Mandarin immersion study conflict concerns
Original post made
by Lisa Steinback, Downtown North,
on Jun 8, 2006
I've got that queasy feeling again....
After attending the Palo Alto school board's Town Hall meeting last week on the Mandarin-immersion proposal, I had a sinking feeling that something's not quite right. The board passed out a FAQ sheet and then answered questions from the audience.
The proposal is for a new magnet school where 2 percent of elementary school children in our district would learn Mandarin Chinese. The board has given approval for a feasibility study to be conducted over the next six months, after which the board will vote again on whether to approve the new program.
One parent got up and requested that it not be referred to as a "choice" program, but instead be called a "lottery" or "luck" program, since her children had already been unlucky in two prior lotteries in the district. My stomach felt acidic when I discovered that the non-profit Palo Alto Chinese Education (PACE) is paying up to $135,000 for our district to complete the feasibility study, which includes designing the curriculum and selecting a school site.
My heartburn kicked in when it was explained that most of the district personnel working on this project had also designed the Spanish-immersion program or are teaching Mandarin in Palo Alto at the high school level. PACE is also writing a grant proposal on the district's behalf to the U.S. government (our tax dollars at work) for funds to support the program.
At this point, a parent asked the board if it thought there was conflict of interest. Good question, I thought to myself.
(published in the Palo Alto Weekly 6/7/06)
Like this comment
Posted by I. Think
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 21, 2006 at 4:35 pm
Please think critically about some of the arguments in support of MI:
"MI program is "Revenue" neutral"... Revenue neutral, meaning they'll find dollars to fund incremental costs (for now) but the program is certainly not cost neutral. All the teachers, adminstrators, board, PTA, time, effort, classroom space, and all other tax payer resources spent on one program, are resource not spent on some other programs. There is only so much of the PIE to go around. And what happens when the grant money disappears.. Year 2, 3, 4? Who funds it then?
"Bi-literate kids have expanded opportunities"... So do kids with excellent advanced skills in science, math, technology, communication skills, etc. Some who excel in sports, drama and music also have expanded opportunities. This argument can be used equally for any other program the district might care to support.
"One in five humans on planet earch speak Mandarin"... One in five humans on planet earth lives in China, so it would be logical that there are a lot of Chinese people speaking Mandarin. Don't be fooled into thinking this means we have to rush out and teach our Palo Alto kids Mandarin in order to get jobs in 10 years. In fact the global economy works predominantly in English.
"Spanish Immersion provides a succesful compass"... Yes, we understand immersion works as an effective vehicle for teaching language. This argument should be translated as: You gave them SI, now we demand MI. There are plenty of successful ways to teach language. Immersion program is the ultimate, the extreme. There are only six MI programs in the US. There are alot of other methods that work that are LESS than immersion that can be offered to more of our kids.
"We already do alot of innovative choice programs, that's what makes us great"... Indeed we are ALREADY splitting this district too thin. What makes us great is focus on excellence. We object to MORE choice programs that enrich a few and leave the rest of the kids out. (Yes, many who oppose the MI proposal also object to the Choice program model in general, and prefer very excellent neighborhood schools for all.) The management of PAUSD as a series of private school programs is rapidly decreasing in feasibility, and creates a population of haves and have nots. Eventually, the board will be required to end the madness. But luckliy for PACE probably not until after they get theirs, and then what do they care?
"And our community as alot of choice programs and we always figure it out"... So let's jump now and ask questions later? That way, a special interest group gets its way, and the rest of us have to figure out a way to make due. And tough luck if 240 families (or more) get displaced from their neighborhood school, and too bad if we don't like the traffic congestion created by choice programs, and too bad if we don't like the fact that two schools right across the street from eachother are wildly different in performance, test scores and 'revenue' resources. The rest of us lottery 'losers' can just suck it up and tough it out...
"Our community is interested in expanding foreign language education in K-12"... Some might be, but that's not what the recent community priority survey says. More are interested in making sure our kids excel in the core subjects of Math, Science, English literacy, technology. Some want more PE. Some want smaller class sizes. Some want ESL for English language learners, not language enrichment for an elite few.
"Program will be lottery open to anyone and will reach 1 in 20 Kinders". Why in the heck if language is such an important and valuable skill are we coming up with a program that only benefits 1 in 20? And then some will drop out of this program because of the rigors and difficulty of Mandarin (relative to their native english, and for lack of mandarin support at home), and so the eventual graduates of this program will be even fewer than 1 in 20. In fact, I'm sure PACE is confident that while many of their supporters' children will not initially get in, they will have plenty of native Mandarin speakers who will eventually be able to take advantage of the program, at the ready to fill spots in grades 1-5 as the non-native mandarin speaking children and parents begin to move back in to English. All our schools and programs do have attrition, you certainly could not fill a Mandarin Immersion program with non-native speakers at grade levels beyond first grade. Naturally we'll have to load the program with those with kids who would have otherwise been going, or have been going, to Chinese school privately.
"And another choice program will actually aleviate the overcrowding in some of the Palo Alto North schools, ie: a solution for the Neighborhood School problem".... I guess this assumes that they will not choose Addison or Walter Hays as the MI site. One can only hope... Be careful what you wish for. Actually this will displace 240 kids from one of our neighborhood schools... Hope YOU are not one of the unlucky ones! And do you want your kid in the SAME class of SAME 20 kids for their entire elementary program. No change, no new faces, no new chances, no new diversity? This is what would happen in a 3 strand school with 2 strands MI. (One strand left for regular class, and you'd have NO choice about being part of that program!)
There are just so many reasons why MI is not logical. But logic doesn't seem to have any part in this debate. What's going on? Really...
There are alot of enrichment opportunities for our kids that are a matter of private choice, and this should be one of them. This is a private school program that does not belong in a public school.