Language education plan may cost too much | January 18, 2008 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 18, 2008

Language education plan may cost too much

Palo Alto district's proposal suggests proficiency program start in third-grade

by Arden Pennell

A detailed new plan to start teaching foreign languages in elementary schools may be too expensive for Palo Alto, school board members told a study group Tuesday night.

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Staff Writer Arden Pennell can be e-mailed at [email protected]


Posted by read election material
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 16, 2008 at 1:43 pm

The total $1.1 million cost was unrealistic, board member Camille Townsend said.

"It looks like we've boxed ourselves again into not being able to ever do a FLES program," she said.

Ahh, our champion of foreign languages does it again!

Posted by not a fan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2008 at 2:24 pm

Flippant and dismissive about real change for the majority, but meanwhile, just so adamant about her pet specialty project MI - so she got MI and now the rest of us can go to h-e double hockey sticks. This is an amazing response given her ongoing pie-in-the-sky rantings on the fabulous PAUSD spirit "if anyone can do it, we can do it". (One of her favorite go-to's on why PAUSD should approve MI.)

I still wonder exactly WHY she has been so adamant, so vigorously insistent in defending MI. Its really just too questionable. Of all the people on the board I fully expected Townsend to take a position of lets see how we can get this done even if its going to be expensive.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2008 at 2:40 pm

I too am very surprised at Camille's attitude. As one who felt that she should not have been re-elected, I was in fact hoping that she could establish a balance on the board particularly now that she was no longer board president, however, my optomistic acquiesence is now diminished.

Posted by anyone watching?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2008 at 3:49 pm

Gee. Its too bad we couldn't find some kind of Grant that would fund foreign language education for our school district.

Oh we did? And where's that going?

(To fund a benefit that only 5% of our kids will receive.)

(Too bad the grant writers were so short sighted, and in such a hurry to push their pet project that they couldn't see the forest for the trees.)

Posted by RealityCheck
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 16, 2008 at 4:09 pm

Amazing how little comment about FLES itself here and elsewhere on this Board - everything still revolves around MI.

Just proves once again that FLES was always just a "red herring" thrown out by the anti-MI camp. They could care less about FLES.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2008 at 4:23 pm

I am one of those who Reality Check is trolling about.

I do care about FLES and want to see some progress on this front. I think that if money can be found for MI then the same effort should be made to find funding for FLES.

If Camille really thinks foreign language is a good idea for some then she should also work hard for the remainder. She campaigned as being the one with experience and now it is her experience that we need, not her throwing her hat in and saying too bad.

Posted by resident
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 17, 2008 at 12:18 am

I see Camille's comment as one stating that the *staff* has shut off FLES, not that she supports that assessment. She would like to consider other alternative methods of delivering language, and asked the staff about those, like after school programs, etc.

Posted by Sparky
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 17, 2008 at 2:40 am

What a joke. $1M so kids can speak a little Spanish? It's a great idea - right up to the time you have to pay for it. When the state budget cuts hit, this will be quite the impractical luxury. As usual, PA has its eye off the ball.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 17, 2008 at 9:44 am

Wait a sec. I'm having some problem with the logic of all this. Why would we be contemplating $1M per year for language education.

The immersion method is free (almost free - only 10K per kindergarten for one-time start up costs) and kids educated in an immersion classroom (in a language other than English) end up performing BETTER academically in all subjects, including English, when they're taught in a language other than English.

So what's the question? If its better for the kids, and its practically free, why wouldn't we just convert every single school to an immersion school? We could do as many languages as we want.

Posted by Nice One
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 17, 2008 at 10:28 am

Wonderful idea. Do a survey to get input on what languages are desired, pick a handful and dedicate each elementary school to a language. You'd have to keep a couple standard English-only schools for special cases....

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 17, 2008 at 12:07 pm

Right. We could have a chinese school, a hebrew school, a spanish school, an arabic school, a hindi school, a german school, a japanese school, etc. And of course we could separate out the achievement gap population who would be 'special cases', and send them to their own school (reserve the language schools for the smart ones - you know...). And a separate school for kids with disabilities...

It would be a real breakthrough in the definition of 'diversity' in Palo Alto.

And all for free! And the real benefit - we would all be able to say our Palo Alto kids are doing as well as national average.

What a proud day that would be.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 18, 2008 at 4:52 pm


Brilliant idea, now why didn't Camille think of that?

Susan Charles did a coffee this morning to discuss MI with parents--one of the would-be MI parents wanted to know how she could be certain that her kids wouldn't be speaking English at recess.

Damn, imagine that--your kid speaking the native language of the country he's in at recess. I mean, really, why should any of our kids bother with English? Let's rebuild the Tower of Babel right here.

Anyway, you'd think Camille might have at least paid a little lip service to FLES, just to sort of make her hypocrisy a little less egregious.

And was it just me but did Melissa Baten Caswell's smiles in Townsend's direction at the last board meeting seem a little forced?

I will give Dana Tom credit for running a more efficient meeting than Townsend ever did.

I still think immersion summer-school with year-round support would be the most cost-effective way to go. It would also make foreign language a choice.

Posted by Different Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2008 at 5:24 pm


I am really interested in what you said about the coffee at Ohlone and the comment from one parent.

Not wanting this to be a gossip session (although it does sound juicy) I am really interested if you can give us any more thoughts on this coffee. What sort of numbers were there? Were there both regular Ohlone and MI parents in equal numbers or was it more onesided? What was the atmosphere like?

I am keen to get the feeling of this almost reality. Kindergarten registration is right on the calendar and I think we may be in for a few shocks.

Posted by Different Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2008 at 5:27 pm

I only saw a little of the school board meeting, but I agree with OP on the forced smiles and also how well Dana appeared to do. Not only did I think he was better than Camille at running the meeting, but also better than other Presidents over the years. Just because someone is on the board, it doesn't follow that they will make a good president. A good board member may be just that, some don't have the chairing personalities or experience to be presidents. That role takes an extra something that some have and others don't, although it does necessarily take from their usefulness to the board.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 18, 2008 at 11:19 pm

Yes, Ohlonepar, where do those parents get off making educational choices for their kids that you would not make? Appalling.

It's super that you're out there spying on MI parents, though, and spreading gossip innuendo about them. That's the old Ohlone spirit!!

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 19, 2008 at 12:06 am


Spying? I and my fellow Ohlone parents were invited. It was mostly Ohlone parents, about 50 people. And most of the people there expressed concern about what might happen to our kid's school.

MI is supposed to be at Ohlone--more than that, it's supposed to be integrated with the Ohlone community. So, yeah, any parent who's upset at the idea that her kid might speak English to kids not in the MI program shouldn't send her kid to the MI program at Ohlone. Or any public school.

I am an Ohlone parent, Susan Charles would love to get us on board with the MI program--posts like yours--where you accuse me of spying on my own damn school meeting do not help your cause.

I think you owe me an apology.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 19, 2008 at 12:35 am

Different Parent,

Just to get back to you. No real gossip. Charles says she can't guarantee that Ohlone will keep its own 3.5 strands, though she thinks MI is limited in scope because of the limited number of native Mandarin speakers--SI has a problem getting enough native Spanish speakers and there are lots more Spanish speakers out there (i.e. East Palo Alto).

Also said she said she'd threatened to quit if the MI program was at Ohlone, but not part of the Ohlone way. A fellow parent said to me afterwards that he thought Charles thought MI wouldn't stay at Ohlone, but would end up at Garland.

Given the attitude shown by Parent/Midtown, who immediately assumed that MI somehow has nothing to do with the rest of Ohlone and therefore I could only be *spying* on such a meeting, I suspect that the MI crowd don't really want to be assimilated by the rest of us and will, indeed, go after Garland in three years.

Frankly, I think the board should have just let the charter through--so far, the MI crowd isn't doing well on "plays well with others" and "shares school facilities".

Posted by Seth
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 19, 2008 at 7:53 am

For shame, Ohlonepar. Spying and spreading gossip. You owe the community, MI and non-MI, an apology.

Posted by perspective
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 19, 2008 at 9:31 am


Posted by FLES proponent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 19, 2008 at 10:16 am

I have a suggestion for coming up with part of the money for a FLES program. The district applied for and received a matching federal FLAP grant of almost $200K for the Mandarin immersion program. This grant is available for up to three years, and has to be reapplied for each year.

The grant allocation is for up to $280K for each of the next two years. There’s no requirement that the language be Mandarin. Indeed, Superintendent Skelly’s former district of Poway received a FLAP grant this year for Spanish.

Why doesn’t the district apply for 2nd and 3rd year FLAP grants to help fund startup costs for our FLES program?

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 19, 2008 at 12:54 pm


When does reporting what happened at a meeting to which I was invited constitute spreading gossip? And about my kid's school? What is it that you think newspapers do, anyway?

You need a course in American history.

But let's face it, you're *embarrassed* by what that woman asked. It's a little too revealing of a certain exclusionist undercurrent in a chunk of the pro-MI crowd. (Won't work, by the way, the heritage languages tend to disappear by the third generation in this country. Even among the Hispanics, which surprised me, given how big the Spanish-speaking population is here and the relative easiness of the language. It seems to be the cost of assimilation--that and exogamy. Just who else is on that playground?)

You're just blaming the messenger in this case. I didn't make her ask the question. I didn't create her concerns.


You'd think Camille Townsend might suggest such a tactic since she thinks languages are so important . . .

Posted by Seth
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 19, 2008 at 4:02 pm


You missed the point: you're FREE to gossip and but that doesn't make it a GOOD thing.

You should be ashamed of spreading gossip and drawing obviously false conclusions about people.

Within the context of an immersion program, a parent wanted to know about maximizing the use of the target language. Seems natural enough. That parent just needs information about how MI will be fitting into a particular school. Finito.

Instead you curse her, take a swip at her patriotism, accuse her of wanting to balkanize the district, assume she doesn't care if her kids learn English, distort her meaning into wanting her kid to avoid non-MI kids, accuse her of exclusionist leanings, and accuse MI parents generally of exclusionist leanings.

Obviously nonsense, every last bit of it.

Face it: you brought bad faith and bad intent to your spying excursion and your defensiveness betrays your shame.

As I recall, during the debate, you threatened to make MI parents and their children feel unwelcome at Ohlone. Looks like you're as good as your word.

Posted by perspective
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 19, 2008 at 5:27 pm


Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 20, 2008 at 12:08 am

Thanks Perspective, I don't think Seth is precisely a troll, more a bitter MIer. It was definitely trolling in the GATE thread--but this is its subject.


Again, reporting what was said in a meeting isn't gossip. As I said, it clearly embarrasses you--thus your attempt to divert attention from it by launching an attack on me.

I should add that Charles responding by saying that the school doesn't police its children at recess.

Try to remember that there are no MI parents *yet*--I suspect an unwillingness to integrate with the Ohlone community would work against one in the essay.

You're trying to have it both ways--defending someone who doesn't want her kids to mix with non-MI kids and attacking me for noting this as being unwelcoming.

Why on earth would someone who wants to keep her kid from playing with my English-speaking kid be someone I'd want to welcome?

Or wants to be welcomed?

Like I said, I think you're embarrassed--maybe you ought to be.

Posted by Seth
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2008 at 10:14 am


You still didn't get it. I'll break it down.

An immersion parent wanted to know about maximizing the immersion experience for her child.

You misinterpreted this (she "doesn't want her kids to play w my kids," is unwilling to integrate, exclusionist, unpatriotic, doesn't care if her kids learn English, and wants to balkanize the district). Perhaps your misinterpretation was the result of egotism or perhaps it was just willful.

In any case, it's silly for you to continue to attack this woman for views she doesn't hold. It's also shameful to spread gossip.

But thanks for owning up to being unwelcoming toward MI families (whatever your motivation might be). At least that's clear.

Posted by not an Ohlone parent but know some folks who go there
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 20, 2008 at 11:32 am

C'mon guys..quit! Let's not attribute motives of any type to the person who asked the question, nor expand these speculations to engulf the whole group coming into the MI program.

Suffice it to say that perhaps there was a lack of understanding of what the program will be,and further that this lack of understanding could lead to some worries about how the program will look at Ohlone.

But, for Pete's sake, let's stop assuming pristine motives OR malevelant motives, and assume we are all civilized folks who will work it out!

Posted by not an Ohlone parent but know some folks who go there
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 20, 2008 at 11:32 am

By the way...nor expand the speculation of motivations and emotions to all of the existing Ohlone folks either!

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 20, 2008 at 11:42 pm


You're funny--I mean, first of all, you assume you know exactly what was on the parent-in-question's mind. Are you the parent in question? (And, yeah, I didn't think you knew much about differentiated education.)

Second, you impute all sorts of weird things to me--i.e. you seem to think you can read my mind too. I mean, patriotism? That's way out of left field. So much so that I think it's a concern *you're* bringing to the table. You seem to feel defensive about it.

Doesn't matter *why* the parent in question doesn't want her kids playing with English-speakers at recess, by the way--it's the same result--exclusionism. If you want to restrict your kid's interactions to that degree *for whatever reason*, you should send them to a private school. Again, you would benefit by a greater understanding of American history here.

You are displaying a gross sense of entitlement here--which has always plagued the MI cause. I've seen MI supporters say they wouldn't allow their kids to play with the children of particular MI opponents. (The reverse is not true of me, by the way--in fact, my kid *is* friends with kids of people who I know support Mandarin Immersion.) It's not true of everyone who wants MI, but the separatism issue has come up more than once.

It's interesting though . . . instead of recognizing the truth that most MI parents have shown no interest in Ohlone and no enthusiasm for the Ohlone Way, you are fulminating about my being "unwelcoming".

I think you want the MI/Ohlone mash-up to fail so MI has a chance of getting Garland and MI parents gain more control of the program. But you'd like it if you could blame the failure to merge on Ohlone parents instead of the proven-to-be-divisive PACE crowd.

Some of the more honest pro-MIers have actually come forth here and said that they're counting on getting Garland in three years.


I don't think all prospective MIers are like Seth or the parent in question, but neither of them are unique either. I've been debating this issue awhile and also know a fair amount about some of the people involved. Given PACE's actions, in particular, I feel justified in my criticism of them.

It's worth remembering that when parents interested in MI were surveyed about their second choice for a school program, out of the 80 surveyed, exactly 1 was interested in Ohlone. Ohlone gets more lottery applicants than any other choice program, so the percentage of would-be MI parents interested in Ohlone is actually well below the percentage of PAUSD families in general interested in Ohlone.

Seth's attitude is indicative of the problem Ohlone faces in the Fall--a bunch of families way more interested in their boutique program than in being part of the Ohlone school community.

Frankly, I hope the parents with the worst attitudes will be screened out. Hmmm, in fact that would be interesting. If the more combative parents didn't get into MI, then the district gets the upper hand on what happens in three years.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 21, 2008 at 11:22 am

To answer the question about whether the MI kids will interact in English with the rest of the school as recess, my instincts are that they will not.

Anecdotally, I have heard that this is one of the problems with SI at Escondido, the kids do not interact and there is a feeling of two groups within the same school. This will probably happen at Ohlone.

From my experience with lower grade kids, they tend to play at recess with those in their own classrooms. Even when the new school year starts and they have new classmates, they tend to leave the old friends and stay with their own classroom friends. Best friends tend not to stick together until the upper grades and are often made because of outside school interests rather than just school alone.

Additionally, when my daughter, who is now in college, started kindergarten at Palo Verde, there was a special experimental/research program whereby the third kindergarten room was kept together with the same kids and the same teacher for kindergarten and grades 1 and 2. This room of kids became known as the room 8 kids and kept very much to themselves until 3rd grade when they were mixed up with the general grade population. My daughter barely knew the faces let alone the names of the room 8 kids and they certainly did not play together at recess the way the remainder of the grade played together. Speaking to other parents at the time, this was not unique.

For these reasons, I expect the MI kids at Ohlone will stay together speaking the same MInglish that they do in their classroom.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 21, 2008 at 2:27 pm


I think you're right. I've also heard the same thing about Escondido and the SI program.

On one hand, the 2 years with one teacher system at Ohlone creates very tight class groups.

On the other hand, however, there is a lot of deliberate class-mixing at Ohlone. The special-ed kids spend free choice time with a mainstream class. There are younger/older buddy classes with assigned buddies and projects. The afterschool language programs, which at this point have about half the school enrolled in them are mixed-age.

So, reality is that kids do stick largely (though not exclusively) to their class on the playground. However, the Ohlone Way very much emphasizes being part of the whole community. Thus, Susan Charles emphasis on MI being at Ohlone only as part of the Ohlone community.

In other words, I think Charles will work more actively to integrate the two programs than the principal does at Escondido. The teachers developing the program are both current Ohlone teachers, so part of the system. One of them, I believe, is a mentor teacher--one of the Ohlone-ist of the Ohlone.

It should be an interesting spectacle.

Posted by missed the meeting
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 21, 2008 at 7:34 pm

I hate to interrupt yet another MI discussion, but I *am* interested in FLES.

I expected little of Camille. I've never voted for her and am glad no one else will ever get the chance to vote for her again.

However, I missed the meeting and would like to know what our other elected officials chose to say or not say on the topic of FLES. Where were Barbara and Barb and Dana and Melissa on the topic? What was Dr. Skelly's response? Has the committee been disbanded already?

Thank you all for any further information you may have. And I would appreciate it if we could stick to FLES.

Posted by Frosty
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 21, 2008 at 7:38 pm

Yup - I could of told them that! Too much $$$$$.

Posted by Optimist
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 21, 2008 at 8:10 pm

I can't believe we're still playing the MI game. Language was not a top priority for the district last time priorities were set. It IS a high priority for the few parents who want Mandarin for their kids. Could have been a perfect armature for a charter, but that's not how it played out.

The rest of us should be debating how to get our priorities; not worrying whether MI will be implemented correctly or whether the remaining elementary kids get some language exposure. Fairness isn't everyone getting some language. Fairness is all kids getting access to their families' top priorities!

Posted by SageAdvice
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 21, 2008 at 8:22 pm

Sorry but people like OP are the equivalent of right-wing Clinton-haters and left-wing Bush-haters - they'll never let go. Best to just try to ignore them and take whatever they may say with a HUGE grain of salt!

Posted by Seth
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 21, 2008 at 8:51 pm


Hardy har, but you've got it backwards.

You claimed a prospective MI parent asked about language on the playground.

For my part, I said it seemed likely she was concerned about maximizing language learning. So no, I don't know exactly what is on her mind. (This has nothing to do with differentiation--raising that as part of MI shows you clearly don't know what it is.) I modestly suggested that she needed information about Ohlone (it probably seemed sensible to go to an informational meeting for information--little did she know you'd be there spying and engaging in agitprop).

You are the one who claimed to know what was on the mind of that poor parent. You accused her of wanting to balkanize the district, insisted she doesn't care if her kids learn English, distorted her meaning into wanting her kid to avoid non-MI kids, and accused her of exclusionist leanings. You also cursed her and took a swip at her patriotism. Additionally, you accused MI parents generally of exclusionist leanings.

Yours was a disorganized post, but the vitriol was unmistakable. You also said--self-righteous and proud--that you wouldn't welcome MI parents or their kids (you can be sure your kids are aware of your prejudices and bring them to the playground--good job). Pretty low. I wonder what exactly you have against parents who want their children to learn an Asian language. You should be ashamed. Susan Charles certainly would be.

I don't know what to make of your ideas about a vast conspiracy to torpedo MI at Ohlone and grab control of Garland. You need to get out more. And let MI go--it's a done deal.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 21, 2008 at 10:17 pm


Much as I'd love to see what other weird accusations you'll make, other posters have the right of it--this is a FLES thread. You'll just have to spew on without me about "swip"s at patriotism. It's okay, I'm sure MI will reoccur somewhere else, like the bad penny it is, and you can froth some more then--remember, I reassured you back in the GATE thread it would happen and it did. And here you are, just full of all sorts of marvelously bizarre hot air. (And oh how the name changes, but your song remains the same.)


I only saw part of the meeting--at which point, they were talking about budget cuts--just under a million from the looks of it. Not great, but could be a lot worse. Given the budget for FLES, I don't think the board is going speed anything through, not with reopening Garland on the menu.

Posted by Seth
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 22, 2008 at 8:40 am


Just the ad hominems, then? Super! Yes, I'm sure you'll trot your MI hobby horse out again, I take you at your word. In the meantime, we'll air out the room. Take a nice long break.

It was revealing to see you gossip and manufacture motives in the thread above--it was really just an attempt at intimidating potential MI parents. I guess that was also the point of your threats not to welcome MI kids to your school.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2008 at 9:06 am

Out of interest, I wonder how many saw the SuperNanny episode on ABC last week. I don't usually watch it, but from the trailers I thought I might make a point of it. The supernanny was working with a San Francisco area Asian family who had over scheduled their family. The eldest, a 9 year old boy, had 9 extra curricular activities, and I am not sure about the younger ones. The mother cooked meals and put them in containers to eat in the car. They had multiple backpacks in the trunk for each of their different activities.

I was shocked. The kids were stressed out and their behavior showed it. The parents thought they were doing the best for their kids, but didn't see how it was their good intentions which were at fault. The kids had Chinese school, English language arts tutoring, soccer, golf, boy scouts, piano and drum lessons, amounting to 9 hours per week.

The point I am making is that this family valued its heritage and making the kids learn chinese was a priority for them. It could easily have been a french family wanting french, or a german family wanting german, or a jewish family wanting hebrew, and they were prepared to give their kids it all outside school.

It makes sense to me that many families do want their kids to learn a language and will do what it takes to make their kids learn it. Having language options in school in the school day is something that is hugely important to a large number of people, possibly more so than pe or music. It is wrong to think of FLES as a new fangled idea which wasn't a priority in the past. The demographics of the families here are probably different than the demographics of even 10 years ago and for the average Palo Alto family today, language is definitely important and for the ones who don't value it, they are going to (if not already) become the minority.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2008 at 9:16 am

A person's motive really doesn't matter. If their actions create balkanization - the damage is done. The act of being interested in separating english speakers from non-english speakers for any reason should be illegal (and I believe it is - in fact I believe the MI parents are going to have to sign waivers forfeiting their right to have their child educated in English - I believe that's prop 209.)

If the shoe were on the other foot (an English speaker asking how to prevent their child from interacting with non-english speakers on the play ground - or asking how the schools would ensure only English would be spoken where his/her child would be present) this would be an international incident. They'd probalby have to call in the national guard.

The question of what the person's motive is is entirely irrelevent. If they didn't realize it was an inappropriate question - even more disturbing.

OP - thanks for your postings keeping us informed about the happenings on the ground at Ohlone. I hope you will continue to give us the scoop. We certainly have come to learn that we won't get open/honest communication through the formal PAUSD channels, so we rely on people who are seeing it first hand to fill us in.

And some of the above thread brings up an interesting question - one that I had not thought about before... We can see this tee-ing up already: The MI/Ohlone mash-up experiment fails (or struggles, or makes both MI and non-MI Ohlone parents and teachers exceedingly unhappy) for a combination of reasons - which reasons? Does the failure get tagged to the MI program itself, or does the failure get blamed on 'they ohlone way' experiment, or the regular ohlone population, and MI gets awarded a permanent place DESPITE failure? It certainly will be an interesting battle.

And how is success/failure to be measured? OP - can you comment on how kids at Ohlone are measured to ensure they are at district standards? Are the tested objectively? I'm just wondering if its going to be left entirely to MI proponents (for example, the MI parents or the MI teacher) solely to determine that the MI program is a success?

Posted by Here we go again
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 22, 2008 at 11:20 am

The person who asked about MI students hearing English at recess may not realize that this will be a dual-immersion program. 30% or so of the students will be native Mandarin speakers who are there to learn to speak, read and write in English. English will be used in the classroom about 10% of the time in Kindergarten (I don’t know what it will be for a combined K-1 classroom) and in increasing amounts as grade level goes up.

I hope that Susan Charles explained this so that the person who asked the question can seek out a full immersion program if that's what he/she desires. There are no inappropriate questions, just inappropriate answers if they lead someone to believe that the MI program is designed to meet the needs of every parent who wants their children to learn Mandarin.

But I, too, would like to get away the care and feeding of the hungry troll, and get back to FLES. I would also like to talk about the much ballyhooed Bregman study, which I thought was conducted so poorly that the majority of results have no validity:

---The surveys were completed by a very small, self-selected group of parents, teachers and students.
---There is no guarantee that those who answered the parent surveys were even from our school district.
---People could have completed the surveys multiple times, including online and on paper, multiple paper surveys, or online from several different computers or from the same computer with cookies deleted.
---The staff surveys were not anonymous because staff had to sign on to a district system using their ID and password to get access. This apparently limited the number of staff who responded.

I do consider the community results valid, however, because they were they only ones done by random selection.

Somehow, Menlo Park has figured out a way to offer a FLES program. Web Link
Why is it too complicated and too expensive to do it here in Palo Alto? Our district will start to lose its luster if we are the only high-performing district around that doesn’t treat foreign language education as a core academic subject.

I think we need to be much more creative in thinking about the FLES program. Look how creative our former superintendent got in placing MI at Ohlone? Location was the only major obstacle not completely glossed over by the feasibility study, and Dr. Callan came up with a way to have one strand with two classrooms. Brilliant.

I don’t support the MI program or the way the situation was dealt with from the very beginning, but you’ve gotta hand it to MFC for finding a clever way to divert attention from that little matter of the management trust brouhaha and at the same time penalize Susan Charles for her part in it.

Posted by terryg
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 22, 2008 at 11:48 am

Of course FLES is somewhat expensive, it's intended to be offered to all elementary school students while immersion is a very small subset. The $1.1M price tag is <1% of the overall annual budget so it's not moving mountains to afford it. I've noticed several people have posted here ideas about summer programs. I believe if we make it available it has to be available to all students and afterschool or summer precludes a lot students.

Once the district (and all its constituents) decide the objective (i.e. exposure, proficiency, the cognitive benefits, etc) then a program can be designed to fit. If it's only exposure then it's a different program than the FLES team suggested. The FLES team developed several scenarios and presented the one that was most likely to result in the proficiency that would be a solid springboard for further language study.

I'll be interested to see what the strategic planning process yields. After that the FLES team's work can be used to design a program.

Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2008 at 12:28 pm


Not sure how FLES addresses the need you point out of families wanting kids to learn the language of their heritage. All kids will learn the same language, at least within a class/school, I believe - so unless your heritage happens to be that language, you are out of luck. Am I missing something?

TerryG, maybe you think 1% of the budget is ok for FLES - I think it is shockingly high, probably DOA as a proposal. If we made summer/afterschool available at a fraction of the cost (even with a modest tuition), that would be a better solution in my mind, even though some children might not be able to participate. Financial reality weighs heavy on public education, especially for a "nice to have" item like FLES.

Posted by different Ohlone Parent
a resident of Ohlone School
on Jan 22, 2008 at 12:30 pm

I just want to clarify something for Here we go again. Susan Charles said at the coffee last Friday that the classrooms would be 50% native Mandarin speakers, based on the advice the District received from some experts, I think from Stanford. This is a different ratio than originally planned. Those applying to the program will need to take a test to determine how proficient they are. I don't know and didn't think to ask if all students applying to the program will take the test or if just those looking for one of the native speaker spots will have to take the test. The real numbers then will pan out to be 5 kinder boys who are not Mandarin speakers and 5 kinder girls who are not Mandarin speakers, and 5 kinder boys who are Mandarin speakers and 5 kinder girls who are Mandarin speakers. Same odds for 1st graders.

Otherwise, I think you're spot on in the rest of your assessment.

Posted by Here we go again
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 22, 2008 at 12:46 pm

Thanks, different OP. Do you happen to know what the ratios of English to Mandarin instruction will be at each combined grade level?

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 22, 2008 at 1:59 pm


Thanks for your encouragement. I do feel like the personal attacks came up as an attempt to discourage the spread of some kinds of information.

Ohlone kids are tested like other kids in the district. My kid's teacher does one-on-one testing before the conferences and then tells us the results--what level reading and what level they're expected to reach at what grade; what math concepts do they or don't they understand and in what grade does that understanding occur on average. I don't know how they'll do it in MI, but I assume they'll do something similar.

Back to FLES,

I'm not opposed to FLES--I think Menlo Park is doing the practical thing by picking Spanish; it's easy enough that kids will obtain some proficiency in it and its widely spoken in California. It's also connected to several other popular languages.

I have spoken up numerous times in favor of some kind of summer school/afterschool program combo. While I realize it can't be guaranteed to every child, it's got some advantages; it's flexible--it would be relatively easy to offer multiple languages; it's cost-effective--summer school takes advantage of otherwise vacant space. (The summer school tuition would be relatively low and could certainly be waived in cases of hardship.); I also think, as someone who did an immersion course at the college level, that it may well be the most effective way to teach a language. If you use a language for hours a day over a six-week period, it's easier to retain and use than if the same amount of instruction is spread out over the period of a year.

Also, I think there's a very real debate in the community as to whether they want the school day expanded for another subject. There are a lot of second languages already spoken here. If your family already speaks Spanish at home, do you want your child to spend time on it in class or not?

Diff OP,

When you break down the numbers--wow--that's not a lot of spots on the English-speaking side and a lot of spots on the Mandarin side. I wonder if the'll accept fluency in another Chinese dialect? The 50 percent native-Mandarin speaker issue pretty much limits the program to one strand for the forseeable future.

Posted by Parent - Not buying it
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2008 at 2:17 pm

Interesting comments from different OP. This is worth an email to the board - particularly Dana and Barb Mitchell. The board members last year were expressly against a 50% ratio - which is clearly loading this program with a demographic non-representative of the district demographic.

if this is true, then the program fails the requirements for choice programs as set forth in the choice program guidelines. Is our board allowing this? Or is this an executive decision by Susan Charles and will the board step in? I want to know if PAUSD is rolling out a program that what was approved by the board - or not.

In fact - the feasibility study was CHANGED from its original version to its final version, on expressly this point. What's the deal?

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2008 at 2:35 pm

Is this suggesting that my child will be profiled out of a beneficial public education program that provides a ~better~ education than he can receive through the normal PAUSD classroom (ie: bilingual education and all the benefits that suggests) based on the language he speaks?

hmmm. Sounds like I need a civil rights lawyer.

Posted by read the election material
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 22, 2008 at 3:20 pm

Parent, yes I saw that episode. It was interesting to see that the one activity that the children hated was the one the parents' wanted the most. I doubt the children will be forcing it onto their children - kind of the "3rd generation" thing mentioned above.
This seems like a common theme. Even in the surveys done for this district, parents gave languages a much higher priority than teachers/students.
It does appear that there should be some sort of "option" available to parents where they could choose between subjects.

Posted by terryg
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 22, 2008 at 3:35 pm

I think your comment "even though some children might not be able to participate" is a non-starter. I'm not looking to educate only the kids who can afford it in our public schools.
Other Terry

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 22, 2008 at 5:29 pm


I don't think it would be an issue of families not being able to afford it as an issue of affordability. Summer school's cheaper than most summer-school activities and I'm sure waivers could be arranged. After all, there's no rent involved, so start-up costs are low. My kid's once-a-week language class is very affordable, by far the cheapest afterschool activity. (Thanks PTA).

Not everyone's around in the summer, but I think a Summer program combined with school year support--maybe during part of the schoolday even, since it could be less than 75 minutes a week--should be doable and available to whoever wants it. Which is more than we have now.

P&P, damn, that's right, the whole ratio was a big thing with Barb Mitchell. Sounds like the program's demands are at odds with equity within the system. This could be a long-term problem . . . you'd have problems approving a charter with this kind of issue, I'd think.

Damn, I wish I'd seen that Supernanny--the scenario's just so Bay Area. Now, if Supernanny were on cable, I know I'd see some repeat at some point.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 22, 2008 at 5:31 pm

Oops, that first sentence should read "families not being able to participate as an issue of affordability."

Also, I think a popular summer program could actually pave the way for schoolyear FLES.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2008 at 6:13 pm

I don't know quite how it works, but my kids look at all sorts of tv shows on YouTube, so you could try and find the supernanny there.

Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2008 at 6:57 pm

TerryG -

Not sure why you feel that way about an optional afterschool program - should the great be the enemy of the good?

As OP says, cost wouldn't be the issue (fees could be waived), it would be time available - like any other enrichment activity. The idea that the schools sponsor and partially pay for an enrichment that only some participate in is pretty standard - think school sports, clubs, plays, etc.

This is a way to give those who are motivated to learn a language the opportunity. Otherwise, I think the result is none get it. I am not sure my kids would participate in an afterschool program, but I think it would be a fine idea to spend a little money to make it available to those who would.

Posted by different Ohlone Parent
a resident of Ohlone School
on Jan 22, 2008 at 9:01 pm

For Here we go again: I do not know the ratio of English:Mandarin planned for each grade level. I do not remember if Susan Charles addressed this at the coffee or not. Sorry.

As far as FLES, I wish I knew who the committee spoke to when they were researching options. PiE put together that amazing Benchmark study. Many of those schools (I want to say all of them, but I don't have my copy of the study anymore to check to be sure.) have FLES programs. The whole point was that those were schools that were similar to PAUSD. Doesn't someone in one of those districts have some creative ideas about how to fund and manage a FLES program? Why not use what they've learned to make something that would work for us here. Jeepers!

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2008 at 9:34 pm

The whether or not to have FLES is just the beginning of this one. Wait until the choice of language is made because then there will be many unhappy campers.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 22, 2008 at 9:42 pm


The argument over which language . . . ugh, well, that's one of my reasons for arguing for the readily available, but most flexible program. We live in one of the most cosmopolitan areas of the world--today I talked to native speakers of Italian, Serbian, Tagalog, French, Hindi, Hebrew, Turkish and Japanese. Oh, and Spanish. And I didn't get north of Menlo Park or south of Palo Alto.

Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2008 at 9:55 pm

On PiE Study - here is the link Web Link

Page 55 has the elementary world language summary. Four of the 5 districts offer FLES (or something like); two have recently started. Interestingly, one, Wellesley, cut its FLES program 2 years ago when its budget got tight. They attempted to re-fund it the following year, I believe as part of a tax over-ride vote (similar to a parcel tax here); it failed.

So my take is that in other districts, as here, FLES is "on the bubble." It is trendy and parents like it (separate from whether it has merit, of course). But if you don't have the money, it is an easy cut. Given the current and coming enrollment growth in our district, with a likely recession upon us and cuts in state aid - it doesn't feel like the right time to add a $1M+ "nice to have."

OP's suggestion of an after-school optional program, plus a summer option, perhaps with modest tuition, makes sense to me. Perhaps that is the "creative idea" you are looking for.

Posted by Here we go again
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 22, 2008 at 10:20 pm

Different OP,
I answered my own question about the ratio of English to Mandarin in the classroom by grade grouping. It's all right here in this spiffy MI brochure: Web Link

I really like OP's ideas, because they are a start and seem, at first glance, to be affordable and doable. I actually view foreign languages as core academic subjects, and not just "nice to have." It is our district's responsibility to educate our children to be citizens of the world, and it falls short of that in my humble opinion.

But I think what OP proposes is a baby step and could help us sort out the questions of parent and student interest, what language(s) people really care about, and what level of proficiency we are interested in.

Other ideas I have for ensuring that students graduate from PAUSD with at least some foreign language exposure (currently, none is required):
- Bag the 6th grade "wheel" where students rotate through all electives for about 6 weeks each. Instead, give the kids a full year of Latin. I know, this is why I use a pseudonym. But Latin helps students with math, science, and many other foreign languages.

- require one elective in 7th or 8th grade be a foreign language. Of course exceptions could be made for special needs or already bilingual students.

- require two years of foreign language in high school. The UC's require this, as well as many of our neighboring districts.

Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2008 at 10:57 pm


I applaud you for being one of the very few in the FL discussion to point out that if we are serious about the importance of FL, FLES is just a piece, and small one at that. Requiring FL in middle and high school makes at least as much sense and leverages an existing program. If FL is the goal, why not that vs. elementary enrichment? (It is worth some thought on why we get caught up with FLES vs. upper level FL.) To me, your points on right on; I love the way you think.

Unfortunately, I disagree with you on FL's importance. While I have no objection to it, I would not put incremental time and resources on it, as the rest of the world is in a headlong rush to learn English, the lingua franca for business, popular culture, and the Internet. Very few of us have occasion to use a FL in our daily lives, and unlike most other required subjects, it is not a prerequisite for future advanced study of other subjects. We can all be "citizens of the world" without the ability to conjugate the world's verbs.

BTW: I also loved studying Latin and thought it was great. You could do a lot worse than a year of Latin. Replacing the Wheel with Latin would be a masterstroke - Scarsdale, eat our dust!

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 22, 2008 at 11:47 pm

HWGA and Terry,

Well, I think of a Summer/schoolyear combo as somewhat more than a baby step. I think the situation we have now at Ohlone as babysteps--afterschool FL once a week. If there were six weeks of summer immersion thrown in, I'd feel like my kid would really move forward in language acquisition.

I agree that foreign languages are important later on in school. However, everything I've ever read on language aquisition indicates that beginning second-language after about age 10 becomes more difficult. Earlier exposure is better, particularly for the aural parts of the language. So, anything that creates early familiarity with a second language, even if it's not to the point of acquiring proficiency seems to me valuable.

In other words, I'd rather have something over nothing at the grade-school level, even if it's not ideal.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 23, 2008 at 9:22 am

Middle School - Replacing the middle school wheel with FL would be a disservice to many of the students - as would requiring a language in middle school. The elective program - which we are lucky enough to have - keeps kids who are interested in art, music, drama, etc. interested in school. As it is, there are too many kids whose parents will only allow them to take music and FL as electives in 7 and 8th grade.

High School - although we don't require it, all of my sons friends are enrolled in a foreign language.

Posted by Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2008 at 11:24 am

My kid really wants to learn Mandarin (has been asking for three years), and the time window is closing on easy language access given his age. MI is not right for him, we need to stay at our neighborhood school. Going off campus is logistically too difficult for family reasons. We are in the process of trying to figure out how to bring some private after school Mandarin language instruction to our campus, that we can scarce afford, but the district is obviously not going to help those of us who want something other than MI. You once mentioned that Mandarin is available at Ohlone - is that true? Is it private? How much does it cost to the families? Is it after school, how many days a week?

BTW, I am really not concerned as to whether he learns the written language very well or not, just spoken for now. This story from yesterday on The World was interesting support for my feelings about that. I feel he is just as well off learning mostly to speak, using pinyin for now and a few characters, then learning the characters later, which I know from experience is different than learning the spoken language early - as this story highlights, even if you grow up immersed in the written language and are educated in it, you lose it pretty quickly if you don't constantly use it. Pinyin is being used daily now because of computers.: Web Link

Posted by Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2008 at 11:28 am

FLES--let's do it right or not at all.

Although I strongly believe in learning other languages, I don't think that summer intensive+after school once a week will bring much benefit. The time investment is too low. If there are significant benefits, let's see the studies showing them. If there are no clear-cut benefits, let's not spend a district penny on this. This sounds to me like a superficial program that strokes district and parent egos and does little for actual learning (though I'm open to being convinced by data).

If the district believes in teaching foreign language--as I do--then it ought to walk the walk and figure out a way to institute a proper program across the district that is integrated with the entire curriculum during the school year. (At which point, I can imagine that adding summer immersion would make sense.) The required budget is proportionately small, and with a little creativity we should be able to get federal money to pay for some of it.

Do it right or don't do it.

Posted by wondering about writing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2008 at 12:01 pm

That's an interestnig article. Thanks for posting it. If anyone out there know's how the MI class would work.. Will the kids spend time on spoken Mandarin, or written Mandarin? Or both? How will they progress in written English with only 20% of the time spent in English? (I assume this means speaking English across all subject matters - not just focused on the subject of English.)

My son is entering kindergarten next year. Right now (with about 4 months left in preschool, plus summer), he's not writing anything yet in English. He can't write his name yet. He can almost read, he can recognize letters and sound words out, but no interest in writing. He's not very good at holding a pencil or cutting with scissors yet. He also doesn't have much interest at all in coloring or drawing either. Art projects are practically out of the question.

Our preschool teacher says he's not at an uncommon progress level for boys. The girls in his class are WELL beyond this (writing, drawing, coloring fancy pictures...) (Any other parents of son's out there that could confirm this is "average" for 4 1/2 year old boys??? I don't know.)

Does it sound like my son would be able to progress appropriately in a classroom taught mostly in Mandarin only partially in English? Would he progress adequately in writing skills in English? Obviously writing in English is mandatory - not an option. Should I be willing to experiment? Anyone else out there in a similar situation?

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 23, 2008 at 12:42 pm

Addison has several afterschool programs (not sponsored by the school, but organized by the PTA) Web Link it the organization which teaches at Addison. You could contact your school's PTA to see if they would have any interest in hosting programs.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 23, 2008 at 12:57 pm


Ohlone's Mandarin is part of its PTA-sponsored language program. It's about $300 a year, one hour a week. I don't think it's really quite enough, but it's better than nothing. The other schools offer languages as well. Ohlone just seems to offer a wider variety: Spanish, French, Japanese, Mandarin, Hebrew for native speakers and Hindi.


As I've said, I learned basic proficiency in a language through a 10-week immersion program. I can read a newspaper and even now hold basic conversations in it. I need subtitles for a movie though. My friends who spent time in the country afterwards became reasonably fluent. Remember, immersion courses evolved as short-time programs in the first place. Six weeks in summer school will offer the same instruction hours as year's worth of in-school FLES. Just add up the hours. If we had both summer immersion and 60-90 minutes a week of school year support, I think you'd have reasonable proficiency in kids.

And our board could probably handle the cost.

Posted by Citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2008 at 1:21 pm


I don't know exactly how it will work at Ohlone, but I can tell you a little about how these programs tend to work (my kids went to one).

Typically in the early grades, the kids spend their limited English time in English language arts class. In later grades, they spend additional time using English in subject areas (history, for instance).

During Mandarin hours, the kids learn to understand the spoken language. They also learn to read and write.

Unless the teacher is ringing an alarm, don't worry about your son's level. As you note, boys tend to lag girls in fine motor skills. Don't worry if he can write yet. Get him drawing, though, so that he improves fine motor.

There is no way to know if you son would progress appropriately in a classroom taught mostly in Mandarin, nor if he would progress appropriately in a classroom taught entirely in English. But the studies show these immersion kids do great in later years (anecdotally, my kids are). Absent other considerations, I'd say go for it. It's not an experiment--it's been done successfully in many U.S. programs and is the norm in many countries.

Good luck with the lottery!

Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2008 at 1:54 pm

On "doing it right" - the FLES TF recommendation I believe is 75 minutes/week. According to OP, Ohlone's current optional after school program is 60 minutes a week. Not much difference there. Plus you get a choice of languages, not once size fits all (likely Spanish I expect).

My sense is that an after school plus summer program would like provide MORE than what is being proposed, not less.

I am having trouble seeing why an optional after school program with a modest fee (waive-able on need), plus an optional summer immersion session, doesn't provide a better result with a much lower cost and minimal impact on the district. Plus, if demand isn't there, it can easily be scaled done.

For those looking for a creative solution to get FLES, this seems like it.

Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2008 at 2:25 pm

Well, if kids could become proficient in a language in 10 weeks, this discussion wouldn't be taking place. Before we splash out money for such a proposal, we need evidence it will bear fruit.

As for FLES, it comes in a variety of forms. I'd guess an hour or two a week is nearly worthless. (Again, I'm willing to be convinced otherwise by DATA.) Let's start a useful program; we don't need window dressing.

Summer immersion--by itself--strikes me as a less-than-optimal use of money. Sure, you might be able to get as many hours as during the year, but that doesn't necessarily translate into similar results, especially when measured, say, a year afterward. Same for afterschool: if it's all compressed into one day a week, I'd guess the results are less impressive than spreading those minutes over the whole week.

No window dressing on the PAUSD dime!

Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2008 at 3:07 pm

Parent, so you doubt the effectiveness of 10 week immersion programs? Or 2x30 a week after school programs? Or both?

I think the summer immersion approach is pretty mature - I will take a look for research on it tonight, but I believe it is the preferred approach. I expect kids make more progress with summer immersion than 2-3x a week for a limited period. But you are right to say there should be evidence to support it.

2x30 or 3x25 is the typical FLES approach, at least per the task force.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 23, 2008 at 3:18 pm


We're not talking one-time summer immersion, or at least I'm not. I'd think it would be possible to do a progressive series. So, say, Spanish 1, Spanish 2, etc. and, again, bolstered by weekly usage.

If there's more than 75 minutes of language a week then I think you have to deal with the issue of what it's replacing. My feeling is that most of us put our kids in summer programs anyway--so why not a language?

As for proficiency--adults--and this should also be true of kids--can and do gain proficiency in a language in less time than you might think. This is what the Monterey Institute has done for years. Spanish, French, Italian require about 100 hours of instruction, Russian and the Chinese languages 200-plus.

So, a six-week program of say six hours a days--180 hours of a language. That's a lot--more than would be offered by 75 minutes of FLES a week. If you combined that summer time schedule with even an hour a week--say three 20-minute labs, say--you'd have a serious amount of language instruction. At the same time, you'd have some options. Let's face it, after the MI mess, the FLES language will not be Mandarin. If you're one of the parents who didn't get MI, but wants Mandarin instead of Spanish, your best bet is a flexible program that doesn't cost the district an arm and a leg.

But push comes to shove that's not really that long a time. The big key is repetition and usage. The thing about immersion is that it forces the use of a language, which helps immensely with retention.

I've known a couple of young kids who went overseas for the summer and came back able to speak the local language. They were heritage languages in both cases, so the families were speaking it. But kids can learn very quickly. Most three-year-olds have a pretty big vocabulary, after all.

I am speaking of spoken, not written, language here. But I think the window of opportunity for written language doesn't shut down the way it does for spoken. Written language is about symbol comprehension--and I think we get better at that. Also, for the European languages, the larger your Enblish vocabulary the easier it is to recognize shared vocabulary (here we get near the pro-Latin argument).

My 10 weeks of summer instruction were considered to be equivalent of a year of a college language. In terms of what I learned, how far we progressed through the text book and what I've retained, I'd say it was a fair exchange. In fact, I suspect my retention after 25 years is better simply because I really learned to use it at the time.

One other thing--because everyone in the program was working on this one language, we could and did practice the language during breaks. For the parent looking for a total immersion experience, summer programs would be shorter, but more deeply immersive than even the schoolyear immersion programs--because they could be devoted *solely* to learning a specific language.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2008 at 3:22 pm

The other aspect not discussed is the motivation of the child. For a child who wants to learn a language, either to communicate with friends or who just likes it, they will do better than a child who is forced into doing a heritage language but has no real motivation of their own. I fear for any child who is put into an after school or summer school program by parents thinking they are doing the best when the child themself would rather do sports, or ballet, or whatever.

Posted by Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2008 at 4:04 pm

Thanks, OP.

I think the writing article I linked to above is a real concern, because the wave of the future in China appears to be communicating with computer keyboard, and that means knowing pinyin. Perhaps delaying English reading is not the optimal course anymore.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 23, 2008 at 7:24 pm


Just read the link. It's kind of interesting because when I was Googling some info on Mandarin awhile ago, I came across some info. that indicated that full literacy has long been an issue in China. While the government kind of jiggles its literacy tests to make the population look about 90 percent literate, the real literacy rate is much lower than that (and always has been)--probably closer to 50 percent. The government doesn't even measure the ability to *write* Chinese when assessing literacy, just read it. So pinyin probably *is* the wave of the future in China, given the limits of computer keyboards, it almost has to be. (Also, at the same time, 300 million Chinese are learning English.)

So, anyway, if I were in your shoes, I would look for language instruction emphasizing the spoken component--kids really do seem to have a definite advantage learning a spoken language, particularly a tonal one--I'm sure it's got everything to do with that ability to retain pitches and intonations that most of us lose later. Then if he wants to, he can learn the written language later--though he could and probably would be introduced to some of the characters now.

I think what's great is that your child wants to do it. I'm with Parent in that I think it works a lot better if the child is motivated. For some reason my kid wanted to learn one language and not another one. I don't know why, but I went with it even though I think the other language made more sense. This way, my kid wants to be in the language class.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2008 at 9:30 pm


I'd be interested to see what links you dig up. Please post them.

Yeah, I'm skeptical about both 10 week immersion programs and 2x30 a week. I'd think you need 3-4x week to get real benefit (so 3x 25 seems closer to me), but as I said it's the evidence that counts, not my gut or yours.


Summer immersion could be very effective, I think, but only in support of an ongoing schoolyear program. If the district is going to spend money, they do it on kids/families who are committed. So no need for Spanish I in the summer--just for programs that dovetail with one year of schoolyear Spanish.

Sorry, but language acquisition for kids is vastly different than that for adults. Yes, I'm aware of the Monterey numbers, but proficiency is a slippery concept. In any case, the adult numbers have little bearing on children (except, perhaps, in terms of relative difficulty of languages) and none on immersion for kids. So you may give a kid a serious amount of language instruction with 3x20 and a six-week program of six hours a day, but you sure won't give him fluency.

Although I have no quibble in principle with summer immersion, it's not really comparable with going to another country (surrounded by native speakers and have no choice) or with year-round immersion (where you have native speakers).

Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2008 at 10:22 pm

Parent, just to set the expectation, given what I've seen in the past, I doubt I'll find anything that meaningfully compares, say 2x30 vs. 3x25 vs. 4x15 - there are very few random control-group studies in education, so the results tend to be directional (even if presented with statistics). Also the target is elusive - there isn't a hard standard of "proficiency" to measure against.

The better studies I've seen simply show one group of kids getting a certain kind of instruction doing better or worse than another group of (maybe) similar kids without it. The less good studies don't have any control group at all.

All that's to say - in the end, we'll be using our (somewhat informed) guts to make a judgment, both on what "works" and how far that really moves the needle.

I'll post if I find anything worthwhile.

Posted by Citizen
a resident of another community
on Jan 23, 2008 at 11:28 pm


Yes, just (carefully) read the link. I suggest you disregard Ohlonepar's comments, which are confused and smack of some kind of propaganda.

I won't bother to untangle all the misconceptions in that post, but I will explain the mistake with the greatest bearing on you and other parents considering Chinese for their kids: pinyin. Pinyin will not, despite the post, be replacing characters any time soon.

Pinyin is a subset of the European alphabet with assigned pronunciations suited to Mandarin. It was formerly used to help kids learn how to read and to give pronunciations in dictionaries. It now has another major use: text input. That is what the article is referring to. People type using a keyboard printed with Roman letters; the software makes guesses as to what characters are intended; the user selects the correct characters from possible homophones. (Note: no one is producing letters or books or even notes in pinyin itself, they are merely using it as a text input method for the computer.)

The POINT of the article is that people now rely on this pinyin input system to produce characters to such an extent that they are forgetting how to write the characters by hand.

So, there is no delaying English reading, much less the alphabet in an immersion program--the alphabet is required to make progress in both languages. You have to learn pinyin to type Chinese into a computer or look up a pronunciation, but you also have to know the characters. It's not either or.

I hope this was clear. If not, track down a Chinese speaker and ask him or her to show you. I'd also track down someone with kids in an immersion program and talk. it's not for every kid.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 24, 2008 at 12:25 am


What propaganda? Mom posted the link. I read it--at her request-- and responded. If you read Mom's original post, she says that she's not putting her kid in MI--so, that's not the issue--but was wondering what kind of other Mandarin program to put him in.

I suggested she look at something emphasizing spoken Mandarin for a couple of different reasons--the main one being that I think that kids have an easier time learning tonal languages and I think there's not the same drop-off in ease of learning a written language than there is a spoken one. She's leading the discussion on this one, not me.


Kids do learn languages differently than do adults. I've never seen anything, however, that says they have a harder time doing so. In fact, I've always read the opposite. De facto immersion--i.e. spending time in a country works better for kids than adults. Schoolyear immersion works for kids. So why wouldn't summer immersion with schoolyear support--particularly over a period of years?

And since presumably one's proficiency increases over time, why not have different levels of language in summer school? Or I suppose you could have different emphases--conversational one year, written another. (One advantage here would be that people could swap languages if they desired. I mean I know some kids who come from bilingual homes now on their third languages. I mean one thing that seems to be true is that kids who are bilingual have an easier time picking up other languages.)

Again, while I'm not opposed to FLES, I think the budget crunch, the probable debate over extending the class day and picking a specific language mean that FLES is on the slow track at best. I'm not even sure it's got a strong supporter on the current board. (Certainly not Camille) It's unlikely the board thinks it's going to get a charter threat in this case.

So what's the best we can get given the obstacles on the shortest time frame?

And, yes, honestly, I think summer immersion and school year time is a better bet for learning a language that 75 minutes of FLES a week.

As for whether it's been studied, from what people have said, this kind of strategy is used in Europe--that there are language summer camps. I'd be curious to see if anyone's tracked some results.

Again, starting this way wouldn't preclude regular FLES later on, it might even encourage it as more families get on the foreign-language bandwagon. At the very least, we could get a real sense of what the demand actually is. Is it district-wide or an anti-MI ploy? And a demand for what? Any second language? Heritage languages? Spanish?

I suppose in some way the thing to look at is how other people learn English as a second language. I mean a lot of different people using different educational systems learn to speak English as a second language and do it well. So, what are they doing?

I mean seriously, every other country but ours takes the second-language thing seriously. Well, Australia doesn't either . . . but most everybody else.

Posted by tri-lingual
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 24, 2008 at 8:46 am

OP, Most English speaking countries have about the same attitude to second languages as the US. Indeed, if you take English off the table, most countries have the same attitude as the US to learning another language.
Generally, apart from learning English, the results aren't worth the effort. You just won't use the language enough to warrant the number of years required to become fluent in it.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 24, 2008 at 9:53 am


Whether kids have a harder time is the wrong question. In some regards, yes, they learn more quickly; in others, more slowly.

I agree there ought to be various levels in the summer program--just no beginner's level for the reasons given above.

A substantial FLES program is the only real way to get language into the kids (apart from immersion)--the after-school classes have a long track record of failure. In the European schools I'm familiar with, foreign language doesn't start until 9 or 10 years old, but those kids get it at least 3 hours/week during school to start with and build quickly. The reason for good results is that they make it a major part of the curriculum and commit many hours of instructional time to it each week.

If FLES were again halted for minor budget reasons, it would be unfortunate but unsurprising. We Americans are out of sync with much of the world in devaluing language. Our loss.

Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 24, 2008 at 10:18 am

Parent, agree with you that it would be unsurprising if FLES goes by the wayside.

But disagree that it is a big loss. As Tri-Ling points out, we luck out in that our language happens to be the most of the rest of the world wants to learn and uses for business, popular culture, and the internet. There just isn't the benefit to learning a non-native language that there is with non-English speakers. Other English speaking countries are basically similar to us, so it isn't just American parochialism.

As always, I caveat that there is nothing wrong with studying FL; it's a good thing. But it is on the bubble, not a high priority, esp with the kind of time commitment that you point out is probably needed.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 24, 2008 at 12:39 pm


I don't think it should solely be summer school--while I did retain what I learned in summer immersion, I was older and a lot more motivated to learn. However, I think a summer component would give the benefits of immersion--the intensity--and then the school year exposure could keep up the retention.

As for the overall question of fluency in a second language, I don't think the aim should be fluency for every single child, but giving kids the starting blocks for fluency. Some will continue to pursue the languages later, some will not. So I see early foreign language instruction as a means of taking advantage of the aptitude kids have for languages--again, why I emphasize the spoken components.

I think it's more feasible to create a foundation for fluency than fluency itself under the given contstraints of the situation and, frankly, what I think is the political will of the community.

I think Tri and Terry are pointing to a basic truth--we don't "need" a second language in the way non-English speakers do--and we're not inclined to retain heritage languages. I mean there are more Americans of German descent than any other group, but German is pretty far down on the list of second languages.

I agree that once-a-week isn't enough, the acquisition is very slow and there's not enough during-the-week repetition. Heck, I just wish there were some language labs at least.

I think our goals aren't dissimilar on this one, but I think my approach is a little more, build on what we have and is more immediately feasible. Then expand on that groundwork. My sense from you is that a larger foundation needs to be in place from the get-go or it's not worth doing at all.

Posted by Heidi
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 24, 2008 at 12:53 pm

"I mean there are more Americans of German descent than any other group, but German is pretty far down on the list of second languages. "


I agree with a lot of what you say, but that statement, above, is the result of bannishing German, as a spoken language in public institutions, during WWI. The U.S., having once considered German for the official U.S. language, in the end decided on English. That was an excellent decision, even though my German grandfather thought it was unjust. We should have English, only, as the official language. Immigrants should be forced to learn English, as my grandfather was forced to do (kicking and screaming, but he did pretty well).

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2008 at 1:22 pm

I think it is unfair to look at language goals as fluency in the same way that it would be to look at pe as expecting everyone to become professional athletes or music as a means of producing professional orchestra musicians. No. We teach pe to teach about the importance of exercise and to give an overview of sports to provide an introduction into what a child needs to know to keep healthy and fit, and to which sports an individual would enjoy pursuing elsewhere. We teach music to teach appreciation of music and it is also supposed to be good for math and science development. Music is also an introduction for many into styles of music to pursue and whether or not you are interested in mastering an instrument or with voice. With both these subjects, there are those who are inheritantly good at the subject and those who are not, but it is still a useful educational tool.

Likewise, language instruction is taught to teach students about the bigger wider world, to enhance their own English language development and to find out if language is something they are good at. This means that we do need more than just a flavoring of the language taught (FLEX) and deliberate study is necessary (FLES).

Does this mean that every child will become fluent? No. Does it mean that every child will follow into AP level? No. What it means is that every child will realise that the English speaking world is only part of the world, that language is not code, and that if and when they travel abroad, they will be able to realise that trying to speak the local language is something they can at least put some effort into rather than walking into a foreign country and expecting everyone to speak English which is what most Americans appear to do.

Some students will be good at language and will enjoy it and follow it through. Others will struggle, but to say it is a waste of time is to belittle the exercise altogether. Education is about experiencing new ideas and learning about things which may or may not be of interest and beneficial in the future. Language is like music and pe, an opportunity for all to do something which left alone, many would never touch.

Posted by Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2008 at 2:17 pm

I speak and write Chinese. I think you missed my point, though I think you missed it because you and I probably have different viewpoints about language acquisition.

I think the article highlights an interesting issue - is the emphasis on writing in the early years as important as the emphasis on speaking? Probably not - Chinese reading and writing are easier to acquire (and to lose) in later years than Chinese speaking ability.

I think the observations about what is happening in China now with even educated adults losing their ability to write from relatively short-term changes in writing habits should have implications to early education in immersion programs. I personally would be more inclined to choose the Yew Cheung model of fluency instruction, which provides far more education in English yet still teaches fluency in speaking and writing, this report underscores my reasons.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 24, 2008 at 6:35 pm


Since you speak and write Chinese, have you investigated some of the heritage Mandarin/Cantonese programs, like the Stanford school that meets on Saturdays at Gunn? Some of the programs require that the families speak Chinese. Since you do, you can enroll your child in one of those programs. You've got some extra options as a result.My recollection in that Stanford introduces the simplified writing--Kanjin?

As for English--I hear a lot of concern about math and science on these boards, but I was thinking the other days that I've never heard a successful CEO who wasn't highly eloquent. It's part of the job requirement to speak well and speak well off the cuff. Even the weird ones like Bill Gates know how to talk well.


I actually tend to compare language acquisition quite closely to music. As with languages, it's harder to learn a new instrument as you age. As with languages, pitch and rhythm are much easier to acquire in childhood--it's much harder to learn to sing on pitch after the age of 9--though you can learn to play an instrument afterwards if the basic sense of pitch and rhythm exists.

Also, if you learn one instrument, it's much easier to learn others.

To me, much of FLES and teaching second languages in childhood is about establishing that aptitude. So, it's the possibility of fluency (with a good accent) that can be created.

And then, and I think we agree here, fluency is up to the individual and his or her family.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 24, 2008 at 9:11 pm

I disagree about the value of foreign languages. I think they add tremendous value both economically and culturally.

A stand-alone summer immersion would be a waste of money and time. It would only make sense in conjunction with a year-round program. We disagree about what that year-round program should look like.

I think a baby-step program, with few hours during the week, would not bring much gain. "Starting blocks for fluency" sounds nice, but is there any academic study underpinning this idea? Any data? Even statistically weak data? Does anyone in this field advocate such an approach? In the absence of such support, this idea strikes me as frivolous and a waste of money.

I can see that it would appeal to some parents, but I sure don't want the district paying a penny for a feel-good program that merely gives us bragging rights or looks good in a brochure.

I would support the idea if that program were robust and included plenty of class hours during the week because I think, based on the European model, that it would be efficacious. The Europeans set themselves the goal of fluency for every child: no reason not to. You may be right that the political will of the community would not support such a robust program. It's worth finding out.

I think in fact that our children will "need" a second language. It will be important in an increasingly global economy.

Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 24, 2008 at 10:00 pm

Parent -

Here's a link on FLES Research from the Council of FL Teachers Web Link

I'm not that impressed with the research from a methodology point of view, but I believe the kids learn some language over time even at the 60-90 minute a week level and it aids them in future study. Is that worth $1M+? That's a different question.

We do disagree on the importance of FL study. You can be a citizen of the world without knowing how to conjugate Spanish verbs ;-) I do extensive international business and don't find my lack of FL fluency a problem, and my high school French is not even a minor crutch. In the increasingly global economy, it is greatly in other people's interest to learn English more than any other language, and they are doing so at an increasing pace. I am not worried that our kids will miss out for lack of 3rd to 5th grade FLES. Some people value FL study more than me, and that is welcome; but I don't think it is worth the big price tag.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 24, 2008 at 11:00 pm


No one's suggested a standalone summer program. Though the fact is that such programs do, in fact, work and are used heavily at the college and grad level--Ph.D. candidates use them to meet their multiple language requirements. This has been going on for more than 30 years.

Again, if we get FLES, great. But it doesn't sound like the board's going to look for ways to spend a million when it has to cut its budget and open a new elementary.

So, are we really better off with nothing instead of something? Even if it's not ideal? Why? That strikes me a bit as cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.

As for data--well, how is *any* second language learned? Dual-immersion programs are the exception, not the rule. Are the kids in kid's once-a-week language class learning any of that language? Yes, as a matter of fact. It's slow and fluency will require more intensive instruction, but my kid now reads bits and pieces of the language and speaks some phrases; a friend whose kid's been attending afterschool language classes for a couple of years can hold a conversation in the language.

So from zero to being able to converse--are you saying that that child isn't building a foundation for later fluency with more advanced study? That being able to think and respond in real time in a language isn't progress?

Is this really no better than nothing? Terry's links are interesting--fairly minimal language instruction--in one case even less than what my kid gets afterschool had a positive effect. I was also taken by one study that showed third-graders outperformed high schoolers on language tests after the same amount of instruction. Another example of that particular window of opportunity.

People have been learning second languages since we started talking and trading. Some languages, such as Greenlandic, are insanely difficult, but most are not. Let's not make it harder than it is.

Posted by Here we go again
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 24, 2008 at 11:06 pm

I'm glad that we can have a respectful discussion, even if we disagree. Yes, the price tag as defined by the task force is very high. But there are grants and resources available, and maybe it can be whittled down to a manageable number. Maybe not this year, where we stand to lose nearly $1 million in state funds (funny, on another thread someone was arguing that was a pittance compared to our total budget and wouldn't have a big impact) but maybe in a year or two.

And I do like OP's ideas for an interim step.

Here's an excellent link on the benefits of being bilingual:
Web Link

There is also the following writeup, taken from an article available on the same website (Web Link The data is old, but I doubt it has changed much:

"In addition to developing a lifelong ability to communicate with more people, children may derive other benefits from early language instruction, including improved overall school performance and superior problem-solving skills.

Knowing a second language ultimately provides a competitive advantage in the workforce by opening up additional job opportunities. Students of foreign languages score statistically higher on standardized tests conducted in English. In its 1992 report, College Bound Seniors: The 1992 Profile of SAT and Achievement Test Takers, the College Entrance Examination Board reported that students who averaged 4 or more years of foreign language study scored higher on the verbal section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) than those who had studied 4 or more years in any other subject area. In addition, the average mathematics score for individuals who had taken 4 or more years of foreign language study was identical to the average score of those who had studied 4 years of mathematics. These findings are consistent with College Board profiles for previous years.

Students of foreign languages have access to a greater number of career possibilities and develop a deeper understanding of their own and other cultures. Some evidence also suggests that children who receive second language instruction are more creative and better at solving complex problems. The benefits to society are many.
Americans fluent in other languages enhance our economic competitiveness abroad, improve global communication, and maintain our political and security interests."

Posted by Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2008 at 11:38 pm

While everyone is arguing about details, time is passing for the kids. If summer immersion is the easiest and most economically possible, please, let's get rolling with it. We will sign up this year! In many ways, summer immersion for language is easier because then we can turn full attention to that - we don't have to choose between other priorities during the school year when time is so tight.

One thing no one mentioned about summer immersion - cost savings also come from combining students in multiple grade levels by ability, rather than splitting out kids into separate grades.

Why can't we offer this this summer, taught by a private company, and just see what kind of interest there is? Couldn't the grant help with tuition for students who can't afford it?

I do not speak Mandarin, which is what my child wants to learn. I wish I could find some kind of family class, because I could probably pick up Mandarin easily - I already can sort of understand it sometimes - then use it at home. Time is always the limiter. Saturday Chinese school is out for us. We really have to do something at school or home, and home tutoring is too expensive (and probably not any more productive for a child).

Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 24, 2008 at 11:40 pm


I agree, no doubt speaking a FL is a good thing - arguing against it would just be arguing against learning itself. It's a matter of its importance vs other things.

While you make some good points, I personally think the benefit of FL study is way over-rated (sorry). Yes, some jobs require an additional language, but I expect it is a very small fraction in the overall scheme of the US economy.

And the cognitive benefits - having looked at all the studies I could find, I think that there is no real support for it. The quote above is representative of the problem IMHO - sure, kids who take 4 years of language score higher, probably because those are the kids who are gunning for selective colleges (who require it). They don't do well because they study FL; they study FL because they are smart already.

But again, I have no objection at all to FL study - it's great, I did it, so do my children (who do online Rosetta Stone at home when we can make 'em!). It's just a matter of priority. If someone said we could trade $1M in elementary music spend, say, for elementary FL, I'd welcome it (I hear the brickbats whizzing in my direction already!). But FLES seems like a "nice to have" at this point.

Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 24, 2008 at 11:44 pm

Mom - I think that's a great idea, you should pass it to the District. Or better, organize some like minded folks and try to get it going. PAUSD does rent out schools to summer programs from time to time (maybe all the time).

My daughter is going to a Spanish immersion weekend run by some group down in Los Gatos. So there are definitely folks out there who organize these things.

Posted by Duveneck Mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 25, 2008 at 1:37 am

I think we should figure a way to fund FLES. With a can-do attitude, I bet we could fund a big portion of it through corporate donations, grants and personal donations.

Of course we should figure out the best way to do it for the buck, but let's not get bogged down and never find a solution.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 25, 2008 at 8:59 am


Actually, I don't think you can be a citizen of the world without fluency in a second language. It opens a door into culture that otherwise will always be shut. Perhaps lack of fluency poses no problems for you in your business, but it may also be the case that you are unaware of missed opportunities because of your lack of fluency.

It would be more informative to speak with multilingual business people who use their language in business and ask whether it makes a difference to them professionally. I think you'll find the answer is that fluency hugely improves their prospects.


Yes, stand-alone summer programs do exist, but I don't think they are effective for children. Even in the case of adults, the results strike me as unimpressive--unless followed by intense study or residence in the country where the language is spoken. Ph.D. candidates, well, let's just say they have a requirement to fulfill on paper and most of them (Americans) aren't multilingual, despite their study.

In effect, I think we are better off with nothing instead of something--if that something is a weak, low intensity weekly language program. It would be better, in my opinion, to spend that time and money on something else. I just don't see much benefit in an hour a week. That is no foundation. When it's time to do the real work and learn the language, those hours will have minimal impact. No spite there, it's just a question of resources.

But I'm just speaking about district money and resources. I have nothing against a private group or company renting space from the district and chasing their dream. (There are private options out there already....)

Posted by Here we go again
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 25, 2008 at 9:28 am

I really appreciate Parent's comments several posts above (from Another PA neighborhood) about looking at foreign language in the same context as music and PE.

I went to elementary school in Palo Alto in the 60's, when they taught Spanish in elementary school. I don't know what the district's goal was at that time in terms of level of proficiency, but I certainly didn't become fluent in Spanish as a result. I would say I ended up knowing a smattering of Spanish.

I moved to the East Coast in 6th grade, and took French in Junior High and HS. I felt that it was a lot easier learning another language because of my early exposure. An example is that while my classmates were struggling with the concept of masculine and feminine articles, I got it right away.

I never took another Spanish class again, but to this day can still understand and speak it a little.

I appreciate Terry's comments that knowing how to conjugate Spanish verbs won't necessarily help you in a career, but learning the rules of grammar in another language gives you a much better understanding of your native language. I would argue that this improves writing and other communication skills, which are absolutely critical for success in the world today.

Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 25, 2008 at 1:08 pm

HWGA makes a good point, there definitely is value to language study (including, as s/he suggested many posts ago, studying Latin). It is a good thing and can't hurt communication skills, which I agree are paramount (along with analytical skills). The pushback, of course, is that if FL study improves English writing skills, imagine what more time devoted to writing studies would accomplish. If I had $1M to spend on PAUSD, additional time devoted to one-on-one and small group writing and speaking skills would probably come ahead of Spanish, esp for grades 3-5. That's just me, of course.

In terms of FL helping business - perhaps. It sure can't hurt. No matter how fluent you are in Spanish though, it won't help you in India. Or China. Or Japan. Or Russia. Or ... And that's a real issue; language study choices are generally based on history (hence why we study French), but the real advantages are based more on where opportunities are in the future.

Being a "citizen of the world," in my mind, is more about understanding other people's norms, cultures, and values - which can be done in any language. In my case, for instance, I think my so-so French does less to qualify me than my extensive work and relationships in the Far East, where I can't speak but a few words in native tongues. Sure, understanding the language may help, but frankly I think there is more value in kids (and adults) understanding how other societies work - families, institutions, politics, values - than how they conjugate their verbs. And since learning multiple languages (esp from multiple language families) will only be for a small minority, this "cultural fluency" has value in its adaptability as well.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 25, 2008 at 5:37 pm

Terry, I agree a lot with what you stay. Most of us aren't going to learn more than one or two second languages, so the use of a second language to become "global citizens" is limited.

Some time ago, I was in Spain with someone who had studied Spanish in high school. I thought this was great and figured I wouldn't have anything to worry about.

Now, here's the funny thing--my fellow traveler was too shy to use his Spanish. So *I* ended up doing a lot of the communication--through hand gestures, drawings, whatever words I could guess at.


I think you and I are very much on the same wavelength here--let's get something now while our kids can get the benefits from it. Unfortunately, the summer immersion opportunities for the language my child studies are too short and farrrr too expensive for what's being offered. So, I would like something affordable connected to the school system at large. Since the district already offers Spanish summer school for SI Escondido (and Spanish speakers who qualify) why not add a beginners section for non SI kids--this summer? Summer MI is planned for middle schoolers. Why not add an elementary component at the same time? Let's add French, Japanese and Hindi. We're fortunate in that there are lots of native speakers of just about anything around here.


In other words, even a single Summer immersion course can form a basis for later fluency. Exactly. I can tell you from first-hand experience, I retain far more from summer immersion than I do from any of my high-school languages. The intensity of it helps a lot.

I also think that most of the community would be happy if our kids had a chance to initiate studies of a second language at a reasonable cost even if fluency by the end of grade school wasn't guaranteed. My experience is not dissimilar to HWGA's in that study of one language even though it wasn't to the point of fluency has helped me pick up bits of several other languages.

Re: standalone programs for kids. I think it's hard to tell because from what I can Google the bulk of 'em are for older kids and involve visiting the country in question. I've known people who picked up their second language in just that way--the French and English have a long tradition of swapping the kids for the summer. So, summer immersion does, in fact, work for kids. Does it work without an airline ticket? My guess is yes, but most programs seem to involve travel.

Posted by another trilingual
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2008 at 9:46 am

Agree with "trilingual", as another trilingual. English is the push in other countries for their second language, and it is an economically driven choice. Take out English, and the rest of the world would have the same arguments we are having.

I find most of the people who talk about being part of the "global community" as a reason for another language are not, themselves, even bilingual. They seem to have this elitist mystique associated with being multilingual, and this almost religious belief that the only way to achieve multilingualism is through early full-time immersion.

Being part of a "global community", frankly, is off-putting to me as a reason for teaching our kids another language.

The best reason I can say for learning another language early is to give the added benefit to learning English. The comparative grammar and study of alternate "word roots", especially if the other language has a Roman or a Saxon base, helps immensely in the formation of English skills later.

The secondary benefit is, indeed, an increase in the understanding that there are different cultural points of view in the world, but for that it hardly matters which other language you learn, as long as it comes along with some degree of cultural education.

Ok, long enough post.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2008 at 9:57 am

Another tri has it right. I hope that when it comes down to discussion of which language to study at the FLES level, it is remembered that one of the realistic reasons for studying a foreign language is to improve the language skills in the already known language, eg English. For this reason, a European, latin/saxon language is ideal. Therefore we are back to the perennial French/German/Spanish choices. Our predecessors knew what they were doing. One reason for the strong influence of the Asian Tigers has been their emphasis on English and unless we can outperform them, then what we do is rather limiting rather than widening.

Because of the obvious advantages to speaking even a little Spanish around this area, I strongly suggest that we choose Spanish for FLES. Even me, with my English,French background, cannot give a more sensible argument for a different language to be taught to all.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2008 at 11:19 am


I'd agree with you that the being a COTW is about understanding other people's culture and values, but I don't think you can get there without a second language.

I'm all for teaching kids (and adults) about other societies, but at the end of the day that's book learning which doesn't make much difference in the real world--except, perhaps, to encourage an open mind and tolerant attitude.

To "get" another culture, you'd need to read their newspapers on a regular basis for a while, read their literature a little, speak with people formally and informally, see how they talk to one another, grasp how their language reflects their worldview. Then, with some work, you'll "get" that culture. Once you've had that experience, I think it is much easier to "get" other cultures--even to a certain extent without speaking the language. But the hard work is that first experience. Or two.

In your case, for instance, I think if you've read French newspapers, read books by French about France, listened to people curse each other over parking and then chat over coffee, talked with them about what's on their mind (politics and food), eavesdropped on their formal behavior on nude beaches (or whatever), etc., then you've got a sense of France that you will never attain from a monolingual viewpoint.

Having done that once, I think you will be much better attuned--not to particular differences but to the possibility of difference--when you travel on business to Asia.

And learning multiple languages is not just for a small minority. Outside of the English-speaking world, it is highly frequent, if not the norm. Also, there is a mistaken assumption that if anyone is learning a second language, it's English. That often holds true in Europe nowadays, but the picture is much more diverse elsewhere.


No, you have what I'm saying backwards. I think PAUSD summer immersion programs would be a waste of time and money, and would not be a basis for later fluency. I think you're right that some people in our community would like the idea of a baby-step after-school language program or a summer program, but I just don't think that would be money well spent.

I would hope the district would give careful consideration before approving a program--no matter how popular--that is ineffective.

There are a bunch of summer immersion programs from S.F. down to S.J., though you're right that traveling to the country would make a difference.


Improving the native language is only one of the reasons for studying a foreign language, and a minor reason, in my opinion. In any case, there is no evidence that studying a more-closely related language will have a greater benefit, in this regard, than one that is less closely related. Given that children's minds are so flexible, childhood would be an ideal time to start a language that is linguistically very different from the native language. Thus something like Chinese or Japanese would be great.

As for the Tigers (haven't heard that term since the meltdown), only some of them emphasized English, and it played only a marginal role (up to now). But having a second or third language is, as you point out, increasingly important.

Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2008 at 12:03 pm

Thanks Parent/Midtown,

I understand your position much better now. You definitely have a much much higher bar for makes a COTW than I do, which almost requires living overseas for a while. It's aspirational, and nothing wrong with it, but not what I've obtained and not what I expect most people are likely to (ditto with multi-lingualism).

My view (maybe not yours) when it comes to PAUSD is don't let the great and aspirational be the enemy of the good and practical, so spending a small amount on optional and summer programs for FLES is ok with me. But $1M to get about the same results seems way too much.

Posted by Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2008 at 12:29 pm

"...don't let the great and aspirational be the enemy of the good and practical..."

Thanks, Terry.

Terry, OP
What's the next step for trying to get a Mandarin summer immersion (for beginners in elementary) going this summer? Talking to Paul Losch? I'm not exactly a community organizer type, though I wish I were, sorry to say!

Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2008 at 1:23 pm

I don't know Paul except for sparring with him here from time to time ;-), but he is a part of the PA civic establishment and seems like an awfully nice guy who believes strongly in FL education. Seems like a good place to start.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 26, 2008 at 2:02 pm


I understand what you're saying--I was pointing out the flip side of your statement. If immersion is followed by study in the country, people can become fluent in that language.

I'm afraid, frankly, that I have to go by my own experience on this one. I was *not* a stellar language student in immersion. People who were already bilingual had, by far, the easiest time. But I did okay. As I said, people who went traveled shortly thereafter became fluent--but without further intensive study, but by simply using the language. I retain the knowledge I have because I use the language occasionally. What's interesting to me is that I'm particularly good at being able to use and retain the vocabulary. Because I learned it late, my accent is kind of lousy, not terrible, but lousy. The only reason it's not worse is that I *was* exposed to music very early, so my ear is decent. I'm sensitive to language cadences.

In contrast, I did study another language for a year at college level and almost none of it remains. And I visited that language's country of origin as well. So from my first-hand experience, I know which technique gave me the fastest entree to a language. As I've noticed here before, I seem to be the exception not the rule in having tried out more than one form of language instruction.

Frankly, I think it's all about being forced to communicate in a second language--amazing just how focused that can make you and how willing you are to try to figure out various ways to communicate.

There is evidence that a related language--particularly Latin--does help with English. Specifically, it's going to boost SAT scores simply because "hard" words tend to have Latin roots. Check out, you'll see what I mean. Scientific and medical terms are almost all Latin-based. As are legal terms. French is useful for similar reasons--thanks to the Norman conquest, English is full of archaic French words. Which doesn't mean I think you need to make your kid study Latin or French in place of Mandarin, just that there is a particular crossover that creates particular benefits. Other arguments can be made for Mandarin, Japanese, what have you.

Though I think as an MI supporter, you may well have standards for what qualifies as second-language instruction that are different from most of the community.


Sigh, I'm not a community organizer type either, so yeah, I think Paul Losch would be a good bet--at least he knows the ropes. Like I say, Spanish summer camp for the SIers already exists, so expand that and make sure there's Mandarin elementary summer programs as well as one for middle school. (Oh, heck, let's ask for French while we're at it since it's one of the languages taught in middle school and high school. In fact, I think the fact that these languages are taught later should be a basis for arguing the district create early opportunities for exposure.

Posted by Devin O'Neill
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 27, 2008 at 10:37 pm

I work for a Chinese Language software design company whose prime program is aimed at elementary level kids. It allows students to work at their own pace, is interactive, more engaging than "The Oregon Trail," and has already been integrated in several schools in the United States and around the world. This program also allows teachers to track students progress online as they develop their language skills. All this has been successfully proven at a fraction of what FLES has proposed.

Posted by right on, Devin
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Jan 28, 2008 at 7:34 am

To Devin: Don't know why, but everytime online learning comes up, it is "boo'd"..maybe it is fear of not using teachers, maybe it is fear of making teachers irrelevant, maybe it is lack of experience or knowledge in the community, but you are absolutely right. Get some good earphones and the right program, and I think it is better than what our schools are doing now, which is mainly paper driven with virtually no actual practice speaking/repeating sentence and phrase forms for fluency.

BTW..I learned one of my languages through repetition, repetition, repetition of a an automobile cassette program.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2008 at 8:47 am

I think you are right on with computer based learning.

I had to learn Latin and two other languages back in my European school days. My private school did not have the money, but many others in my area invested in - wait for it - cassettes, earphones and a vdu screen and make language labs. Each lab could be used for multiple languages. The difference in the level of learning between my school and their's was incredible. They consistently scored better than us, had better accents, and their written and oral comprehension were much better. Conversationally, they scored a little less, but since their vocab was better, they easily overcame that one. The most amazing thing though was that they saved money over us by employing less teachers as one classroom could hold kids at different stages (2 grade levels?) and one teacher was able to walk around a class of 40 kids.

When thinking of instituting a FLES program, the problem of teachers having to be reduced does not come up. It would just mean hiring less teachers.

I could picture something like the setup at Score in Midtown, as being
an ideal way of teaching language. And remember, something like this is not new, it has been around for decades. It is just different, more advanced technology.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 28, 2008 at 1:47 pm

I think online/computer-based learning has a place, but it's not the whole pie. I think you need live interaction. It's a little like music--we don't become musicians by hearing music, though we do pick up melodies that way. At some point, you have to get your hands on the instrument and figure out how to hit the notes. With a language, I think a lot of the learning happens when you start trying to talk in a language, not just repeat stuff.

That said, I'd be very happy if my kid's once-a-week afterschool language program was supplmented by some computer learning that was tied into the curriculum. Audio-visual aids as we used to say.

Basically, the computer programs I've seen seem to be like a much better way of doing homework, but they aren't really a replacement for the give and take of instruction. However, if in-class instruction is going to be very limited, better "homework" could help a lot.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 28, 2008 at 1:57 pm

So, does anyone remember the breakdown of the $1 million FLES proposal? What about a grant of some sort to instill the modern-day equivalent of audio-visual aids at every school. Something that supplements all the afterschool languages currently offered?

At the very least, shouldn't we use a chunk of the MI grant for this? It seems to be vague enough to make that possible.

Posted by perspective
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 28, 2008 at 4:26 pm

Online learning of a language is not just "hearing the music" is more like seeing the notes while they are played, then repeating the notes back with your own instrument to see how close you can come to speed, cadence and quality of the computer given sound.

Posted by ThatsANoGoBud
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 28, 2008 at 5:25 pm

At the very least, shouldn't we use a chunk of the MI grant for this? It seems to be vague enough to make that possible.

Trying to sabatoge MI any way possible, including by invalidating the grant. Nice try, OP, but "AAAAAANNNNTTTTTTTT"

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2008 at 11:44 am

Actually, I originally heard Skelly (and Cook AND several board members) suggest that the grant was leverageable across more than just the MI program - for example through equipment that would be used across language programs, and other things. In fact they are FIRST to point out that the grant isn't for the MI program, its for K-12 Mandarin in PAUSD.

So TangoBud - are you suggesting everyone is out to "get" your program?

Anyway - I think you have bigger fish to fry. For starters - you might want to worry about how your kindergartener is going to learn in English while going to school taught 80% Mandarin.

Does this statement sound familiar???

“Both research and educational practice indicate that foreign language instruction most effectively begins
at third grade after students have attained literacy in a first language because literacy skills are transferable to the second language.”

Any idea where that came from??? Any guesses? You might be surprised.

Posted by donemyhomework
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2008 at 1:25 pm


Are you a troll? Have you followed these discussions?

The one thing we know from data-based research is that immersion is the most effective method for teaching languages to young children. It may not be for every kid or district, but all the evidence points to immersion as the best method starting from K. And no, there's no downside as far as learning English....

Also, obviously the grant could be used to acquire equipment that could be used across language programs, but that's a far cry from "using a chunk" of the grant to buy AV aids "for every school"--as Bud points out, that would likely violate the terms of the grant. The district knows this.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2008 at 1:39 pm

Donemyhomework - really? You might ask Marilyn Cook, Associate Superintendent, Becki Cohn-Vargas, Director, Elementary Education

how they could have put such a trollish statement in the FLES REPORT they just published on January 15, 2008.

(much more recently than the MI report - maybe things have changed..)

What's a poor parent to believe? Should we have believed them in the MI Staff report? Or the FLES Staff report?

If you're a parent of a five year old considering MI, with their education hinging on it - which one do you believe?


Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 29, 2008 at 4:04 pm


Apparently not. Or you'd know that part of the district's attempt to sell the unpopular MI program was the point that the whole district would somehow benefit.

I see, however, you're yet another MI supporter who's unclear on what a public-school system is. It's not your MI program--it's the district's and, for the next three year's, Ohlone's. If you knew anything about Ohlone, you'd *know* that the school's very into crossover between classes. MI, for the next three years, will be an Ohlone program. Susan Charles has no interest in letting you guys isolate yourself into a little fiefdom--you'll have to wait for the Garland grab before you can pull that off.

But, hey, MI's cost-neutral, remember? You don't need all that FLAP money.

As for the effects on English of immersion--what we know is that there's a falling off, scorewise, in grades 2 and 3. The kids seem to catch up around grades 4 and 5. Though it's not clear to me that they would do as well in English as their SOE peers with equally motivated parents. Escondido, which has the SI program, has scores in the bottom third of the district. Hoover, which is also self-selected, has the highest scores.

More to the point, you won't find research that measures composition skills. Those aren't as readily tracked, so the research doesn't seem to have been done. Anecdotally, that seems to be where kids take the hit--not reading, not speaking, but writing.

But please don't take my word for it--do your homework and see if you can actually find something. I think it's an interesting research gap myself--since writing is the most difficult literacy skill to master, it's odd to me that its acquisition isn't studied in the case of these programs. I think it says something about the general quality of the research, frankly. I think there's a bias issue, for one thing, people interested in researching foreign language education tend to be pro-foreign language, which is why they began researching it in the first place. You're not going to find people who think second languages are unimportant doing research in the field.


I see you've done your homework. What Vargas and Cook wrote in that statement concurs with the research I've seen. Basically, the stronger the primary language skills, the better results you get from immersion.

Funny, though, how they're changing their tune a bit on this one. Political animals, I'd say.

Posted by Sharon
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 29, 2008 at 4:40 pm

Why can't we just get rid of *all* the boutique programs and go back to neighborhood schools? Palo Alto public education was built on the neighborhood schools. I sent my three children to them. It worked great.

Posted by anonymous parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 29, 2008 at 5:11 pm

The utter selfishness of some parents here is astounding. Thanks to those who care about the district/school communities at large, and the admirable system of neighborhood schools.

Posted by Knowswhatshestalkingabout
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2008 at 5:14 pm


"how they could have put such a trollish statement in the FLES REPORT"

Right, please cite where they say that 1. parents should " worry about how your kindergartener is going to learn in English," and that 2. FLES beginning in third grade is the more "effective" method of instruction.

Can't do it, huh? Thought so. You're just pulling words out of context in the absence of reading comprehension. Dig deeper, please.


You are unclear on public schools and their mission. They are here to cater to the educational needs of the community. Each individual part need not directly benefit the entire community. That is how public education works.

Yes, MI is sited at Ohlone, but it doesn't follow that you can simply grab federal funds. And why do you want to isolate MI children? The program's coming to your school, and it will be integrated, and their children will play with yours, whether you like it or not. Get used to it--it's a public school. Maybe it will broaden your children's outlook.

As for effects, we know that math and English scores are higher by grades 4 and 5. Anecdotally, writing is where the bilingual, biliterate kids really outshine their peers, so there are really no worries about composition.

People have been trying to sow doubt about immersion since MI was proposed, but those arguments were all speculation and spurious claims--like your claims. The data tell a clear tale: the immersion kids do great.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2008 at 6:17 pm

The exact quote from the FLES report - word for word, second paragraph:

“Both research and educational practice indicate that foreign language instruction most effectively begins at third grade after students have attained literacy in a first language because literacy skills are transferable to the second language.”

So yes I can do it. You are right - it didn't say MORE effective, it said MOST effective. (Now I suppose you can start immersion method in 3rd grade or FLES in 3rd grade - would immersion starting in 3rd grade make sense - do you think that would work - is that the basis for the referenced studies? Is that the MI proposal in PAUSD? Do you think that's the implication here????) It said the most effective time to start language education in kids is in 3rd grade. Parents can take that as they will. Its a simple enough statement. Can we assume its truth?

No, the report didn't say I need to worry about whether my child will learn in English in an immersion classroom. The FLES report isn't a discussion about the IMMERSION method - its about FLES. A critical thinking person needs to ask themselves how the information and citings in this report jive (or clash) with what they've heard elsewhere. Because afterall, parents are seeking what's real - what's right and best for their kids. So worrying about my kid getting effective English Literacy - That's something me and every other parent can figure out to worry about (or not worry about) all on their own. If its not something you worry about.. Well, good luck to you and your kids.

Do parents worry about getting incongruent information from one report to next? Some do - but apparently not all. I guess at least knowswhatshestalkingabout doesn't bother herself with things that don't fit her unique reality.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2008 at 7:01 pm

The report doesn't say
FLES most effectively starts at 3rd grade
and it doesn't say Immersion most effectively starts at 3rd grade..

It says foreign language instruction most effectively starts at 3rd grade. A pretty clear and unambiguous statement about foreign language instruction in total.

Posted by Context, context, context
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2008 at 7:54 pm


(So you've conceded there is no reason to worry about learning English. OK.)

It's a report on FLES, old boy.

When it says "most effectively," it's comparing one FLES approach to another.

It's not comparing FLES and immersion.

Glad I could straighten you out.

Posted by perspective
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 30, 2008 at 11:08 am

Context: did you purposefully put in the irony of your comment with your name?

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 30, 2008 at 9:14 pm

Knowswhat aka donehomework?

No, public schools are not here to cater to the needs of the community. They exist, basically, to create good citizens. That's something well entrenched in the mission of public schools.

"Anecdotally"--in other words, no, you've no stats on how immersion kids will do in composition. If you had 'em, you'd use them. As I've said, I've looked more than once and they're not there. What is researched is how ESL students do in such subjects--and dual immersion works there. In other words, they learn subjects in their native language while learning English.

Almost the opposite, in other words, of what MI does with native English speakers--where kids are denied the opportunity to learn subjects in their own language--thus, the 2/3 drop-off--after that, both their knowledge of the second language increases and the actual use of it in class drops.

I said nothing about isolating the MI kids from the Ohlone crowd. If you knew what you were talking about you'd know that I pointed out that at least prospective MI parent was concerned about her kid speaking English during recess and I took quite a bit of heat from some virulent MIers for pointing out that this was a problem. Shoe's on the wrong foot here. A desire for separatism has been a longstanding undercurrent among a chunk of the MI crowd. Done's comment about not sharing the FLAP grant is, alas, all too typical. As is, frankly, your sense of entitlement. By your reasoning, public schools should remain segregated since that is, after all, what white people in the South wanted.


If the report meant FLES, it would say FLES. Also, of course, the reasons given for foreign language instruction being begun in third grade would apply to both FLES and immersion--i.e. the transfer of first-language skills. There's *nothing* about the context that excludes immersion language instruction from the statement--neither grammatically, factually, nor logically. It matches what we know of the development of abstract thought in children (or why it doesn't matter if your kid reads at four, but it does matter if your kid's not reading at nine.)

Posted by Anti-isolationist
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2008 at 10:47 pm

No, the main intent of public schools is to meet the educational needs of the public. That is why we have them.

You are the one who made the wild claim about composition and backed it up with anecdote, so why would you be complaining about anecdote? No stats, huh? Right, so no basis--none--for any negative claims about composition skills among immersion kids.

What we do know--what is well-researched and well-documented--is that native English speakers and native speakers of the target language both outperform peers in English.

You are intent on isolating MI children from "the Ohlone crowd." You still don't get it: MI kids will be part of the "Ohlone crowd" soon. Please get used to it. It's pretty obvious that you have a strong separatist bent. Sad, really, the way you're willing to play these games with young children. The shoe is indeed on the wrong foot.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 31, 2008 at 12:22 am


Ummm, no, immersion kids don't,in fact, outperform their English-only peers. Take a look at the school scores in the district. What immersion educators will tell you is that immersion kids will *catch up* to their peers after the 2/3 drop, not surpass them.

I suspect you're like a lot of MIers in that you parrot the PACE line, but you didn't actually look at the research. One of the other things you'll find is the immersion educators strongly recommend that families spend extra time working on their kid's first language literacy skills--in other words, yeah, there's a gap for which you have to compensate.

I honestly don't know why you can't say--hey, yeah, I'll have to make sure my kid gets the English skills s/he needs at home, but I'm willing to do that because I want my kid to really speak Mandarin. Instead, it's hocus-pocus time--i.e. learning Mandarin will somehow create this amazing ability to write (and spell!) English. By which token, I should write great Mandarin since I've never studied it.

Since you think the MI kids will be part of the Ohlone crowd then I take it you favor dispersing the FLAP grant so that it benefits more than the tiny number of kids who will be in MI?

It helps, by the way, when you misrepresent someone's views, as you have mine, that their views aren't in the same thread, several posts above. It makes your misrepresentations obvious. My kid's already friends with kids whose parents support MI. I've mentioned this before and the Seth troll freaked out pretty badly. It gets in the way of demonizing the "enemy".

Or examining the weaknesses in your own position.

Posted by Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2008 at 12:29 am

No public program exists (or, should exist) to meet the wishes and desires of everyone! For people who aren't happy with what can be fairly offered to the public, that's where private entities step in. That's our way in these United States.

I don't understand why "Anti-isolationist" is attacking OhlonePar. Can someone fill me in?

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 31, 2008 at 12:40 am

Oh, and, yeah, you're also in error about the role of public schools. You'll see that Thomas Jefferson, who first proposed public schools in the U.S., thought it was necessary to have educated citizens for the sake of democracy. Horace Mann who I'd say was the father of public education in this country made the same argument--he also argued that education would elevate our moral sense.

"Meet the educational needs of the public"--I mean, that's not a meaningful statement. Who determines those needs and why a need is a need? Fortunately, the educational debate in this country went deeper than that.

So, as far as the government is concerned, the goal of our schools isn't to make *you* happy by making sure s/he knows Mandarin, but to make s/he knows enough to vote sensibly and partake in our system of self-government.

I suggest you look this up when you're avoiding searching for those nonexistent studies on immersion students and English comp.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2008 at 9:28 am

There is lack of integrity in the parroted line "outperform their peers" because you have to look very closely at the research to understand who the "peers" are that have been studied.

Its not that hard to imagine how kids in an migrant worker town, where majority are non-english speaking, who's parent are non-english speaking, who are being taught in English and struggling (this making up a "Peer" population) would be taken and put in to a charter school or a specialized program taught in their own language, given additional educational resources, (smaller class sizes, tutors, customized, newer materials, etc) would be outperforming their 'peers'.

Or to take a community like Cupertino - siphon off the highest academic performers (with the highest levels of parental support), apply additional financial resources (over and above the regular district spending, reduced classes sized, large doses of after school tutoring and outside help - and say WOW they're out performing their peers 'average'.

So at the two 'peer set' extremes, (and everywhere in between) the driving force for higher performance isn't really 'immersion' its resources, and attention.

The 'outperforming peers' is not necessarily the result of the immersion method - its more likely the result of time, money and attention. Do any of the studies normalize for this?

Now in Palo Alto's case - the district has said our program will get nothing incremental from the district. Everything will be held constant with regular classrooms - anything incremental will come from the parents. So as a parent I might ask myself if the immersion programs really impart an advantage over the Palo Alto "peers" academically. And I look to the SI program at Escondido and we don't see any evidence that its true. In a way, Palo Alto is doing the real live experiment with SI to prove this out.

Posted by MoveOn!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2008 at 11:34 am


Wow, whoever your kid plays with, your words show you still want to exclude MI kids. Here's the deal: you loudly proclaim you're inclusive while doing your best to exclude. I suppose that passes for sophistication somewhere, but in most places it's called a whitewash.

Scrolling up, as you suggest, we find you fabricating a position ("wants to keep her kid from playing with my ... kid") and attributing it to a potential MI parent merely because she asked about maximizing language. Never mind that the person in question never took your imaginary position. Then, you accuse the broader MI community ("a chunk of the MI crowd") of taking this imaginary position on the basis of, well, nothing. Then, you use this imagined support for this imagined position to justify generally excluding MI families at Ohlone ("Why on earth would [an MI parent] be someone I'd want to welcome?"). (These are all quotes from you on just this thread. I'm afraid of what I'd find on other threads.)

You make up a position, falsely attribute it, and then argue for excluding a group of people from your school. Whatever your justifications, you are, by definition, exclusionary. The rest is spin.

Boy, it really bothers you that immersion kids outperform English-only peers. You get touchy every time that comes up. There's nothing you or I can do about it--it's just what the data show (it's part of the reason immersion programs are popular). There are actual academic theories--or hocus pocus as you call it--as to why this is so, and I'm sure a little poking around on the internet would enlighten you.

Also, I'm afraid you're out of step with most Americans when you say that public education is not intended to meet the educational needs of children. Really, that's more than a little silly. I think you boxed yourself in wanting to disagree with everything I said, and you just overdid it.

I can tell that you are still angry that the district decided to bring MI to Palo Alto, and I can understand it is hard to let go. Nevertheless, it is sleazy to spread misinformation about the linguistic merits of immersion, to libel immersion supporters, and to try to work up resentment at your school against incoming five-year-olds.

Posted by AddisonPar
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 31, 2008 at 11:51 am

"No, the main intent of public schools is to meet the educational needs of the public."

The main intent of public schools is simply to provide a minimum level of education. You're thinking of the private school system.

Posted by Nexxxt!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2008 at 2:07 pm


Errh, nope.

The report is about FLES. The context is FLES. The statements are about FLES. Extrapolating FLES conclusions to other subjects (e.g. immersion, or the price of tea in, well, you know, etc.) is unwarranted. So yeah, grammatically, factually and logically, there is no justification for these contortions.

Posted by FLES please
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 31, 2008 at 3:39 pm

...and this topic is supposed to be about FLES.

The MI discussion is this way: Web Link

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 31, 2008 at 5:05 pm


Yes, and a discussion of FLES is a perfectly appropriate place for an unqualified statement about foreign language instruction to be made.

In other words, if the statement were limited to FLES, "FLES" would have been used in the statement.

At best, you can say Cook is a sloppy writer--because the statement is what it is--you're just trying to qualify something that wasn't qualfied.


It doesn't matter what the parent's agenda was for wanting to have her kid speak only Mandarin during recess--it's exclusionary. And, unless you're the parent, how do you know that the agenda was? You're making excuses you're not qualified to make.

That you're unfamiliar with the rationale behind public education and its purpose is your problem--I'm sorry you think Thomas Jefferson is "silly". Though it does point to that self-centered approach people can have about education. But then, why would any MIer being concerned about the public good--given PACE's tactics, it's clearly an alien concept to many of them.

As for your attack on me--well, talk about projection. You're libeling me, misrepresenting me and not dealing with the issues of immersion. That there's a tendency of MIers to change their names frequently in this forum says to me that you guys don't know how to defend your arguments. It's easier just to change a name and not address the weaknesses of your position.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 31, 2008 at 6:42 pm

FLES please,

Fair enough--how about a hybrid post? Given the sheer number of parents who showed up for the MI intro., it's clear that most people are going to be disappointed, particularly if Charles continues to push for 50/50 on the language split. As years go by, and the sibling preference kicks in, the lottery will get tighter.

Which means that there are still going to be a lot of parents who want a second language for their kids who aren't going to get it in school--unless they become a little less single-minded and start working for programs that benefit all the elementary school kids in Palo Alto.

I mean, if your kid doesn't get into MI, you might start feeling a bit differently about disbursement of the FLAP grant.

Posted by MoveOn! (or out)
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2008 at 10:53 am


It's revealing that you saw it as a personal attack when I merely quoted your own words back to you. If your own words feel like reproach, perhaps you are beginning to feel ashamed for having advocated excluding five-year-olds.

It is hard to find common ground with someone who thinks public education shouldn't educate children--it's such a weird position to take. In any case, this may be another reason why you are at odds with your community.

Mandarin immersion is coming to Ohlone, and it looks like it's going to be hugely successful. Change is difficult, but I suggest you get used to it or decamp, rather than work yourself up in daily anger and pursue this sleazy campaign. Much better for your own sake to simply let go.

Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2008 at 12:04 pm

Suggesting that people should move out is kind of inappropriate. We are all neighbors and will have differing opinions, some of which may be unpopular. That's no reason to suggest a person should not be welcome as a neighbor.

Let's try to mutual respect and a higher tone - I'll try too ;-)

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 1, 2008 at 12:55 pm

Move On(or out)

As I said, you have a problem with projection. You don't want people who disagree with you to even live in the same city. Among other things, it indicates that you have real control issues.

Yes, MI's coming to Ohlone and while a group of families desires it, its "success" is far from guaranteed--in part because of people like yourself who don't play well with others. You're trying to bully me in this case because you don't have the tools or facts to actually win the MI argument. You assert and fail to convince--over and over and under numerous names. It's sad, really--in part because you don't pay enough attention to learn or develop.

Did you even comprehend what I said about the purpose of public education? It would seem not because your claim is just out there--way out there. Of course, we should educate children, but the reason we educate them--at no cost to the families--is because we will self-govern better as a nation. It was actually a rather profound realization arising out of the Enlightenment.

Again, it's sad that you don't even begin to appreciate what public education's about.

Posted by ViaConDios
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2008 at 2:03 pm


No, no, you misunderstand. I'm ecstatic to have you in my community. I just thought it might be better for your own health to seek a place where everyone thinks exactly like you. Projection? Well, you are the one who wants to block certain five-year-olds from ever coming to your kids' school. Talk about control and not playing well with others! Ouch.

MI is coming to Ohlone, and it will make your own life easier if you learn to get along. I don't understand why you think this is an issue of "winning the MI argument." That was won, and I have no doubt the program will be a great success.

Now you say that "of course" we should educate children, yet above you say the opposite, that public schools are not here to meet the educational needs of children. Your statements contradict each other. I don't know which Ohlonepar I'm dealing with now, so all I can say is I do agree with one of you.

You have a very narrow worldview built on the cynical, arrogant assumption that people who disagree with you have a base purpose, lack intelligence, and are selfish. This is why so many of your posts devolve into name calling, psycho-analyzing, vituperation, and a weird misreading of what others are saying. Honestly, have you ever had a civil online discussion with anyone you disagreed with? There's a reason why not....

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 1, 2008 at 5:37 pm

Oh, dear, you're mutating again. You need to watch that--it makes you look a little unstable.

Gotta say those proclamations on MI at Ohlone and how I MUST accept it--wow, you know you've got that kind of Joan Crawford/Mommie Dearest vibe. Cool. (Makes you easy to identify--Mommie Dearest under any other name is still a control freak.)

But I've got a nice pile of wire hangers here. What is Mandarin for wire hangers, anyway?

Posted by Not Exactly
a resident of Meadow Park
on Feb 1, 2008 at 7:12 pm


The MI argument was lost, not won.

The MI program was approved because the school board was threatened. Do you see things differently?

Posted by VCD
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2008 at 7:51 pm


Don't be naive. Of course there was a threat.

The program was proposed in a reasonable way, and then the board made a terrible, waffling decision. At that point, some opposed turned the entire debate into a slagging match on the hunch they could chase off MI using power politics (threats to vote down bonds, etc.).

Well, we saw who played that game the best.

So yeah, the MI argument was won. Do you see things differently?

Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2008 at 8:09 pm

Lost the argument and won by a threat; and think educational policy a game - a shame that you would be proud of that ;-(

I'm indifferent about MI but that attitude is a turn-off. I'm sure you are better than that VCD.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 1, 2008 at 9:40 pm

VCD (its latest mutation),

That was just sad. But at least you admit that you guys got your way by threats. That's slightly more honest what we usually see around here.

Your attitude, by the way, confirms that I should continue to speak up. As I said earlier, you were trying to bully me. Your admission that you think browbeating the school board into a bad decision is winning an argument shows that you believe in bullying tactics. In fact, I wonder if you know what winning an argument means--if you can't convince people that you're right, you haven't won the argument.

And, boy, does that bug you. And, heck, it almost makes me want to make your argument for you. Just to sort of balance things a bit.

Even with the bullying, you guys lost long-term--you have a program with no place to go in three years, at a school where you've made sure you're not welcome, and a board with only one supporter and stronger opponents than you had before. Your strongest community fighter will no longer have the same vested interest in the program she has now. Her kid will either be in or out.

Politically, in terms of FLES, it's interesting. If we do get a decent FLES program, there will be less demand for immersion programs. And your position will be further weakened. At the same time, MOST MI applicants won't get in and the percentage of open spots will drop from hereon out with sibling preference. So, if you don't support FLES, you lower the odds of your kid getting Mandarin instruction in a public school (or any language).

I'm just mean enough to find it kind of funny.

Lots and lots of unfinished business here--and I plan to keep tabs on it and comment accordingly. I suggest that you learn to live with that--or maybe you can move on (or out).

Posted by VCD
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2008 at 11:26 pm


Not what I said. I think the MI people made a great argument for their program. It convinced me and others. We'll never know whether it would have convinced the board, on its merits, because of the tactics of the anti-MI crowd: the misinformation, the injection of race into the debate, the threats, etc.

Faced with that kind of power politics, the MI supporters would have been silly not to threaten charter (actually that alternative was on the table from the get-go, so there was nothing new in pursuing the charter). "Threat" just means chasing an alternative seen as less welcome by others; the MI people, I imagine, never saw a charter as a negative choice.

The politics became the argument.

Fortunately, it is all past because we now have a program in our community. It's time for everyone to move on, though I expect some will pick at their scabs for months to come.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 2, 2008 at 12:55 am

Quite a backpedal, VCD. Not convincing, but I always applaud an attempt--particularly the feeble grasp at dignity.

Also *love* the blame game. My personal prediction is that when MI goes sour, which it will because there's no way everyone's going to be satisfied, you PACE types will try to blame it on everyone else.

Damn, I AM going to enjoy this--for years to come.

Posted by Not VCD
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 2, 2008 at 7:27 am

Uhhh VCD: It is Vaya Con Dios, not Via Con Dios..And it is horribly insulting for you to use the name of God in the derisive, arrogant manner you have done.

Apparently being an ardent MI supporter and believer in being a citizen of the world has not actually made you one.

Yet I know much more respectful people who were born and raised here, mono-lingually.


Posted by Not VCD
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 2, 2008 at 7:28 am

OH, and VCD...I THOUGHT you were the same ol' one who raised the race issue then blamed the pro-foreign language for all crowd for raising just proved it.

Sort of like voting FOR someone because of race or gender then blaming those who don't vote your way of racism or sexism...

Posted by Not Exactly
a resident of Meadow Park
on Feb 2, 2008 at 7:35 am


Yes, I do see it differently. I do agree that proposing MI is a reasonable thing to do. The board initially approved it, based on faulty and incomplete (and misleading) information. Then it booted it on its lack of merit for our situation; I didn't see that as a manifestation of power politics (who had the power? what power group provided money, promises, threats, etc.?). Then, threatened, the board reversed its decision.

Here's why I think this take is better. The best answer to the question, "why did the board approve this MI program?" is, "it was threatened with a charter if it didn't." But the best answer to the question, "why did the board reject the MI program" on the vote before reversal is, "they didn't see enough merit for enough students."

You can't honestly claim "the board was afraid so-and-so would stop donating to the district" was a significant factor.

Posted by VCD
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2008 at 11:50 am


Sorry, in condensing I was unclear. Let me expand a little.

I agree the MI folks made a reasonable argument for a program. It convinced me and others, but not everyone. The board sought political cover by asking for a feasibility study--this was what I meant by a terrible idea, since a political decision was always going to have to be made.

While the district worked on the study, a few activists were stoking anger. Part of that campaign involved misinformation, threats to vote down bond measures, the injection of race into the debate, personal attacks, etc.

Then the district presented a favorable feasibility study that laid out the merits, yet the board voted MI down. You say the rejection was on the merits, but I say not by a long shot. By then, the board members were quaking in their boots over the possibility of lost bond issues and divisiveness in the community. The anti-Mi group had already put threats in play. To answer your question: Why did the board reject it? Threats.

At that point, the MI people decided to go forward with a charter. I think it would have been a second-best solution for them and for the district. So the board approved it. Why? A threat. It was naive not to expect a charter.

Political hardball, and both sides leveled threats. What kind? One side threatened to establish an educational program that they believed would bring great benefit to the district and certainly do no harm. The other side threatened to thwart district fund-raising that they believed the district--the children--needed (threat to harm the district), and they threatened to divide the community.

The MI tactics strike me as community-minded, and the anti-MI tactics do not.

Well, it is over. I have no doubt that a few will continue to pick at the scabs, to pursue divisiveness--just scroll up to see recent threats not to welcome young children at Ohlone and a happy willingness to misread base motives into opponents at every turn. But it won't make any difference. The rest of the community has moved on, and we have an addition to our choice programs.

I'm grateful.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2008 at 12:25 pm

VCD continues to twist the history of what actual occured (for example approving and even bragging about threat tactics to get MI through then backpedaling when she realizes what she's just admited to, assigning merit to the feasibility study where there was none, calling MI opponents racists, when in fact it was the MI proponents who injected the 'race card' into the original debate, and in fact VCD proves her own disturbing cultural insensitivity right before our very eyes and more.

I'm sorry - political hardball? Which side was it that attempted to make it look like Simitian approved the MI proposal? What side is it that attempted to make it look like Delaney Easton and the League of Women Voters the PTA (etc) approved the MI proposal? etc etc etc. You think a few moms pointing out that bad decision making process by the board would effect the districts ability to get bond funding in the future was 'political hardball'? Interesting, it sounds like truth to me. Go take a look at other strings about the bond proposal... The closest thing to 'political hardball' that the opponents came up with was a petition with 1000 signatures. If politicians feel like the public voice is too much 'pressure' maybe they shouldn't be politicians.

And tell me again, who was it that showed up waiving a check at the board meeting?

If I were a mother of a kid about to enter a program -where I knew I'd be saddled with the same handful of kids and same handful of mothers for the next 6 years - I'd be very disturbed and troubled by the thought that I'm going to be hitching my kids whole elementary experience to VCD's warped sense of reality and Venimously Crazy and Disturbed sense of fair play.

My mom always taught me - when someone teaches you who they really are, believe them. Future MI moms - you've been warned - straight from VCD mouth - to your classroom.

Posted by Ohlone Curious
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2008 at 12:28 pm

OP - a general question about the Ohlone program philosophy.

How does homework work at Ohlone? Is homework a normal part of the Ohlone way? What's the typical homework expectation?

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 2, 2008 at 12:57 pm

Okay, I love the way "Via Con Dios" didn't even bother to get its Spanish right. And this is from an immersion proponent and a supposed Citizen of the world? This really is funny. Perhaps you could use a few Spanish lessons--though any of the Latin languages would have given you a clue here.

I'm also enjoying its attempt to disassociate itself from the PACE/MI crowd. It's now claiming to be simply a bystander who was convinced along the way. Suuurrreee. Because let's face it, the tactics of PACE were so nasty that people who *supported* an MI program turned against them. Camille Townsend, the only incumbent running, *lost* votes in a big way.

Meanwhile, we're already seeing signs of the probably cultural clash at Ohlone, with would-be MI parents kvetching about how there was too much about the Ohlone Way.

Seriously, "Via",

That you think PACE playing hardball was a good thing shows again your lack of ethics. Why on earth do you think threats are a good way to develop educational policy? It really would be a very different situation if PACE had actually convinced the board of the merits of its proposal. For that matter, it would be very different if, say, Ohlone really had wanted to develop a language program.

In the latter case, I can guarantee you Susan Charles would have developed a program that benefitted *all* Ohlone children and, given her relations with the other elementary schools, probably tried to import it. I think she still wants to do this, but she'll be under the gun trying to manage the MI program and the confused expectations of its parents.

In the former case, our bond issues would not be in such danger and you, my dear, would have something besides name changes, lies and personal attacks to bolster your position.

But, in a way, I appreciate this. Thanks to *your* inability to deal with dissent, I have an excuse to make my points frequently. Different people see them at different times and this way more people understand what the issues are and the better prepared we are to A)push through a language program for ALL kids and B)make sure MI doesn't commandeer more of Ohlone in three years.

I mean, it would be better for MI if you could actually defend the program, but this way, you pretty much give me and others, such as the always eloquent Parent, reason to keep correcting your distortions.

Your gracelessness does the rest of the work. Keeps me fighting the good fight and, well, I don't think I can put it better than Parent up there. Under whatever name, you're teaching us who you really are.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 2, 2008 at 1:07 pm

Ohlone Curious,

Homework isn't separate from the rest of the curriculum. In other words, if you don't finish something, you take it home. But homework, per se, is not assigned. In the younger grades, a child takes books home, but there's no official assignment to actually read them.

So far, this system has worked beautifully for my kid. But, honestly, I don't know how it's going to work with something that requires heavy-duty rote memorization--or what it would be like if you, as a parent, couldn't understand the classwork.

So, the no-homework policy is part of the student-led approach. When it's working, your child initiates self-learning, practicing what he or she's learned at home because he or she wants to. I think it's ideal for some kids and not at all for others. (This is why, while I'd never put my kid in Hoover that I think it's a great school for some kids. Some kids really benefit from a strong external structure.)

Can you do a difficult immersion-language program the Ohlone way? I just don't know. (Of course, I don't know whether MI is your interest, I'm just sort of guessing so given the thread). I've been wondering if they'll rejigger the usual Ohlone formula to sneak in some vocabulary homework.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2008 at 4:27 pm

Well I'm actually thinking about English language proficiency aquisition - particularly language, spelling, grammar, puncuation, penmanship, reading comprehension, vocabulary, etc. Its a lot to work on in 20% of time. Those elements of English language are reinforced (in an English speaking classroom) in almost every subject (more like 99% of the time).

We know from articles and studies that mandarin immersion programs include a heavy parent/at home supplemental component. I suspect a lot of that is to bolster the English language skills even more than Mandarin (after all, as you point out - how can parents really help at home with Mandarin language homework?)

If you have a program who's TRUE to a homework philosophy which is wholly student-directed I just really wonder if the English side of the equation gets shortchanged. This is the kind of thing I would have expected Susan Charles to discuss in the parent info night. A truthful discussion of how the Ohlone way plays out in practice for MI.

Is she going to compromise her committment to the Ohlone way? How will students gain the English language elements they need? Has Charles been forthcoming about the work at home component to the folks with a true interest in an Ohlone Way MI program?

OP, for all practical purposes - would you say that Ohlone kids are doing 30min - 1 hour of homework per night? That seems to be an average PAUSD experience. I wonder what the average Hoover experience is.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 3, 2008 at 12:39 am


I think there are huge, unanswered questions regarding how this is supposed to work. Just huge. I don't know how you learn written Mandarin without rote memorization. You don't just sound it out and then have the whole thing sort of click one day as you do in English.

I don't know how you teach reading in English in K/1 in a very limited time frame. I really don't know how you'd do it without homework given that.

Ohlone's homework load varies a lot, but outside from carrying a book home, there is none in kindegarten or first grade. The kids at other schools do spend more time on homework and have since the first day of kindegarten. Mine spent two minutes-though did lots of independent projects based on what was interesting in school.

I honestly think the Ohlone Way is wonderful for my kid, but it's not for every kid and it's not the best way to do everything. It relies on the child having some self-motivation. If the child isn't eager to learn something, it can be an awkward fit. Same thing if the kid isn't focused.

I think immersion demands a lot from kids. The ones around seem to be fairly homework intensive and the 2/3 drop indicates that it takes kids a while to get their sea legs.

At the same time, Ohlone in its own way demands a lot from kids. You're not getting the same amount of structure. You are asked to take responsibility in certain ways from very eary on. In the K/1s there's a lot of group discussion on how to do things. That, too, is a big part of the Ohlone Way--learning to work cooperatively and negotiate. I wonder how that aspect can work when there will be huge language barriers in the beginning. Kids who have perfectly good ideas, but poor second-language skills, aren't going to have the same chance to be heard as kids who are more fluent.

Susan Charles' claim that it will be Ohlone, but in Mandarin, just doesn't really hold up when you think about what goes on in an Ohlone classroom. Mandarin, as a subject, is going to so strongly dominate everything else that the fluidity within an Ohlone classroom is also an issue.

There doesn't seem to be another example of MI/constructivist learning out there, so while the teachers are talented and they're getting help from Stanford, they're also winging it big-time. Frankly, I think both Ohlone and the district ought to be a lot more honest about just how experimental this is. Though by basically forcing Ohlone to do this at gunpoint, it's probably no more than what some of the parents deserve.

Unfortunately, the kids don't deserve this at all. It stopped being about what was actually best for the kids a long time ago. That it's happening at Ohlone with its whole-child slogans is deeply ironic.

Posted by Paly reporter
a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 23, 2008 at 1:26 pm

Palo Alto High School's Verde magazine recently published an opinion piece about the ineffectiveness of the school's language program.
Check it out at:

Web Link

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