Guest Opinion: Surely, I believed, officials would see the flaws in Mandarin Immersion. Surely.
I was raised in Palo Alto schools, and will have my third kindergartner entering those schools in 2008. As a mother and a property owner in Palo Alto, I care about the continued quality and diversity of our schools.
When I first heard about the Mandarin Immersion proposal (MI), I dismissed it, as many people do. The first and most obvious question — "How will it help the school district achieve our goals?" — had no good answer. It seemed so obvious that it was not a district priority, would only reach a tiny slice of the population, would require an unfair lottery selection process, and would divide our schools and our community to such an extent, that I thought surely no administrators or board members would be willing to squander our scarce resources on such a tangential program.
I was wrong.
Apparently the proponents had enough financial backing, doggedness and the ear of a few sympathetic board members willing to suspend reason for long enough to allow a feasibility study. Perhaps the board was tempted with the possibility of big grant dollars for this program. But perhaps I would learn the error of my thinking.
Surely (I thought) a feasibility study would come back with a measured discussion of financial risk — the risk of creating optional new enrollment growth, even greater than already projected by the Attendance Area Review Group. Growth in our basic aid district cuts into per-pupil spending, unless it comes with revenue greater than $10,000 per pupil per year — which this will not.
And surely administrators will discuss the district overhead that will be diverted to such a small specialty program, at the cost of focus on broadly accepted district-wide priorities. And surely the study would discuss how the premise of a small, special-interest-group-funded program runs counter to the principles we value of equity in curriculum and equity in funding across our district.
The complexity and challenges to our Partners in Education funding premises will be aired, I believed.
I was sure the feasibility study would discuss the challenges of the Mandarin language, how different it is than Spanish, and show how many local programs' struggle to serve and retain their students (Cupertino, for example). And I was sure we would get a well-balanced report from our own Spanish Immersion principal detailing the challenges our district will face during start up.
Surely the studiers would come back with plenty of enrollment and performance data showing the challenges model programs face. They would justify claims of this program's ability to attract diversity representative of this community. And they would certainly discuss how the community is severely divided on the concept of adding more choice programs in our small district, and point out that we do not yet collectively rank language as a high enough priority to offer to all elementary students.
In fact, closing the achievement gap kid by kid is not improved by adding yet another program that would lavish enrichment and disparate educational opportunity on the highest performing students. Surely, an unbiased, well-documented study could not fail to present both sides for consideration.
I was wrong again.
And I wondered if it was true that the implications of the flattening world economy indeed mean I should be training my 3 year old now to speak Mandarin. Is the world economy going to be speaking Mandarin in 15 years? Are all the good jobs going to China?
Surely, the feasibility study would study these statements for value — truth or hype? In the meantime, I looked at the RAND study and went to university Web sites and Googled on skills for the 21st century. And lo and behold I found that critical thinking, leadership, math, science, technology, English language arts and problem solving are the skills I most need to worry about for my children's future.
Some kids will benefit from dual language, but most will benefit from strength in core subjects and from life skills that allow them to excel in college. I found this balanced view of the future within minutes on the Web.
Surely the administrators conducting the feasibility study would educate us on PAUSD's role in this future and how Mandarin might help a few but didn't do a thing for most. Certainly this program can't help 95 percent of our kids who won't get in. I thought the administrators would show us a path toward achieving the greatest benefit for the most students.
And I was wrong again.
So I ask myself, if the MI concept and the feasibility study that wholeheartedly defends it went so wrong, will the members of our Board of Education finally stand up in the end and make this right for the community? Surely they will.
Jamie Maltz is a longtime Palo Alto resident and parent. She has an MBA from Santa Clara University and is a Financial Analyst at a large Silicon Valley technology company. She can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional counterpoints to the MI feasibility study are at www.paee.us.