Will the Mandarin Immersion decision be unbiased?
Original post made
by Jamie Maltz, Charleston Gardens,
on Jul 20, 2006
The Chronicle (July14th), reported on five San Francisco school board members and four Principals that recently enjoyed an unannounced, free trip to China, paid for by the Chinese Government. I understand about 400 US Educators were invited on this trip. In the article, the SF school board members said it was not in violation of the Brown Act, because it was a "junket", purely recreational, no business discussed.
I'm told Marilyn Cook, Associate Superintendent from PAUSD, as well as Becki Cohn-Vargas and Ruth Malen (former principal at Duveneck), went on this trip as well. I'm not sure if there were any others from PAUSD.
PAUSD is in the middle of a very heated debate, and pending VOTE by the School Board, on whether to start a very controversial Mandarin Chinese immersion program. The proposal is heavily backed by Chinese special interests (as evidenced by the letters of support attached to the proposal.) It sounds like San Francisco is also on the threshold of a similar vote on their Mandarin Chinese immersion program.
When Washington officials take free "junkets" or other free gifts from Special Interest Groups, it's a huge scandal. Why is it OK for our PAUSD officials to partake in expensive free trips from special interests, on the threshold of this big decision? It's unseemly that employees involved in influencing a decision and/or providing critical feasibility inputs should be accepting a free trip at this critical time in the process. On the other hand, if this was a fact finding trip for the feasibility study, how unbiased can a fact finding trip be that is funded and delivered by one of the interested parties? This raises further questions as to the impartiality with which the district is conducting the Mandarin Chinese immersion decision making process.
This should not have been allowed, especially by high level district officials that will be influential in the PAUSD Mandarin Chinese immersion decision making process. The board promised the community an unbiased feasibility study. Anyone in PAUSD who accepted a free trip should be completely disallowed from participating any further in that process. At the very least, the purpose, the attendees, the trip events, meetings and results/findings of the trip, as well as how the information gathered will be used in the process, should be reported publicly ASAP.
This seems improper to me.
Posted by Grace Mah
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 21, 2006 at 3:18 pm
I appreciate your engagement in this issue but I'm afraid someone may have given you some incorrect information.
Actually, the trip you refer to was sponsored by the College Board, which creates the SAT. The purpose of the trip was to help educators better understand teaching practices in China, and to consider which teaching strategies for Mandarin might or might not work well here. I don't see anything "biased" about learning more about teaching practices around the world -- the more information we have to work with, the more resources we have to improve our schools.
1. Here is the College Board ("whose mission is to connect students to college success and opportunity") press release about their announced partnership with the China National Office (including the US Educators tours):
060419 China National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign
Language and the College Board Announce New Chinese Language
College Board Press Release, April 19, 2006
The objective of the trip includes "Beyond the obvious
benefits of cultural enrichment these tours will offer, it
is anticipated that they will also provide incentives and
strategies for the educators to return to the United States
better able to support the growth of Chinese programs in
their own districts."
2. Here is the Chronicle article about the San Francisco visitors:
060713 SAN FRANCISCO, China trip for top schools officials
SFGate article, July 13, 2006
3. Dr. Marilyn Cook, Associate Superintendent from PAUSD, was not on the trip. Becki Cohn-Vargas and Ruth Malen were the only PAUSD staff to take the tour. Becki is the Elementary School Director of Curriculum. She would be responsible for the curriculum of MI, if it is approved. She is working on the feasibility study which was approved by the school board in May. Ruth Malen, as a retiring elementary school principal was specifically looking at educational methodology in teaching Mandarin. Choosing Ruth to go seemed less to target a specific school (that's something yet to be studied by the Area Attendance Review Group), yet capitalized on her rich experience as it applies to teaching Mandarin in elementary school.
4. The "Chinese interests" who submitted letters of support with the MI proposal are the following:
1) Honorable Joe Simitian, Assemblyman, Twenty-First District
2) Dr. Kathryn Lindholm-Leary, Professor of Child and Adolescent Development, San Jose State University; Palo Alto resident
3) Honorable Wan Yunxiang, Consulate General of the People's Republic of China
4) Richard Konda, Executive Director, Asian Law Alliance, San Jose
5) Francisca Sanchez, CABE President (California Association for Bilingual Education)
6) Barry Chang, Former School Board Trustee, CUSD
7) Dr. Hsing Kung, Board Member, American Leadership Forum Silicon Valley Board Member, Former School Board Trustee, Fremont Union High School District
5. With respect to community support, PACE collected over 900 community members of PAUSD residents who signed the following statement:
We, the undersigned, strongly support the efforts to extend Palo Alto Unified School District's alternative elementary school programs to implement a Mandarin Chinese immersion program in a timely fashion."
These signatures were collected at schools, playgrounds, the Jr. Museum, neighborhoods, and included non-parents, seniors, and non-citizens. That breadth of support across the community is documented and the petitions are filed with the school district.
6. San Francisco has approved a Mandarin immersion program, starting Fall 2006:
060311 Students' families seek 'hidden gems', Despite decline,
applicants choose wider variety of schools
San Francisco Chronicle article, Mar 11, 2006
Now for some opinions:
A. The heat of the debate on MI is from friction in the community, not in PAUSD. I'm personally not of the opinion that it is "very heated", as I have offered to discuss MI with opponents who have not responded to my offer.
B. As to the "very controversial" nature of the program, that is also your opinion. The school board voted 3-1-1 to move forward with a feasibility study to answer a number of the questions that have come up with the MI proposal. As controversial questions will be worked on for the feasibility study (we don't have all the answers to everything, yet), it is the intention of the district staff and parent volunteers to constructively address the questions listed in the Guidelines for Expanding Alternative Program. There's tough questions to answer, and we want to find resolutions that satisfy the community,
school board, parents, teachers, staff, etc.
If there are any questions left out from the Guidelines, you may send those to me, and we can work on answers to them. I can't commit for the staff, but as a community member and education advocate, I want to be available to concerns and suggestions.
I don't understand the argument against taking a trip sponsored by the College Board and the Chinese government. Neither of them have any monetary gain by Palo Alto investigating a MI program. The trip was meant to educate educators about teaching Mandarin, Chinese education
practices (good and bad, what works there, wouldn't work here, etc.).
The staff are conducting the feasibility study, gathering as much information to answer the Guideline questions, as possible. Information will be collected, and concerns and additional opinions welcome.
Thanks for the dialogue,
Posted by Grace Mah
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 2, 2006 at 10:25 pm
Just some excerpts from the Center for Applied Linguistics report, regarding foreign language learning, and not just "every wack program that comes along".
Attaining High Levels of Proficiency: Challenges for Foreign Language Education in the United States
Margaret E. Malone, Center for Applied Linguistics
Benjamin Rifkin, Temple University
Donna Christian and Dora E. Johnson, Center for Applied Linguistics
The need for individuals who can speak and understand languages other than English is acute in many sectors in the United States, from business and social services to national security and diplomacy. The September 26, 2001, report of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (H.R. Rep. No. 107-219, 2001) identified language as the single greatest need in the intelligence community. The late Senator Paul Simon (2001) pointed out that "some 80 federal agencies need proficiency in nearly 100 foreign languages. While the demand is great, the supply remains almost nonexistent. Only 8% of American college students study another language."
Of the relatively small number of individuals in the United States who learn languages other than English, an even smaller number achieve a high level of proficiency in the language(s) they study.
A learner at the Superior level can "communicate in the language with accuracy and fluency in order to participate fully and effectively in conversations on a variety of topics in formal and informal settings" (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 1999), while a learner at the Distinguished level "begins to approach the level of an educated native speaker" (Leaver & Shekhtman, 2002). Speakers at these levels also possess the academic discourse skills that would be expected of any educated person in the target culture, such as the ability to hypothesize and persuade.
It can take up to 720 hours of instruction for a student to achieve proficiency at the ACTFL Advanced level (one level below Superior); for a native English speaker to acquire proficiency at the Superior level in a language such as Russian, the Foreign Service Institute estimates that a minimum of 1320 hours is required (Omaggio-Hadley, 2001). However, typical undergraduate language programs at U.S. colleges and universities offer only 3 contact hours per week, which, after 2 years, yields at most 180 hours of instruction.
We must expand the number of Americans studying foreign languages, especially the less commonly taught languages (i.e., languages other than French, German, Italian, and Spanish), and offer the types of classroom and out-of-classroom experiences that will help individual learners develop high levels of proficiency.
The availability of resources to develop high-level proficiency, especially in the less commonly taught languages (LCTLs), remains limited, although several projects are addressing this challenge:
* Several federally funded language resource centers are focusing on increasing our knowledge about and resources for advanced language learning and teaching (Web Link).
* The Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition at the University of Minnesota is developing and maintaining a database of LCTL course offerings (Web Link).
* The Language Materials Project at the University of California, Los Angeles (www.lmp.ucla.edu), provides an online biblio-graphic database of materials for more than 100 LCTLs.
* The International Research and Studies Program of the U.S. Department of Education holds an annual grant competition to fund projects to improve and strengthen instruction in modern foreign languages, area studies, and other international fields (www.ed.gov/programs/iegpsirs/index.html).
* Several conferences have brought together stakeholders from various branches of government, the education community, and commerce to examine language needs across American society (www.nlconference.org/docs/White_Paper.pdf).
* The Center for Advanced Study of Language is working to enhance the ability of federal employees across all agencies and branches to speak and understand other languages at high levels of proficiency (www.casl.umd.edu).
* The National Flagship Language Initiative has awarded grants to support the teaching and learning of Arabic, Chinese, Korean, and Russian at universities recognized as leaders in language education (www.casl.umd.edu/nfli).
The need to increase the number of students who reach high levels of proficiency exists for all languages but especially for the LCTLs. The following recommendations are offered as a starting point.
* Provide incentives to K12 school districts to develop well-articulated, sustained language learning sequences beginning in the early grades.
Make study abroad programs available and affordable for students studying LCTLs.
* Support the development and implementation of programs that promote teacher quality in foreign language teaching at all levels and across all languages.
* Implement programs that incorporate overseas experiences and other effective approaches to developing high levels of language proficiency.
* Allocate adequate resources for technology that can improve the quality of language learning.
* Develop resources for full course sequences in all languages.
* Develop and make available tests that measure high levels of language proficiency in all skill areas.
* Provide incentives for students to attain high levels of proficiency.
* Provide financial support and other vital resources to institutions that offer LCTLs.
* Support heritage language maintenance and development.
* Research "what works" in language teaching and learning.
The need for speakers who are proficient in more than one language is clear in the context of national interests and security, as well as for personal and societal benefits. The cost of ignoring this need has already been felt. The situation will become even more urgent if sufficient effort and resources are not allocated to develop a language-proficient society that includes individuals with high levels of proficiency in critical languages.
This digest is based on a paper presented at the Conference on Global Challenges and U.S. Higher Education, Duke University, January 23-25, 2003, and on Malone, M., Rifkin, B., Christian, D., & Johnson, D. E. (2004).
Posted by Pauline Navarro
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Aug 25, 2006 at 1:26 pm
Holy Toledo. I was just catching up on my MI reading, and am very unhappy that the tone of the discussion is getting so mean. Nobody opposed to MI, to my knowledge, is stating or believes anything other than the whole issue being simply a matter, a business and community matter, of deciding how to use our limited slices of the dollar/staffing pie, and determining what kind of school environment we want.
1) The MI Grant proposal is publically available, call the District and ask for it. Read it. It is enlightening. Clearly not at all cost-neutral, at least for the first 6 years. No clue how to get the extra dollars without breaking every PiE agreement we have made. After that, judging from the enrollment at Cupertino,our most logical comparison model, there is no history of cost-neutrality in running even an up and running program, since the attrition is so high. They still have the the same costs to run a program that has 10 kids in it versus 20, except in any other classroom the kids would be disbursed to use the funds more efficiently. We have experienced this unintended consequence already in our other choice programs as well.
2)As for us already having unequal access to AP programs, sorry, doesn't fly. A lottery is a lottery, no matter which way you cut it.There is a difference between a lottery and having classes that require passing minimal requirements. And the difference is that AP Math doesn't mean only AP kids, who earned their way into a class through ability and hard work, get math. Everyone still gets math.If and when we decide we have the resources for foreign language in elementary schools, we want everyone to have equal access.
3) Nobody is talking about dismantling any of the choice lottery programs we currently have, we are simply talking about not allowing new choice programs in, until all the basic priorities determined by the community, which pays the bill, are met. Times have changed. Language instruction in elementary schools is near the bottom in priorities of the community, the parents and the teachers who were part of the survey. Get the survey and read it.Top priorities include English, and of course, math and science. No accident that countries who are sending us technical professionals because our kids can't compete in math and science have math and science priorities in their schools. This year our work visas limit from other countries was FILLED before the budget year even began, our companies are so desperate for competent employees.
4) This isn't a matter of some few folks who claim to "know better", deciding what is in "our" best interest for a few kids, using the whole community's money. Remember, just a few years ago Japanese was THE language that was popular to believe we needed to learn for "future competition", and after that Spanish was the language that was supposed to be best. India is now the new, up and coming business country. Nobody is saying that we need to learn any of the languages spoken in India. Surprise, English is still the common language for business. Remember, there are more English speaking Chinese in China than English speaking Americans. I am told by business travelers to China, Singapore or India, that if you attend a national conference in any of these places, the common language is English, because there are so many different dialects and languages.
We are not an ignorant, uneducated community. We can read and think also. Trying to imply that if only we went to China we would see how important Mandarin is to us, is insulting. When I go to France or Spain, I can see how important French and Spanish are also.
4) There is the matter of determining the future of our school environments, as well. How many more kids displaced from their neighborhood schools do we want? How many more cars on the road?
5) Nearly 1,000 students are projected to be moving into our southern Palo Alto area with all the new complexes being built. Almost a 10% increase. We are concerned about trying to plan for a future that will require space, space and more space for all these students. We don't want any MORE programs that will take up more "per student" space than is average, ie that is not maintaining the 20 student average per class we want.
It is a matter of our belief in the power of our concerned and informed opinion, as expressed in our community survey, to be heard and implemented. It wouldn't matter if it were a choice art program, choice French,choice Math/Science program, (my personal favorite), or increasing the number of Spanish Immersion entry classes so that the 3 out of 4 applicants who are turned down could get in, I would still oppose any new choice programs because of the future costs and inflexibility, and decreasing neighborhood school environment costs.
In case anyone cares, I was born in Spain, then lived in Morroco before moving here. We spoke at various times French, Spanish and Arabic in my home. I completely support foreign language instruction for many reasons, mainly because I have personally experienced the benefits in my thinking and language skills. However, creating a private school in a public school system is not the way to do it.
Thanks for reading through all this.