese government in the design and possibly the execution of the Mandarin Immersion program. The secret donations funded a trip to China for one of the PAUSD Administrators who interacted with employees of the Chinese Ministry of Education. No trip report was made public, so exactly what happened is not known. One of the teachers involved in MI has begun to take direction (nominally) from a group called "The Confucius Institute", which is also a sub-unit of the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goals of the Confucius Institute are to advance the occurrence of Mandarin outside of China. The funding levels of this Ministry of Education appendage are unknown. Why the PASUD needs to involve the Communist Chinese Government here in Palo Alto should be of great concern to all. Sadly, no one on the School Board has shown any interest in this matter.
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
While the impact of a Charter School on the PASUD is unknown at this time, it's doubtful that it would fit into any of the plans of a "unified" school district that is as small as the PAUSD. Given some of the rules of Charter Schools about open admissions, the constraining aspects of a Basic Aid School District funding mechanism threatens to destabilize the already hard-to-understand funding mechanisms that are in place now. Anyone who claims that PACE has only operated with the best goals for the community is clearly misinformed, or purposefully attempting to misinform Palo Altans.
Charter Schools are pretty much unknowns to most people. What is clear, however, is that the Board of Education for a Charter School would not have to be elected. The governance is specified in the Charter. So, given the anti-American mentality demonstrated by the PACE people so far, it's difficult to believe that they would design governance into a MI charter that would provide much input from the public in generalwhich would still have to pay the bills, however.
It might be a little difficult to speak for all of those opposing MI, but certainly most of what appears in this short note has been written in public places and spaces over the past couple of years. The information about the secrecy is probably not fully appreciated because it has not been picked up by the local paperseven though all of them were informed a number of times.
So ..the question about "hidden agendas" clearly should be aimed at PACE, not those apposed to their [portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff] actions here in our fair city.
Palo Alto, CA
Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 4, 2007 at 9:46 am
Flap says... "You seem to believe that educators should be making the calls on resources. Why? They have their preferences, idiosyncratic life experiences, and biases just as we all do. We hire teachers to teach. We elect board members to make decisions about resources. It would be a disaster to do it as you suggest."
Flap, why not say the same for attorneys, physicians, engineers, and so on? Your statement illustrates an ignorance of the complexity and demands of teaching, and administering a school site. You cavalierly say "we hire teachers to teach", as if that happens 'automatically'. One coudl also say that "we hire physicians to heal people", and then go about electing a bunch of people who are interested in medicine, but have never spent a day in anatomy class, making decisions that profoundly effect what's done in clinic.
Can you tell me what good thing has come of this MI flap, Flap? Right now, we have private citizens who have to come up with $3k (minimum) just to run for the BOE. After that, they are required to raise more money, and campaign - all spouting homilies about "vision in education" and what they see as important to teach our kids, and "flap, flap, flap - blah, blah, blah".
The whole thing is a political charade that has NOTHING to do with excellence in education, annd everything about a self-serving myth that says "we taxpayers know best about teaching our kids". If that was really the case, American students would be able to mostly point to a map and tell us where Nigeria is. The fact is that most of them can't, while students in other nations continue to leave Americann students in the dust.
Most BOE members have NEVER spent even ONE day teaching in a classroom, or administering an educational site - yet there they are, every week, passing judgement on things that they know about only second hand, as parents - recipients of a service. In fact, there is nothing more demeaning to the teaching and site adminstrative staffs of America than BOE's, some of whom have forced teachers in mid-western districts to teach intelligent design alongside evolution.
Here, Palo Alto parents (thank god) mostly wouldn't accept that mid-western fate, so we argue abbout more "lofty" things like "MI", and how to raise money for this or that program without even ONCE surveying our teacher and site administrator staffs for deep input.
Where are the teachers and site administrators in all this? Doing their jobs, every day - doing end-runs around one politically-motivated administrative duty after another (local, state, and national); jumping through hoops to please the vagaries of conerned parents who have been led to believe that teachers should also have the task of socializing their kids; having to fight to keep salaries and benefits equal to inflation. It's a joke. And no wonder teachers are leaving the profession in droves (read the press).
The REAL issues in education, the ones that will MOST impact our future, are left aside in this political fiasco. Where is there SERIOUS talk about cooperative education programs on a large scale? How about going after REAL inter-district efficiencies (that would save MILLIONS)? What about a SERIOUS effort to engage teachers and site administrators, asking them what REALLY works in the classrom - or how newly proposed programs like MI might impact the overall quality of education delivered in the classroom?
No, the BOE won't do that, because it's too bogged down hearing about district education from job-hopping senior administrators and politically-appointed senior staff (all paid far beyond what the teaching workers are paid, and who are hired by "employment consultants" who don't even live here.
Anyone who has listened to BOE meetings for a while, as I have, and who has had close affiliations to education in the classroom, or who have taught, have to shake their heads in depressed amazement at the low level of decision making that comes from BOEs, and it's mostly deleterious effect on the classroom.
The POLITICAL intrigue around education is going to continue until we find a better way to administer public education. Even in this gifted community, we have squandered youthful passion by focusing on "educational quality" as exhibited by how many PAUSD graduates make it into the top ten nschools, or score high on SAT's, instead of how much "flow" can occuir in our learning environments. Almost NOTHING is done to work on this latter issue, the issue that makes students want to learn at high leveles without stress, and gives teachers the ability to have real impact in their working environments.
IN all this, I want to make clear that BOE members are well-meaning people. That said, the habit to elect one BOE after another, and continue on the mostly dysfunctional path we've been on for decades, has blinded most to the massive inefficiencies that arise from our present system of administering local education here, and elsewhere.
We'd better get a clue about this, because we are wasting valuable time needed to reform our public education system, instead of wasting time playing political football with the future of our kids - at the national and local level.
About MI: I could care less,one way or the other. What has troubled me about this whole process is the level of dysfunctioal intrigue and waste of community passion has gone into an argument that should not have happened in the first place. Right under the nose of our outgoing Superinitendent, the BOE let itself get drawn into a protracted discussion about something that is ENTIRELY outside the domain of its expertise.
Does anyone on the BOE teach? Have they EVER taught? Why then, was the BOE weighing in on the merits of a CURRICULAR matter? The whole thing is a massive tragedy, leaving behinf bad feelings and community dissention.
Maybe next time the BOE will think to poll its professional staff - and i don't meann by that the six-figure administrator(s)[portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]
To the BOE:
ASK THE TEACHERS AND SITE ADMINISTRATORS WHAT THEY THINK! Try it; maybe you'll learn a thing or two in the furtherance of your administration, and end up with solutions that work best for our kids, instead of those who don't and won't spend one day teaching in the very program that has been at the heart of this current, tragic debate.
Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 4, 2007 at 3:38 pm
Flutter, you really need to get out and ask around. Ask teachers about "good classes", and "bad classes" - the latter being one where some 15% of the kids are impossible, because their parents think they are the Second Coming. I know this because I have taught. IN the ideal situation, today, a teacher is lucky to only have 8-10% of a classroom populated by kids who disrupt, and that is barely manageable.
Losing an election? As if losing an election can even begin to hold a candle to years of dysfunction caused to 1000's of parents, teachers, students, and taxpayers through bad decision-making, and ill-timed political flip-flopping.
btw, there is a BIG difference between telling an engineer to "go build a bridge", for which s/he will normally receive adequate resources, and telling a teacher to adapt to already leaned-out physical and financial infrastructure to satiswfy the whims of parents who mostly _think_ they know more than teachers do about teaching, and child development, for that matter.
I have seen, first hand, the stunning lack of sensitivity to a careful rendering of what is happening in the classroom, by a significant minority of parents, especially if it's those parent's kids who are not performing to parantal satisfaction, or if they're hearing about their own kid's personal dysfunction. If things were so wonderful in the teaching profession, we wouldn't see teachers resigning in droves.
Education has been a political football at the local, state and national level for a long time - with teachers and site adminsitrators often considered a necessary evil in the process that involves their children's future, and where most of their children's time is spent in foprmative years.
Last, about socialization. It is a *parental* responsibility to socialize a child, period. By the time a kid gets to school, if s/he has no respect for rules, or limits, the parents have failed, not the teacher. teachers are picking up the pieces of bad parenting every day, and kids whoh are parented well suffer the consequences of the bad bahavior caused by a parental shirking of responsibility.
Enough of that: there are good and bad teachers. But, we are losing LOTS of good teachers because so many people think of teaching as a "secondary" occupation. Just as mothering has been thought of as an incidental occupation. We'd better start to think differently about these things, because the easy days of guaranteed future for American students -even students from places like Palo Alto - are fast waning. There are kids all over the world whho will be graduating from excellent universities, who have not been coddled into believing the world is their oyster.
Go look at how teachers are viewed in almost every other culture, and then ngo look at how teachers are viewed in America - including Palo Alto. That should tell you something.
Last, perhaps you should spend a few months in a classroom, without recourse to being able to leave if you burn out. I've been there, and most of what I've seen on this thread, and from those who think teachers have it made have _not_ been there - and it shows.
We have BOE's who insert themselves into every facet of teaching. We have Superintendents that glide from district to district every 3-5 years. We have 1000 districts in California. Not ANY TWO of those districts is talking about combining administrative effieiciencies and economies in a significant way. Why? In this time of fiscal constraint...why?
Instead we have politically elected administrative bodies, composed mostly of non-educators, and bowing to 6-figure executive figurehead, "leading" the way.
Look there first for owhat's wrong with American education. There are also some things that can be done to improve the teaching profession, but we'd better fix the "top" first.
Posted by RWE
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 8, 2007 at 4:23 pm
Start with the management structure. It's decidedly top-down, and far from the model that many current public and private organizations have today.
There is little in the way of idea and initiative cross-fertilization among site administrators, teachers, and senior executives.
This isn't to say that all most organizations operating in the 21st century don't have reporting structures, or that they run by themselves - they don't. It's more to say that the administration of public education hasn't changed very much in the last half century.
Also, the administrative curriculum that senior administrators engage is decidedly weak compared to what executives in the private sector face. K-12 education in America is a kind of ghetto for automatic administrative promotion at the senior level, with very little accountability.
Add to this the fact that we include an elected BOE in the mix as a variable - a big variable, because senior executives within PAUSD (and other districts) work at the BOE's pleasure.
Comparing this with the board structure of many comtemporary piublic and private organizations, there is a clear structural flaw - with every district having a rotating BOE (elections every so many years), and careerist bureaucrats (said with respect) having to "get along" so that they can "move along" to their next "assignment" (every 5 or so years, hence).
Where this all falls down in comparison to more efficient structures is that every district sees itself as a discrete entity - in teaching AND operations. there is simply no incentive to look for extra-district ways to create _significant_ operational or teaching efficiencies. The whole system - nationally, and locally - simply continues on its merry way, at a snail's pace _because_ there is no real incentive to change the way things are.
The "ignorance is bliss" factor is very hard at work in this scenario, because unlike even 20 years ago, when many nations were catching up from the destruction visited on them in WWII, there are now many countries that surpass American K-12 educational quality, including education in districts as highly regarded as PAUSD. Our kids are going to pay a price for this, down the road, as the new "flattened" world permits trans-border mobility as never before. For instance, 1 in 3 new residents in Silicon Valley are from another country. One would think that meant something to educational administrators and BOE's, as they squabble over political means to political ends - it doesn't.
And why should K-12 educational bureaucracies change? Heck, BOE members simply fade into the background after they term out, or use their BOE experience to seek further political office. What penalties do you see out there for poor performance by a Superintendent? Virtually none. Most simply continue jumping from district to district, until they retire, regardless of performance. It's an "old boy" network, including the same old tired consulting firms that are hired ad nauseum to look in the same places for the same kinds of people to run districts that are virtually indistinguishable - in terms of operational and curricular policy - than they were 40 years ago.
What private corporation (or modern-day, forward-looking non-profit) would continue to look askance at opportunities to create extra-corporate efficiencies? American K-12 school systems almost _never_ do this. That's an opportunity constraint for our kids in tomorrow's world.
I'm _very_ pro public education. That said, we _must_ find ways to make educational districts far more transparent and inclusive, and at the same time less political.
Look at the MI fiasco. Teacher and site administrator inputs were all but unheard. Instead, we had a motivated group of well-meaning people who used a well-worn political process to try to have their way with PAUSD - our _kids_ learning environment, where teachers and site administrators work _every day_, face-to-face with those kids, educating them, and socializing them.
Teaching and administrative professionals are burdened today as never before, but their inputs are hardly ever taken with the same weight as senior executives, the BOE, or parents. Think about it. What modern corporation operates this way? Look at Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, GE, and so on. These organization all have their problems, and they do have structured management, but the ADAPT. This is something that American education is NOT doing, including districts like PAUSD.
I've asked around of teachers and site administrators here, about MI. Most of them think it's currently a bad idea, for any number of reasons. Yet those voices were never heard in the debate.
Parents should always have a voice in public education, but that voice needs to be educated about the reality of classroom experience, in addition to what needs to be done to improve the quality of education. But, this closed loop system that never seems to change, that seems essentially void of anything new in terms of curricular structure.