PAUSD Immersion Programs--'Choice' or 'luck'
Original post made
by Simon Firth, College Terrace,
on Nov 8, 2006
I'm wondering if we need to stop referring to PAUSD programs like SI and MI as 'choice' programs. Wouldn't it be better to call them 'luck' programs? For the many, many parents who applied to SI this year and were not offered a place (wasn 't the figure three in four?), what PAUSD offered them really can't be called a choice.
Most of my friends with kindergarteners who 'lost' the SI lottery are now PAYING for Spanish classes at the same school for their children. Surely that's plain unfair.
Maybe there was a time when SI was big enough to satisfy everyone in the district who wanted language instruction. Clearly that's not the case any more. My guess is that MI, if adopted, would also be oversubscribed. Wouldn't implementing MI, then, just make a bad, unfair situation worse?
Hoover and Ohlone are also 'choice' programs but they at least offer the same curriculum as all the other elementary schools. Plus a child can enter them at any point, unlike immersion programs, where children without the relevant language can only enter at Kindergarten.
So sure, let's give ourselves the luxury of immersion programs, but not until everyone who wants to join one is allowed to (so it is really a choice), and when every child in a PAUSD elementary school has the SAME curriculumthat means mean offering ALL PAUSD students the chance to learn a language in elementary school BEFORE any more language immersion programs get voted through.
Other public school districts in California offer languages for all in elementary grades. With some leadership and the kind of passion that the proponents of MI have shown, we could have languages for ALL rather than just a lucky few.
What do you say MI advocates?
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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 20, 2006 at 3:25 pm
I was a member of USEFL (United Supporters of Early Foreign Language), which was one of the two groups that studied foreign language immersion in the mid 1990's, and whose work is referenced here and elsewhere regarding the outcomes and benefits of immersion, FLES, other approaches that we studied. While we definitely were an advocacy group for foreign language instruction being introduced at the elementary school level, our work product generally is well regarded for its thoroughness and objectivity, both then and now.
At the time of our work, my daughter, now a PALY junior, was in nursery school. Her mother and I considered applying for her to be in Spanish Immersion, but elected for her to go to our neighborhood school instead for a variety of reasons. I must take strong exception to your blanket accusation that people such as myself received the type of preferential treatment you describe in terms of our children getting access to this program. Didn't happen that way, plain and simple, and I should know, if anyone does.
I continue to be a strong advocate of foreign language instruction starting at the elementary school level, and feel it is even more important today than I did when I spent 9 months of my evenings and weekends developing our study and report. I think that immersion and foreign language exposure both have a place in Palo Alto schools, but they are very different approaches, with different outcomes, as our report describes, and as is mentioned in this very long string.
Our family, which has no roots in Spanish or Chinese speaking countries, believes so much in the benefits of children acquiring foreign language skills. To whit, our daughter has taken Spanish every year she has attended Palo Alto schools when it was offered (starting at Jordan Middle School) and she has taken private Mandarin lessons for 3 years now, studied in Beijing last summer, and wants to go back to Beijing to study again next summer. She is an excellent student in both languages, and her English skills are pretty darn good too. (BTW, she also does well in math and science, to speak to a question asked by some in the string earlier.)
Is my daughter better off and better prepared to face the challenges and opportunities of college and a career beyond because these language skills are part of her education foundation? You bet she is! At the end of the day, isn't what this whole matter is all about? I am not one to project the approach my family has taken onto anyone else, but I think our experience can be instructive, and takes some of the abstraction out of the arguments against language programs. I also suspect one would be hard pressed to find parents who regret their children being exposed to and learning other languages, starting at the earliest grade levels.
Lots of comments on this string, some arcane, some thoughtful, some paranoid. Anything that is done is going to have problems, issues, and unexpected occurences. But, as a parent who helped develop the policy and immersion program we currently have in PAUSD, and as a parent who fostered and encouraged my own child to develop foreign language skills, I can say unequivocally that those are two things of which I am most proud.
I hope when we all look back at this time a dozen years hence, our community has a similar sense of satisfaction about its language policy and programs, and the impact they have had on each of our own children as they prepare to be part of the world they will live in this century.
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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 21, 2006 at 2:06 pm
Thanks for your reply. Here is my take on what you stated:
--If there were foreign language instruction as part of the basic instruction rubrik, meaning it was offered/accessible to all, you are OK with it. Do I have that right? I am not asking if you support the idea that foreign language should be part of the basic program, merely do I have your thought in principle right that if we have it, all should receive it?
--Similarly, I perceive the principle you have extends to any programs that are above and beyond the basic, which you may view language as being, along with other examples you cite such as science labs and music. If it is offered, it should be available to all. Do I have that right?
--If I do have it right, there appears to be "room" in your framework for customizing delivery of programs for different achievement levels, for example advanced or remedial, if a program lends itself to such an approach. Art may, field trips may not, for example.
--It also appears, if I understand your framework, that alternative teaching methodologies that accomplish these (leave language out of it, just stick to what we have at present) are acceptable, but they should be available to anyone who wants to participate, not limited to a certain number of students. So, for example, if Ohlone's program is oversubscribed, we would need to come up with more capacity somewhere (?) to accomodate anyone who wants such an instruction method. I don't want to put words in your mouth, so please tell me if I am following your thought process accurately and fairly.
If I am close to the mark on my understanding of your principles and framework, it would appear that the following issues present themselves to Palo Alto schools:
--What do we do about existing programs that are geared toward different achievement levels or instruction methodologies if they currently are oversubscribed? Say, Young 5's?
--Should there be foreign language exposure (i.e. something like FLES) as part of our basic elementary school program? If the answer is yes, what does that imply for alternative teaching menthodologies, of which immersion is the prominent example, for those desiring a more advanced acheivement level? If the answer is no, that I where I part company, since I believe that foreign language instruction should be part of the basics.
--If there are benefits to some of these different achievement level and different teaching methodologies that can be accomplished, should we consider introducing new ones, even if they will be oversubscribed? Not at the expense of meeting the basics, of course. But if resources are such that demand outstrips supply, are we better off not offering it at all? Or should we offer it to as many as is feasible, with an assurance that those who do participate are equitably selected, no favoritism, but not all who wish to participate will be able to do so. Adding to the Music program, to use one of your examples?
--If we want to introduce new instruction into the district curriculum, and the level of effort to do so across the board requires some planning and time to get implemented, do programs that would fall under that, but which are part of an alternative teaching methodology or achievement level, get put on hold until the entire curriculum is overhauled, even if these other programs can be implemented on a different, faster time frame? What's the "on-ramp strategy," or is there more than one that is possible?
If I were to describe the Palo Alto schools currently, I would say that we have a number of different programs and teaching methodologies to meet the various demands and interests of our diverse student body. It goes without saying that all the basics must be covered--that is the foundation all our students must have. We are able to customize delivery, and do so with several schools and programs we have in place, but not everyone can participate who wants to. Despite the fact that each one is not universally available, the aggregate of them provides most of our students educational opportunities, and as a result, on the whole our students get an outstanding educational experience, and the District is recognized as being one of the better ones in the country.
I happen to believe that foreign language exposure starting at the elementary school level is a big gap in our instructional approach, and all our students should have such exposure. I also believe that immersion faces the practical realities no different than other programs that are not available to all who want to participate, and fits in with the need to provide foreign language education starting at the elementary school level.
This has become a discussion more about what do we do above and beyond the basics, less about language instruction per se. If we are to apply a set of principles to this question, they should apply to anything other than what is included in the basics, if such items are to be given full and fair consideration. Applying them selectively, which is how I preceive how some are treating the Mandarin Immersion question, makes for an unlevel playing field.
I am OK with people questioning MI because they don't think it is a District priority (as I and many other believe language should be), and wanting to be sure a new program does not get introduced at the expense of something fundamental that is not getting done. I recognize that there are practical matters around implementation that attend any program or initiative that is undertaken. I would like for us to think less about "hunkering down," and instead be asking ourselves what the role language instruction should have in preparing our kids for the world in which they will live. But, maybe I am too idealistic....
I also think no matter what someone's opinions are on this matter, the PACE people have demonstrated a great deal of dedication and professionalism in their advocacy for this initiative (full discolsure, I have no affiliation whatsoever with PACE.) If you want to recognize something that makes this community special, PACE is a fine example of how volunteers who are passionate about something can make a difference and help our community reach and grow.
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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2006 at 3:03 pm
If there are basics they should be offered to all students. If we are leaving some students out of the basics, then we are not doing our job as a public school system.
I believe we can stop here, because I don't believe PAUSD has adequately covered its basics.
However, if the basics were covered,
If we have alternatives delivery methods to reach different learning approaches (still about the basics), then if they are valued by the community and oversubscribed, (and are effective relative to our expectations for PAUSD performance standards, meet our policy guidelines, and are cost efficient use of public resources), then I believe that expansion of those program should be given priority over new speciality programs.
I have no idea if our currente alternative choice programs meet the criteria set forth in the distrct policy guidelines because we have inadequate reporting on these programs today. For example, no financial reporting has occured to prove they are cost neutral and that they are similar in cost per pupil to other program (Ohlone and Hoover, may be visible because they sit alone in a school, so this may be visible for those schools. I don't know I haven't studied it.) But it would be difficult for me to defend explanding current choice programs without a regular reporting on the variuos guidelines we've set forth forth those programs.
So we're not here, but assuming were were, I'd go to the next level.
If we cover our basics, and are ready to move into specialty enrichment areas with limited reach, limited appeal, etc., then our community should enter into a prioritization process to discuss which ones should be offered, and how best to offer enrichment with the broadest reach possible.
In essence I feel the immersion approach to language is like an olypmic training camp for atheletes, the 'perfect' training ground. We give all kids some PE, we offer some PE electives, like afterschool teams (which we pay extra for in PAUSD) - and because the overall community has prioritized sports and PE in. But what we don't offer is olympic level training camps for our atheletes. If they are qualified and wish to take it to the extreme, they go out and find that training privately. Which is appropriate. We certainly can not offer olympic training camps, and no basic PE classes at the same time. We can't even say, we'll open an Olympic training camp, and maybe later talk about basic PE classes.
FYI, I think you and I personally part company on language as a basic and perhaps even language as the next most important priority. However, if I saw a sound decision making approach using district and community priorities as the basis, I would support language instruction for all as part of the basics.
My personal lean would be that we have not met the requirements of basics for all because we have an achievemnt gap population that is not being properly addressed. All secondary and elementary principals said in their SIP reviews that closing the achievment gap was their number one unsolved priority issue, and more effort was needed there (none mentioned language).
I feel that if any program deserves to be considered for expansion to reach all who need it, it would be the Young Fives program, for addressing the achievement gap. Its practically a sin that children who need the young fives program are being turned away. Those will be the children most at risk in the future. In my opinion, that's not an optional enrichment, that's a basic.
Lastly, I don't agree that because PACE has been persistent that it validates their program, or makes it any better of an idea for PAUSD. In fact, I think the board is making a big mistake if they take on programs reactively, and out of context of a strategic priority setting process because of one vocal, persistent and cash rich group.
(Al, I hear you, I agree.)
It sickens me to think half a school is going to get eviction notices to vacate their neighborhood school family, so a special interest program can get their cozy little spot. Its a travesty of justice as far as I'm concerned. Its messed up.
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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 21, 2006 at 4:27 pm
Just a quick reply. I am spending way too much time on this.
In general, I think your thought process in your last e-mail is quite sound, and I appreciate that. Thinking about anything using such an approach is a thoughtful way to go about it, and reasonable people can come to different conclusions and make different choices along that pathway, as I think you and I do around language.
One thing that I think neither of us has an answer to is are there programs in place or proposed that are going on at the expense of the kids who are not achieving at targeted levels? I happen to agree with you about expanding Young 5's. I am unclear if some of the other concepts we have been discussing are impeding our community from helping our children achieve at level. There may be other factors that are contributing to that. It is something I have not studied enough to understand that, but care should be taken here. Maybe we only can do things to close the achievement gap, and other things have to be on hold until we have in place measures to do that. Maybe we can do other things concurrenlty with closing the gap, one does not get in the way of the other.
I am skeptical about it being a pure trade-off between the two, with the limited understanding that I have of the achievment target issues. But, if there is information out there that can help the community understand the trade-offs better, let's have a look at it, it is an important thing for us to address.
As for enrichment, the tricky part here is that going deep on something, as any enrichment program is typically designed to do, and broad reach as you suggest sounds great in theory, but is that how it really works? Sometimes yes, sometimes no, but I think we have many programs in place which will never have a broad reach, but are an important part of the education tapestry in PAUSD. Are we wrong to have them? Personally, I think not, I think we are better for them, whether our own kid participates in them or not. But that's my opinion, my bias, it's a good topic for people to chew over at some social function, and I am sure the thinking would be all over the board.
Neither of us will change the other's mind about what an immersion program is all about. But, I am not sure that I see the Olympic training analogy. After 11 years of Spanish Immersion in Palo Alto schools, do you think that is an apt description of it? I am hard pressed to come up on the spot with an alternative analogy, but there has to be an alternative that is closer to the mark. It is not that elite a program, it is closer to the other programs, such Hoover and Ohlone. Truly elite does not have a place in public school education, on that we agree.
And yes, I agree with you that there are some gaps in our data and knowledge about a number of things we have going on in many programs in the schools now. By all means, let's get the data and use it, progress is being made there, thank you PIE. Much of my advocacy for language is data driven, as a result of my efforts some years ago to get Spanish Immersion introduced. That data does suggest quite strongly that language exposure has a great deal of benefit to children at the elementary school level, on a variety of measures.
To close, what the PACE people are working on in Palo Alto is comparable to what is going on in many many communities all over the country. There is a larger context to what they are doing locally, a good context in my opinion. Part of what they are doing is something my group failed to do 12 years ago, and that is to get our School Board to figure out what the policy and priority is around language education in our school district. Much will be settled when the Board and Administration choose the policy and priority this district will follow around language going forward. It looks like that will happen fairly soon, 12 years after it first was raised here in town.