For those not totally exhausted by the Mandarin Immersion (MI) debate, you might be interested to know that the Palo Alto Board of Education is having a special session this coming Tuesday evening devoted to a new timeline for installing an MI choice program in the district next year. (Web Link)
The Superintendent’s recommendation is that the BOE adopt this timetable – i.e. that the BOE now reverse itself and approve MI as a choice program, this time starting in the fall of 2008 instead of 2007. The BOE is due to vote on the matter on May 27th.
The BOE called for this new timeline because they understood it was the declared intention of the principal advocates for MI to file an application for a MI charter school if the BOE did not reverse itself and approve a choice MI program.
Many BOE members fear that a charter school would be more damaging to the district than their adopting an MI choice program of their own, even if it was something they had publicly voted against before. Others, notably members of Palo Altans for Equity in Education, (www.paee.us) have argued the opposite – that a charter would in fact be less damaging to the district.
Whatever the case, it is worth noting that the BOE has not yet received (please correct me if I’m wrong) an application for a charter program. They therefore as yet don’t have a program proposal before them that threatens any harm to the district. Indeed, I’m not aware of any public evidence that a charter application is anything more than a threat at this moment. If anyone knows any different, perhaps they can share that information.
Given that no immediate charter threat appears to exist, I have written to the BOE to ask that they withhold a vote to approve the new timeline until it does. If you agree with that request (or, indeed, if not), please tell them. Tuesday is your best chance to make your case directly to the board.
A couple of thoughts/questions:
1) The new timeline contains a reference to: “Summer 2007 -- School staff participates in educational travel opportunities to China.” Does anyone know if these expenses were in the budget before? If not, what do they mean? Who, for instance, gets to go? Who pays?
2) Dana Tom said he would not vote in favor of an MI choice program unless it could be guaranteed that MI advocates would end their threat of a charter. Can anyone suggest who could give him, and the rest of the BOE, that guarantee? On what authority could they do it? What sort of organization is PACE, for example? Does it has elected officers who can be held to an agreement?
3) In January 07 the school administration suggested it could put together an MI program that would start in the fall of 07. After January, they said, it was too late. That would suggest that, if pressed, the district could wait until Jan of 08 to get a green light for a MI choice program and still have it ready for Fall 08. And that in turn would suggest that the BOE can wait until the end of this year to see if a charter application comes before it and then judge whether it would prefer to accept that charter (assuming it is a good proposal) as it must or whether it wishes to offer a choice program instead. Is there a reason to move faster?
My preference is to wait as long as possible – not only to see whether the threat that prompted the new timeline actually materializes, but also to allow some important other things to happen in the meantime. The most significant of these is the hiring of a new superintendent. This person will have to live with the outcome of the MI debate – and reunite a district that has been bitterly divided over this issue. I would much prefer that person to play a role in deciding this debate's outcome rather than have to accept it as a fait accompli upon taking the job. Delaying a decision would also mean we could get further down the road of deciding issues such future boundaries, facilities priorities and the language needs of all students before we have to factor MI into the mix – after all it was a concern that these all needed to be addressed before we embarked on a new boutique immersion program that was the origin of much opposition to MI (mine included) in the first place.