Palo Alto students, teachers give mixed opinions on foreign-language education

Firm evaluates how well school district instructs students in world languages

Read Entrepreneurial mom pairs Mandarin tutors with immersion students

Read Survey: Differing visions for world-language programs

"Strong," "innovative," "creative" -- as well as "disjointed," "not supported" and "gaps" -- are all words Palo Alto teachers chose to describe the school district's K-12 world-language programs.

They gave these descriptors during focus group interviews that the Hanover Research Group conducted in May as part of a comprehensive evaluation commissioned by the district earlier this year of the school district's world-language offerings.

The interviews, released this week in the first of several reports due from Hanover, paint a picture of a system with both successes and failures: High-quality instruction and teachers are in high demand and are fostering clear student success -- yet they operate within a disjointed system hindered by poor communication and lack of alignment across grade levels.

Hanover held the focus groups with groups of Gunn and Palo Alto high school world-language teachers; English and Mandarin-immersion teachers from Ohlone Elementary School; English and Spanish-immersion teachers from Escondido Elementary School; and parents and community members.

Three main questions were explored: how Palo Alto Unified's language immersion programs are perceived and demanded in comparison to more traditional language instruction; what might be the most appropriate and effective way to facilitate world-language programs across the district; and if and how the district should expand its language offerings, particularly at the elementary school level.

The responses all illustrate a need for the district to better coordinate its world-language programs and also lend support to the long-debated proposal of bringing foreign-language instruction to Palo Alto's elementary schools.

Elementary and high school teachers attributed the lack of alignment to the absence of a full-time, high-level administrator with world-language expertise and experience to set a clear, unified vision for the district's language programs.

Earlier this year, it was announced that Chuck Merritt, principal of El Carmelo Elementary School, would become the district's world-languages administrator, a new position covering pre-K through high school. He will continue as an elementary school principal as well, though he's moving to Escondido, which houses the district's longtime Spanish-immersion program. Merritt does have a world-language background: He has taught high school Spanish in Fremont and Palo Alto; English as a foreign language at the middle school level in Madrid, Spain; and recently, Languages Other Than English (LOTE) teaching methods for Fresno Pacific University, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Merritt will be working with the district's world-language steering committee to coordinate curriculum, instruction and assessment at all five middle and high schools and the Mandarin- and Spanish-immersion programs at Escondido and Ohlone. He wrote in an email last week that he will also be putting together a proposal for the board to consider increasing world-language opportunities for elementary students.

Focus group participants highlighted the current gap in middle school world languages as "the most pressing articulation issue, especially for immersion students," Hanover's report states. The groups strongly recommended that the district consider adding more language classes at the middle schools, especially to support immersion students, before expanding at the elementary schools.

"The district has not addressed how to bridge the immersion programs and the secondary programs," Marilyn Cook, former Palo Alto associate superintendent and chair of the district's foreign language in elementary school (FLES) committee in 2007-08, said in a separate set of "stakeholder interviews" conducted by Hanover. "That's, from my perspective, a burning issue."

After pleas from Ohlone parents this year to bridge the middle school gap, the Board of Education approved in February a pilot Mandarin-immersion program to start at Jordan Middle School this fall. Despite the victory for those parents, it's a class rather than true immersion. Ohlone students coming from an environment in which they were taught core subjects like math and science in Mandarin will get one hour of language instruction four days a week.

"Even if it's only one hour four days a week, it has to be an intense program that starts the children where they're already at in the language and doesn't recreate something that's happened before," Stanford Graduate School of Education professor and language researcher Amado Padilla said in an interview with the Weekly. Padilla has been studying the Ohlone program since its inception in 2008 and recently released a study comparing Mandarin-immersion students' proficiency to that of high school students taking high-level AP courses.

"These kids are highly literate for their age group in Mandarin. The program needs to start from where they are at if they want to really build continuity and be a successful bridge program," Padilla added.

The Ohlone graduates heading to Jordan will also be in class with native speakers who were not in the immersion program but took a test and were selected to fill the pilot class. Twenty students have enrolled in the Jordan program as of last week, according to Director of Secondary Education Katherine Baker.

The Mandarin pilot is modeled after the district's Spanish "immersion" middle school program, which is also housed at Jordan. It will begin with one section for sixth-graders this fall and increase over the next two years (one section each for sixth- and seventh-graders in the 2016-17 year and one section at all three grade levels in the 2017-18 year) as long as there is enough enrollment.

Prior to the creation of the new pilot program, Mandarin students coming out of Ohlone and native speakers interested in taking the language at their middle schools could access limited classes through the sixth-grade "exploratory wheel" -- six-week introductory instruction in subjects students might want to choose as electives in seventh and eighth grades -- and then, in said elective classes. This will still be the case at JLS and Terman middle schools, but there are problems, the Hanover report states.

"Students cannot always access their immersion language at their respective middle school," the report notes. "Moreover, these courses must also cater to non-immersion students who are beginning a new language, which in turn, create large disparities in student ability within classes."

Students' language skills can also suffer as a result, parents and teachers reported.

"Just one year without a language, such as during Grade 6, can set an immersion student far back in his/her language acquisition," one high school teacher said.

Parents said the middle school gap also creates a pressure to compensate by enrolling their children in private after-school and weekend language programs. Cook also noted in her interview with Hanover that many Palo Alto families don't depend on the district or push for further language instruction because there are so many private options in the area. They range from private immersion schools like the International School of the Peninsula and HeadsUp!, which offers Montessori curriculum in Mandarin and English from preschool through eighth grade, to after-school and weekend programs such as the Palo Alto Chinese School (which meets Friday nights at JLS Middle School), the Stanford Chinese School (which meets Saturdays at Gunn High) and the Mustard Seed Learning Center on East Bayshore Road. Cornerstone Learning Foundation on Manuela Avenue offers Mandarin immersion for kindergarteners and 3- to 4-year-olds as well as an after-school program, Friday night programming for middle and high schoolers and a six-week immersion summer camp.

The disjointed school district system and myriad private options mean a huge range of language skills can converge in high school classes, particularly at the entry levels, making it difficult for teachers to "provide the individualized instruction necessary to effectively teach a language," the report notes. Both Gunn and Paly offer several levels of Mandarin, Spanish, German, French and Japanese. Paly also offers American Sign Language.

"The current K-12 world language model allows for situations in which a single high school language class may contain students who have completed an immersion program but did not test into upper level or AP language classes and students who have just started to learn a language," the report states.

As students get to high school, classes are also increasingly driven by AP curriculum and academic language learning rather than fluency, teachers said.

Teachers "fear that the greatest benefits of world-language instruction (i.e. cultural exposure, communication skills, the ability to break from other subject areas) are being overshadowed by a test-centric mission," the report states.

Gunn and Paly teachers said there is rarely communication among the elementary, middle school and high school teachers, suggesting that this "exacerbates the lack of articulation across grades." They said smaller classes, more co-teaching and ensuring that teacher aides speak their class' language could also help improve and tailor instruction.


The district commissioned the Hanover study in part to determine whether or not to expand its world-language offerings, particularly at the elementary school level. This issue has been on Palo Alto's table for years, particularly since a committee dedicated to studying the issue recommended in 2008 that the district begin foreign-language classes in third grade. Ultimately, the annual $1.1 million price tag to pay for a team of traveling language teachers, a program supervisor, materials, training and program evaluation proved too expensive, particularly during a challenging economic time.

A foreign language in elementary school (FLES) model aims to whet students' appetite early on by providing approximately 90 to 135 minutes of instruction each week. It serves a very different purpose from immersion, which raises the question of what the district's broader world-language vision should be: academic language learning or fluency and cultural knowledge?

The benefits of language immersion were recently illustrated in the new Stanford Graduate School of Education study that found fourth- and fifth-graders from Ohlone's Mandarin immersion program graduated with linguistic competency comparable to that of Paly and Gunn students completing the fourth- and fifth- level AP Mandarin courses. Some of the elementary school students even outperformed the high schoolers in reading, the researchers found.

Though high school teachers participating in the Hanover focus groups said immersion students, in their experience, are more articulate, confident, willing to take risks in class and able to demonstrate greater cultural competency, they also noted that immersion-style education in elementary school is not appropriate for all students.

Padilla, also a former Palo Alto school board member who oversaw the creation of the district's Spanish-immersion program, said in a June press release announcing the results of the Ohlone comparative study that he hopes the new data "can be used as a tool for planning, implementing and sustaining well-articulated sequential language programs that begin in the early grades and continue throughout students' K-12 learning experience."

School board members Terry Godfrey, who served on the district's FLES committee in 2007 and 2008, and Ken Dauber both revived the issue during their election campaigns in the fall. Both have repeatedly mentioned it as a priority, particularly in light of the district being in much better financial shape than in 2008.

Camille Townsend, a strong supporter of the Mandarin-immersion program throughout the controversial six years it took to get approved, said in an interview she's willing to be an "active partner" in getting FLES going, but needs parents and community members to help champion the cause. (This was certainly true in the case of Mandarin immersion, where one parent in particular, Grace Mah, lead the charge for many years, lobbying the school board and enlisting other parents' support.)

"I'm very supportive of exploring this further, but it helps when you have very committed community members to the idea," she said. "You need that help."

Superintendent Max McGee said in an interview Tuesday that while he's a strong proponent of early world-language education, the district has much more work to do before considering FLES as either a requirement or option. (Most of the focus group participants opposed making it a requirement.)

Prior to coming to Palo Alto, McGee founded an international high school made up of equal numbers of American and Chinese students, traveled to Singapore this year with Palo Alto high schoolers and can frequently be heard talking about "preparing students for careers that don't exist" in a globally connected future.

He oversaw the addition of a FLES program to the Wilmette School District in Illinois, where he served as superintendent for four years. Foreign language was added as a required class at Wilmette's four elementary schools, with 90 minutes of instruction and a longer school day.

Opposition to FLES in Palo Alto has historically centered on cost and feasibility, with concern about what students might lose if foreign language is added to the regular school day. Focus group participants argued against adding FLES as a requirement, citing scheduling and teacher recruiting challenges, political concerns and "other potential adverse outcomes."

Though the focus groups indicated strong support for starting world-language instruction as early as possible, in kindergarten, "Consensus suggests that existing programs should be strengthened before any expansion takes place," the report states.

McGee said he thought this sentiment was "right on target."

"The study pointed out that there is not one way or one right way to do this," he said. "First of all, do a better job of what you're doing now, attend to the needs at the middle school and then look to expand thoughtfully and carefully."

Hanover also completed an in-depth evaluation of the Spanish-immersion program. A report on Mandarin immersion is forthcoming. All of the reports will be presented to the school board when it reconvenes in August.

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14 people like this
Posted by Polly Glot
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 17, 2015 at 8:16 am

One of the problems in middle school, at least at JLS, was that every year the kids would get a list of electives with several languages and asked to select and rank their choices. Every year, the language courses wouldn't be offered because, they said, not enough people wanted them.

It seemed almost like a divide and conquer strategy because no one wanted to be bothered with setting up a real language program at the middle school -- had they instead asked families to choose a single "language" elective, and then within that, asked people to rank the languages people wanted to take and then reliably offered the top two, for example, that would have changed the picture as far as demand.

It would really be lovely if the district would simply offer language immersion summer camps instead, that way, several languages would be available to all, and kids from across the district (and across grades) could come together and learn how to speak various languages without it having to be super academic.

Lastly, I had a chuckle when I read this: "yet they operate within a disjointed system hindered by poor communication" (When have we heard THAT before?! Some of us parents could have told them that for free.) I hope Hanover will make an overt effort to reach out to people who have left the system (or literally been pushed out by harassment by district employees). They'll learn a great deal more than they will from district insiders. If they're there to solve problems, they should be looking to those who had them and/or tried to solve them.

14 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 17, 2015 at 8:18 am

As the parent of a student struggling with a foreign language, I have had to resort to getting a tutor for my child. The tutor is doing a wonderful job of speaking in English about such things as word order, tenses, making plurals, etc. with my child who is getting it. The classroom teacher just uses the foreign language in the classroom and never speaks English. The difference really helps my child.

I have no problems with conversational practice in the target language - old fashioned language labs were excellent at doing this. But explaining tricky grammar principles in the foreign language does not work in my experience.

41 people like this
Posted by Did you get lucky in the lottery?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 17, 2015 at 11:30 am

Immersion advocates continue to drive the process with Townsend's help--delivering immersion foreign language education to a very small percentage of elementary school students who get lucky in the lottery while the district offers NO FOREIGN LANGUAGE AT ALL to the remaining majority of elementary school students.

If you are looking for the gap in the system, there it is. Fix that troubling inequity before you do anything else.

29 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 17, 2015 at 11:45 am

In my opinion, having school immersion programs keeps children and cultures apart rather than bringing them together. We are all here in America where English is the primary language and our kids are being taught in English. Our children should be coming together in the school setting where they can communicate in one common language that all children can speak and understand. It saddens me to see different languages being used as a way to exclude others at the elementary level.

14 people like this
Posted by Polly Glot
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 17, 2015 at 12:51 pm


"If you are looking for the gap in the system, there it is. Fix that troubling inequity before you do anything else. "

The trouble is that our school district is just riddled with favoritism and inequalities in all areas. It's part of the district office culture, they think they're above thinking of themselves as a PUBLIC district anymore. They get away with making life hell for and pushing out anyone they don't like. No one cares about parity anymore between the high school campuses, either. The favoritism culture at the district level has had bred the worst kind of suck-up insider culture within the PTA, too.

So good luck getting anyone to care about even distribution of language resources. (I personally support having immersion programs, I think we can afford it. But I'm with you, it should have come with more offerings for all.)

2 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 17, 2015 at 1:37 pm

> The tutor is doing a wonderful job of speaking in English
> about such things as word order, tenses, making plurals, etc.
> with my child who is getting it.

My high school language was Latin, starting in the 9th grade. I was introduced to the rigors of sentence construction, parts of speech, and “grammar” in a way that I had never been exposed to in the previous eight years of English instruction. In fact, I began to see English in a very different light after three years of Latin.

Much later in life, I was exposed to formal languages (via Computer Science) and even later, the history of the development of the English language—which is inexorably intertwined with the history of England. Unless a student has some idea about the framework of “grammar” as a necessary component of any language—it’s possible that they will learn to speak conversationally in a foreign language—but it’s hard to believe that they will learn much about “languages”, and how languages differ, and reflect, each other.

Unfortunately, much of what I have learned about languages has taken a lifetime to acquire. It’s probably unrealistic to expect too much from a language program that is taught by a teacher in a class room that is free to do what she wants, without any expectation of providing a quality “product”. That said, these days, there is so much teaching material on Youtube that many of the problems that students might have because of inadequate language preparation can be offered to students on-line, either through Youtube, or other on-line sources.

It makes little sense to try to teach a foreign language in a foreign language—particularly to young children, or beginners.

5 people like this
Posted by stanhutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 17, 2015 at 2:37 pm

Having a Japanese mother, our children learned Japanese as a first language by immersion. They learned English a little later as they made friends and attended preschool and kindergarten. They went to Japan every year for summer vacation to visit relatives, and got total language and cultural immersion. At Paly they took Japanese, and no surprise, aced the course. Our daughter got interesting job assignments to Japan as a result of fluency and cultural knowledge. Our son married a Japanese-born lady, and they can converse in Japanese. We still have many relatives in Japan, and would like to take our granddaughters to visit in a few years. A Japanese immersion, or at least basic Japanese (especially writing) would be a wonderful reinforcement for them. However, any other language, e.g. Mandarin or Spanish/Mexican, I would consider a waste of time that could be spent on the Arts and/or STEM, skills that are vital to the US economy and our future. The mental advantages that language has been found to bestow on multilingual people could most likely be gained from music, logic, math and science. Indeed, many people consider them foreign languages. Speaking from personal experience, the French I learned in high school and the German I learned in college have been much less useful than my experience in band in junior and high school, and statistics and logic in college. Band, statistics and logic were worthwhile electives and have enriched my life, giving me a life-long appreciation of music, an understanding of probability, and ability to detect faulty logic.

10 people like this
Posted by mutti allen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 17, 2015 at 3:45 pm

This discussion has been going on for 30+ years. I was on a Foreign Language study committee for PAUSD in the 1980's. Ask Carolyn Tucher about it. The school board really, really wanted to implement a foreign language fluency requirement for graduation from high school. Our committee met and studied for months (in the Palo Alto way.) We recommended that the only way to achieve foreign language fluency by 12th grade was to start early in elementary school. That was too expensive and too different. So the PAUSD Board still passed the high school language fluency graduation requirement. But after 2 years, none of the students could pass a test saying they were fluent in a new language after just taking high school classes, so the requirement was quietly dropped before anyone was required to graduate under the 'new' system.

The only thing that did come out of this committee was the "wheel" in Middle School. The committee thought students should at least have some brief exposure to different languages before they had to pick one to concentrate on in high school. Having a student pick Spanish who has no ability to roll R's is setting up for failure in some ways. It was also thought of as a way to have students maybe become interested in a language and culture that they had not been exposed to before.

So, I hope the PAUSD Board will go back to that recommendation of 30 years ago and give all elementary students some serious foreign language instruction -- not just those few who win the immersion lottery each year.

And for those who want a great Spanish immersion program, try looking at Los Robles Dual Language School in East Palo Alto. PAUSD students can transfer there for K-8 under the Tinsley Vountary Transfer Program, and then come back to Paly or Gunn. It's a great school, doing good education, and they need more native English speakers.

28 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 17, 2015 at 3:58 pm

Translation: We continue to have a small percentage of haves and a whole lot of have-nots.

I'm not at all surprised to learn that Padilla has a vested interest and clear bias when it comes to the immersion programs. His role in the implementation of SI should have been made clear in the earlier article about the Stanford study on MI at Ohlone. It did not seem, for example, to deal with the attrition issue that plagues immersion programs. I know for a fact that kids who had issues in MI transferred into Ohlone main despite the original claims that they would go to their neighborhood schools.

Love how Townsend's now saying the parents have to take care of the inequity in language instruction that she pushed to implement. But this goes along with Townsend's elitist attitudes about education in general--her defense of academic zero period at a school with two different suicide clusters during her tenure on the board. Really, she has no business being anywhere near a public school district.

15 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 17, 2015 at 4:14 pm

I seem to remember Grace Mah stating that she would be an advocate for FLES when she was pleading for MI. Now she is pleading for MI in Middle School (and probably will do in High School in a few years' time) but I have yet to hear her working towards FLES.

Was this a false promise on her behalf?

29 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 17, 2015 at 4:53 pm


Yep, Grace Mah claimed in the Town Forum, no less, that she would do this. As it turned out, she wasn't even active on the Ohlone Foreign Language council, which overseas Ohlone's afterschool foreign-language programs, though other MI parents were.

Grace Mah *also* agreed at the time MI went through that she wouldn't push for a middle-school MI program. But, lo and behold, as soon as her kids got within spitting range, she started pushing for the MI middle-school program. It took her a while because very few people wanted it.

She has never had much of a sense of doing what's best for the community. This has always been about Mah and other parents not wanting to pay private school tuition for private-school perks. Much of PACE came out of the International School preschool program. Not surprisingly, many of them had the attitude that other people's kids don't matter.

I mean, the last thing Jordan, with its substantial overcrowding, needs is a boutique language program. I suspect, though, in typical PAUSD pushback, they'll get sort of a half-assed MI program the way there's a half-assed SI program. By high school, these kids will be passed into the more advanced Mandarin programs and then be able to add an early AP test to their resumes, giving them an edge in the college apps.

If you think about it that way--there's a certain vested interest in not giving all Palo Alto kids an equal chance at language instruction. If you have FLES available to all, immersion becomes a less-valuable perk. Though to be fair to Mah, I think a lot of this personal-emotional stuff.

14 people like this
Posted by Ken
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 17, 2015 at 9:43 pm

Immersion instruction is effective, I don't think anyone doubts that. However, as implemented in PAUSD, this essentially means a tiny tiny fraction of students in that complete the immersion programs get a really great foreign language experience. Everyone else is screwed. There are no elementary programs, except what parents pay for after school, minimal middle school elective programs, and a bit more in high school. It certainly seems that PSUSD is either terrified of, or determined to give one parent what ever our tax dollars can buy. Thanks for another leadership failure at PAUSD and an out of touch Board.

17 people like this
Posted by Experienced Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 18, 2015 at 12:24 am

World language in elementary schools is simply to appease parents who want it all. Unless it's immersion, the language classes will not prepare them much for Jordan or Paly's world language classes, which are basically immersion because they speak NO English in PAUSD classes, which is actually a disservice to students because it's extremely frustrating and challenging. I've known capable students who have dropped Spanish because a particular Spanish teacher at Jordan is overly rigorous, and it's a shame because then the student has to try again at Paly, and this time, the grade is important for college applications. This Senor was on leave of absence last year, not sure if he is returning. One of my children only survived his class because a tutor helped. Another dropped Spanish and tried a different language at Paly.

Definitely, the Spanish and French classes are not easy at Paly, which is unfortunate because world language is a requirement for graduating from Paly AND for college admissions - required classes should not be so rigorous - leave the rigor to the Honors and AP world language classes. One of my children shadowed at Mtn. View High and in Spanish 2 class, they were speaking a lot of English. PAUSD doesn't allow any English to be spoken from Day 1. I don't know why the IS wants our students to suffer so much. Those who really want to be fluent can progress to AP classes. It's a required class - don't drag everyone along for the torture!

1 person likes this
Posted by yestolanguages
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 18, 2015 at 10:08 am

What about adding an after school language class in elementary and middle school, twice a week? The schools could offer a room at no charge and the parents could pay the tutor's fee for the class. This is not immersion, but the benefits of learning the right sounds to make and a basic vocabulary can go a long way in helping a student to master that language later in high school. Also, summer school classes could be offered.

A certain number of students would be needed to have the class take place, so it would be determined that way which languages could be offered.

@Mutti Allen -- thank you for your efforts and at least we have the language wheel! Wish there were more language offerings at the middle school level.

19 people like this
Posted by Norman
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 18, 2015 at 2:49 pm

I defy anyone to come up with hard evidence that mandatory foreign language courses produce even a mediocre usable ability with that language. Mandatory foreign language courses should be scrapped and replaced with more English essay and writing courses. This is especially true for minority students who need all of the 'real' education they can get. English is the language of the world.

16 people like this
Posted by Mom of 2
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Jul 18, 2015 at 2:53 pm

This conversation seems to be missing the point on many levels.

1. The current AP test NO LONGER covers grammar (at least for French and Spanish - I don't know bout the other languages) It focuses on comprehension and ability to communicate both orally and in written form. Teachers at the high schools should stop teaching grammar.

2. Anyone who "learns" a language will never speak fluently. A language needs to be acquired. There is a whole movement of teachers who teach this way. It is called Comprehensible Input and goes beyond the "Spanish only, Immersion vs. Grammar" debate. And it works. Read about Dr. Stephen Krashen.

3. It is not clear to me why music is mandatory for all 6th graders, but not language. I don't think one is more important than the other, but who made the decision that music trumps language - same question should be asked about why music IS offered in elementary school, but language seems to not be "worth the expense"

4. Finally, I agree that by the time kids get to high school, there can be many ability levels within a classroom. Why is there not a district-wide exam that would allow kids to be placed in the class that is right for them, and not just the next class.

5 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 18, 2015 at 2:59 pm


There are any number of things the district could do (and doesn't) to make foreign language an option for ALL students, but they don't. Ohlone has had for years (long before MI came along) an afterschool language program on Wednesdays. It's not really enough to gain a lot of proficiency, but it does serve to familiarize kids with how foreign languages work and what they sound like--so that kids from monolingual homes aren't thrown into middle-school foreign language classes stone cold. Twice a week, I suspect, would have resulted in genuine progress.

Foreign languages are a lot like music in that early exposure is a big advantage--particular for things like accent. We start foreign-language instruction for most kids at the exact point that learning a foreign language becomes more difficult (though long-term retention is better).

I argued back when the MI battle was going on that a combination of summer-school immersion followed up with language classes two or three times a week would give kids a good early grounding in foreign languages *and* be something available to whomever wanted it without taking up valuable classroom space. More advanced speakers would, of course, be in the more advanced immersion program.

But there seems to be very little interest in an even playing field around here.

2 people like this
Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 18, 2015 at 4:56 pm

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

How does the demand for dual immersion opportunities compare with the demand for mandatory or voluntary foreign language enrichment programs available to all elementary school students?

One criticism of the Spanish-English and Mandarin-English programs has been that they are unfair to those who would like their child to benefit from this instructional model but haven't won out in the lottery. Choices would seem to be: 1) keep the programs at the current size--participants benefit, other students have different sets of benefits that come from not being in a dual-immersion program, 2) eliminate both programs so no one will unfairly benefit from this effective instructional model (perhaps pair this move with more conventional foreign language exposure across all elementary schools), or 3) seek ways to offer more dual-immersion opportunities so fewer parents who want this for their child will feel shut out and resentful.

8 people like this
Posted by 56-year old PAUSD mom--Immersion is not necessary to learn language
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2015 at 10:57 am

I'm approaching sixty. When I was in third grade, I was offered French two times per week and I continued to take it through sixth grade. I learned a surprising amount that I remembered (This was not an immersion class. ). I switched to Spanish in middle school and high school.

My broken French helped me ask directions and order food when I traveled around France on a bike and Eurail in my early twenties. It helped me understand a little about French culture and the structure of both French and English. It helped me make some friends during my travels.

I'm not fluent, but I still remember fundamentals. It's useful knowledge from elementary school foreign language class.

Limiting availability of foreign language immersion to a few who are lucky in the lottery is dysfunctional inequity in a public school system. This is a serious problem. Expanding the lottery programs is NOT the solution. It's like offering music education only to the kids who get lucky in the lottery. I think we all agree that music education should be available to every child. Why is foreign language education different in our multi-cultural world?

Lottery programs displace families from what would have been their neighborhood schools. For what? To offer programs that create significant inequity of learning opportunities to children in our district. This is wrong and an improper use of public education funds, in my opinion.

Like this comment
Posted by Naturist
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 20, 2015 at 11:10 am

"The classroom teacher just uses the foreign language in the classroom and never speaks English."

Just like parents teach language to their children. How many parents inculcate their 6-month olds that "mama" is a noun?

8 people like this
Posted by parent of HS student
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 20, 2015 at 11:38 am

How about something just practical? If students in high school want to take AP language, non-native speakers should NOT be placed in AP classes with native students, or with students who have been in language immersion since kindergarten. That was the situation my child was in in an AP class at Paly and went from loving the language with straight A's to dropping the language altogether and never taking language again. Other school districts have separate classes for the native speakers, and it seems to be only fair, both to the students who are not fluent, and the ones that are, who can sail through AP classes with an easy A. The AP class at Paly was pretty much a breeze for the immersion kids and the native speakers, and the teacher was not able to gage the pace for both sets of students. Maybe a different issue but still important to address.

1 person likes this
Posted by Polly Glot
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2015 at 2:44 pm

" That was the situation my child was in in an AP class at Paly and went from loving the language with straight A's to dropping the language altogether and never taking language again."

@parent of HS student,
I'm sorry for your child's experience. You have made a really good point about many aspects of our district's educational approach, not just language. For so many areas, you could put in a blank for "language" and fill it with all kinds of subjects and endeavors, and it would apply to many children's experiences.

Our district could use an overhaul in its culture and approach to education. We could start with the giant disparity between our district's stated vision in its own vision statement and what we actually do. Constantly judging and sorting the students, and making grades so important even above learning, hurts learning. In a culture focused on learning, in which the grade was perhaps about how much each child progressed in their own journey, mixing students of different language speaking abilities wouldn't be a problem for anyone.

You have made a really good point. To you point I would add: How many parents teach language to their children by talking to them for long periods of time and rarely allowing for 2-way interaction? How many would have speaking children if the children were constantly judged, with negative consequences, every time a child tried to speak or didn't begin their speaking life making no mistakes ever?

I had language teachers who never used English, and it was a positive experience because it was a real two-way attempt at communication. That's not the problem so much as a system that is unforgiving of children being willing to explore and go through the process of learning a language which by its nature is filled with mistakes and attempts that aren't perfect. We could learn a lot from that in how we approach education in general.

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Posted by PAUSD High School Teacher
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 20, 2015 at 8:54 pm

PAUSD High School Teacher is a registered user.

Reviewing both the article and comments, I wonder if folks would be willing to consider that this young reporter may have a fairly rigid mindset that affects her perspective - that or her editor does. After speaking with this reporter in the wake of the tragedies that our community suffered, I was hopeful that the Weekly's editors would re-assign this youngster.

5 people like this
Posted by mattie
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 20, 2015 at 10:04 pm

a wise mentor once taught me the mantra, "the most expensive kind of education is education that doesn't work."

that seems quite applicable to whatever analysis of foreign language instruction we're up to here.

8 people like this
Posted by perfect example of why PAUSD needs better teacher quality
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 26, 2015 at 1:20 pm

What a nasty comment about Elena Kadvany. She's doing an amazing job, FYI. Better than PAUSD secondary teachers, that's for sure. She'd probably be a better teacher than most of them, as well as being a better reporter than the individual she replaced.

5 people like this
Posted by No class
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 29, 2015 at 4:55 pm

I would hope that the PAUSD High School Teacher is just trolling because calling someone out on their age is like calling them out on their gender, race, orientation. It's bigoted.

1 person likes this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 4, 2015 at 8:46 am

My son who struggles with foreign language has been doing an intensive language course during the summer. He has remained focus, researched some interesting topics in the subject and is thoroughly enjoying learning the language. His skills have improved dramatically.

I would say that this is the way to learn. It is not immersion, but it is a highly intensive and saturated course. His motivation was low at the start but as he has improved his enjoyment level has increased.

I would suggest that saturation camps with fun activities in the target language are an ideal way to master some degree of fluency. When conversational fluency occurs, the study of the grammar and syntax would be so much easier.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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