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Language Immersion Program Compromise Brainstorm

Original post made by Jane, Barron Park, on Jun 2, 2007

In the interest of being CONSTRUCTIVE and trying to heal our community, I would like to start a thread of MI compromise solution of the rules of brainstorming is that we not criticize ideas while the brainstorm is occurring...perhaps discussion comments regarding proposed solutions could be directed to a new topic thread.

Here's my first brainstorm solution:

(1) BOE votes to implement a Language Immersion (LI) program at Ohlone in the fall of 2008 or 2009 (commitment to a date for implementation/deadline is important in order not to drag this thing out interminably)

(2) BOE structures a process of public comment/task force to get community involved in structuring the LI program with major stakeholders at the table (e.g. include PACE leaders, FLES supporters, etc.)

(3) Consideration of other LI models is explored (perhaps the program could include 2 or 3 foreign languages, BOE could decide which foreign languages are included in the program thru a district survey)

(4) International Baccalaureate curriculum is explored as a possible model for inspiration.

Comments (28)

Posted by a parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 2, 2007 at 11:15 am

Nice try, Jane. There have already been plenty of constructive ideas, no one at PACE is biting. In fact they have rejected considering any other types of immersion plans that might be implemented more easily under district constraints. The trouble is, you can have lots of constructive ideas, but PACE has a very narrow set of constraints, and they aren't negotiating. Since they seem to have the BOE in the palms of their hands, they don't need to.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 2, 2007 at 11:59 am


I'm afraid I have to second parent's comments. There have been 19 meetings on this, but real discussion that would create a compromise solution didn't happen. The will's not there for it.

Basically, Camille Townsend and Mary Alic Callan favored MI at Ohlone. Barb Mitchell was swayed to agree. The other three members voted against it for various reasons.

What got kind of disregarded and was, I think, not apparent to the board or Callan is that the bulk of Palo Alto didn't want another choice program. When the charter threat came up and Mandy and Dana wanted a chance to reverse their vote--well MI at Ohlone's been losing favor ever since, even as it seems more likely it will go through.

It's sad and ironic because there is more than workable compromise, but there was an insularity at Churchill that, I think, made them unaware that for political reasons a compromise solution was needed.

So now, the anti-MI crowd is rather large and furious. The pro-MI crowd is defensive and feels pushed to the wall--the BoE put them (because of the feasibility study and charter threat) into a situation where they don't want to back down.

After hearing Callan on Thursday, I'd say this mess has a lot to do with her mismanagement. The arrogance of which the principals complained was quite apparent. Real tone deaf.

Anyway, let's hope a new board and a new sup will improve things and we can develop a real FLES and look at things like the IB.

Posted by A.J.
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 3, 2007 at 8:15 am

It occurs to many that many people in this debate think nothing of the controversy now because they say we've heard it all with the SI program. They think this will all die down if MI gets this program. (I don't think that's going to happen.)

The trouble is that this way of doing things is what made MI so controversial this time, that was brought up when SI went through, that the next language would be harder. In a way, the MI effort is being hampered by being the same as the SI effort. If we put through this MI program this way, it will virtually lock out any future immersion attempts in other languages.

We should be considering other kinds of fluency instruction. I just looked it up, and that school in Mountain View that teaches fluency is Yew Cheung. From a posted article already on this forum: "Only 30% of Yew Chung’s daily class time is conducted in Mandarin (about 1.5 hours per day) by a separate native Mandarin-speaking teacher who has been specifically trained in the Yew Chung methods."

Why not see if this method can be brought to Palo Alto schools? For example, if the program could be offered at Hoover, without changing the curriculum too much during the day but by adding on instruction of 1.5 hours at the end of the day for anyone who wants to learn Mandarin fluency, this would be an opportunity that could be offered to all Hoover students without needing a new separate campus. It would probably fit better with Hoover's direct instruction philosophy already. I could see this kind of program being more of a pilot for the possibility of having other similar fluency programs at any of the other PA campuses that want it -- in fact, if such a thing were put through, it should be with the promise that any other PA campus that wants it (in whatever language) could get the same thing. Since it would be kind of an elective that only the kids who want to take have to take, you wouldn't have quite the same problems with extending the school day issues that FLES has. This would also make summer immersion programs a natural extension. The problem I see is that this would make FLES more difficult, but that would be offset by the language fluency opportunity available on ALL campuses. The advantage is that this doesn't require a separate campus and languages can be added and changed as the district needs. It doesn't take away flexibility from our overenrolled district, it's more fair, it doesn't lock out future programs and changes, and it still provides a proven fluency program.

Has anyone explored this possibility? I would think it could be implemented by next fall, too. It could be implemented without impacting Hoover the way the proposed dual immersion program would impact Ohlone and without changing the size of the school. It also presents the possibility of allowing the kids in higher grades to begin getting the language instruction, rather than just kindergarteners to start. (I don't know if this is true for sure, it would depend on this teaching method, though I suppose you could just give all kids in the beginning the same opportunities as the kinders if that is the case.) And this is more likely to fit with Hoover's existing educational philosophy. Then also because all campuses would be promised the same opportunity, Ohlone students would still get their language opportunity, too, only they could pick Mandarin or even another language. And we would be giving a fluency opportunity to all PA kids. I have to admit, this would probably also be easier and cheaper than FLES, but again, it would be a fluency/language opportunity for all PA kids.

Also, this doesn't lock out other very different kinds of programs in the future, if everyone at a given campus wants to do something very different but modeled on this approach, they could do it. How does that sound, Jane?

Posted by tired of bickering
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 3, 2007 at 8:27 am

great idea! Send your suggestions to the BOE if you haven't already!

Posted by Andrea
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 3, 2007 at 9:46 am

I'd like to propose that PACE come forth with alternative ideas in which everyone wins a little. Grace in now in a position in which she represents this district at the county level. Since she applied for the position, I assume that she feels that she has something to bring to the table for us all. I'd like to hear some new proposals from her which will help to heal this district.

Posted by Andrea
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 3, 2007 at 9:54 am

Also, if I'm guilty of making assumptions about what Grace may propose I apologize in advance, but to propose that we proceed with PACE's agenda regarding MI first and then explore some sort of FLES implementation later is neither new nor does it demonstrate a desire to heal the wounds.

Posted by nutbug
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2007 at 12:27 pm

How about the BOE stop all further action regarding MI immediately, first to allow a cooling off time, and second, to be readdressed if and when a compromise proposal is worked out between proponents and opponents, one that falls within the stated district and community priorities. What's the hurry? The only deadline I can currently see is the artificial one imposed by those who are threatening charter. Will they postpone their petition until something can be worked out?

Posted by Parent
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 3, 2007 at 5:40 pm

How about this:

Web Link

Posted by Interested
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 3, 2007 at 11:38 pm


Your idea has definite potential! I believe many MI supporters (though they may not be the MI leaders) are merely looking for a daily (more than 1 hour/day given the difficulty of learning this particular language) Mandarin language program to give their children the opportunity to become conversationally proficient in Mandarin (and perhaps read a few characters or at a 1st grade level at the end of elementary school)---they are not necessarily looking for a program that will keep their children on par with children in China/Taiwan in terms of Mandarin ability.

I like the idea of preserving the ability/flexibility of offering other foreign languages, too, perhaps at the same or at other elementary campuses. I believe Spanish & Mandarin will both become critical languages to learn as Californians, with French and/or Japanese being other important global languages ---but I would be willing to except priortizing foreign language learning opportunities (e.g. determine which foreign language should be offered first, second, third, etc.) according to district wide survey results of PAUSD parents. The important thing, to me, is to give our children the ability to learn world languages in ELEMENTARY school while it is EASY and BENEFICIAL for their brains to do so.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 4, 2007 at 12:09 am

I also like A.J.'s idea. Is there anyway we can get this up before the BoE in time?

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 4, 2007 at 1:30 pm

The Menlo Park school district is apparently pursuing a limited rollout of Spanish Immersion in conjunction with a silmultaneous rollout of introductory level language education for all elementary students.

Why isn't PAUSD putting the MI approval into (and contingent upon) a rollout of a language program that reaches all kids? I think a major part of the opposition to MI is anger over the inequity of (yet another) enrichment opportunity that reaches only a few, and still no committment to language education. Why don't we link the future of MI into the future of a language strategy for all? Maybe creative minds, and powerful negotiators can work toward common goals that benefit all students?

Maybe Grace can step forward and offer this up as a win-win solution - an olive branch compromise - that would be a real testiment to her civic mindedness.

That would delay her start date, and might mean that she'd have to place her kinder in private Mandarin school for a year or so. Maybe we can take up a collection for her.

Posted by Curious
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 4, 2007 at 2:07 pm

AJ.. This is exactly the answer... please send this to the BOE... please please please....

Posted by yet another parent
a resident of Escondido School
on Jun 4, 2007 at 2:24 pm

While I like the idea of rushing AJ's suggestion to the BoE before tomorrow's vote, I can't help but wonder if it'll make any difference. It seems that effort is misdirected. The board is reacting to PACE's charter threat - they're cornered.

What if we reached out to PACE leaders individually, and asked them what it would take to reach a compromise? To stop - just for a bit, and agree to a cooling off period followed by constructive brainstorming.

I admired Faith's courage to change course after she set a county recall in motion. Sometimes best intentions have a way of going awry with unintended consequences. MI is on one of those paths.

Can we appeal to PACE to pause? To come back to the table and find a solution that isn't so destructive? One that both sides can benefit from? One that is sensitive to both sides' wants and needs and realities?

Sheesh. This is so disappointing - even more so because I know some of the PACE individuals and respect them as people. I don't understand how they can be okay with what they're doing to the district.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 4, 2007 at 3:51 pm

Yet Another,

Have you tried reaching out to them? I mean, I don't think it's a good time to make introductions, but if you already know them. I think of them really didn't see how explosive this was. If you're on decent terms with them, see if you can get them to consider some alternatives.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 4, 2007 at 8:05 pm

I heard an interesting commercial on TV from Sylvan: "Your child could lose up to one month of learning", as a way to convince people they need to get their kids into summer tutoring.

It made me think about the MI promise. I take a 5 year old, whom I have no idea how he'll respond in school, or perhaps I KNOW he has learning disabilities or attention issues. I put him MI (because I can, and because they promise to serve all kids.)

OK, being more realistic, my child has no known learning issues - he seems 'on track' as far as know. I put him in Mandarin classroom and he is disturbed for a time, and he doesn't understand what's going on, he has trouble focusing, he isn't progressing at grade level. This I am told is all very common in a Mandarin Immersion program, so just stick it out.

So we come back in first grade, despite my reservations. And we go through another year...

At the end of first grade, I haven't gotten comfortable and he hasn't gotten up to entering 2nd grade level academically, and is perhaps is still having attention issues.

(By the way, I have a actually have a very smart kid who has no issues in school, but who had severe attention issues in K and 1, probably due to below speed content and pace, rather than learning problems...)

I don't speak Mandarin.

How can I tell if he's got school issues or Mandarin issues?

And how many years (not months) of this child's education have I wasted in the experiment of finding out. How does a child who's been indoctrinated with school = struggle recover from that? How long does it take to bounce back?

Just curious. Is that a gamble that alot of parents are actually willing to take when the rubber meets the road and your talking about your child's education?

I'm not seeing it. It sounds mean and unnecessary.

Posted by k
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 4, 2007 at 8:13 pm

I agree - the kid doesn't have the choice, after all, that an immersion program "suits" him/her - it's just what the parent wants and it is sufficiently unusual that it may be inappropriate for a particular child -- how long does one try before realizing there is a mismatch? I think Spanish Immersion is much lower risk.

Posted by another voice
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 4, 2007 at 8:14 pm

Kid in SI, has dyslexia, school and parents take until 3rd grade to figure it out...

Posted by another parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 4, 2007 at 8:16 pm


[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

MI kids will be learning things in English, too. Probably 20% of their time. Learning disabilities don't "tough out" in English nor Mandarin.

Talk to someone who has a special needs kid. Talk to a kinder teacher (in any language) who does the assessment of a child's development.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 4, 2007 at 8:44 pm

The parents of learning disability kids say there's not a rats chance in h-e double hockey sticks that a reasonable thinking person of a learning disability kid would put them in an MI classroom (unless they were Mandarin speakers). So to claim the program could reach everyone is disingenuous.

And instead of pithy comebacks, maybe you could explain to me how a parent of a non-learning disability child would know if the problem was Mandarin difficulty or the problem was behavioral or some other issue.

The exact question I have is, how long does it take to figure this out?

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 4, 2007 at 11:03 pm

Another parent,

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

The issue raised isn't my big concern about MI, but I think it's a valid one for which, let's face it, you don't have a good answer.

There are actually some answer you could have given--I don't really buy them, but some immersion proponents claim that a second language helps in some cases.

But the diagnosis question is a real and solid one. How do you tell? It's normal for a four-year-old to write letters backwards. It's a sign of dyslexia in an eight-year-old. How do you tell given the challenges of Mandarin for native English speakers?

I might add that Mandarin-the-Ohlone-Way is just one more factor. We're either going to have an experiment or Mandarin that's not actually the Ohlone Way. And we could have issues that are the result of neighter the language, or a learning disability, but of an untested teaching system.

Posted by Researcher
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 5, 2007 at 7:19 am

There's quite a bit of research understanding learning disabilities with Chinese characters. There's also lots of "common wisdom".

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

Posted by another voice
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 5, 2007 at 7:55 am

In my experience(with 2 ld kids) its the parents who recognize the problem, not the school (or at least the school won't speak up unless it is severe, if they recognize it they must test for it and provide services $$$). Harder to do if you don't understand the language your child it doing their school work in.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 5, 2007 at 11:27 am

Researcher, I gather from those links that the jist is that dyslexia in Chinese is different than dyslexia in English - the issue has a different root cause - impacting different part of the brain for each language. Which seems to me to make matters more complicated.

You could actually have your child spend a year and half in Mandarin class, and not even realize he had a learning disability in English.

When, at what age does a parent of one of the struggling Mandarin Immersion childrent get to figure this all out?

Not encouraging at all.

Also those studies seem to be mostly focused on chinese speakers/writers. I didn't see anything about teaching (or analyzing/studying) English 'wired' kids in Mandarin language, and how that complicates diagnosis.

And is PAUSD preparing to go to this level of complexity to analyze and serve this new scenario they are about to introduce?

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 5, 2007 at 11:38 am

Ohlone Par - you said the issue raised isn't your big concern about MI but..

But look at it this way. Do you have a 3 or 4 year old that is preparing to enter kindergarten in 2008?

This is where the rubber really meets the road. ALL a parent of a Kinder or a first grader really wants to know (well beyond the health of the greater PAUSD), is:

How will my child do in this classroom? Is this the BEST thing I can do for my little pumpkin?

When it comes down to it - for Mom and Dad, its all about whether it works for their child. I'm just really really curious whether there are a whole lot of MI Proponents out there, with 3-4 year old kids, that are non-mandarin speakers, who are honestly up for this experiment.

I DO have a 3 year old, who will enter Kinder in 2008. I have often wondered if maybe, just maybe this would be a wonderful thing. Should I 'try it'? It feels like an experiment that I'd be conducting on my child.

In my heart of hearts I don't buy it. I 'm utterly convinced that a family support system in Mandarin would be a prerequisite to manage the complexity and help the kid along, to keep things on track, etc.

Posted by Tulley
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 5, 2007 at 1:49 pm

Parent, in past threads, a few MI supporters who don't speak the langauge at home indicate that they will have Mandarin speaking nannies who can do the job of keeping the children on track at school. I know of at least one SI parent who has chosen that as the solution for her lack of Spanish knowledge. Nice for the parent to have that luxury; not so sure about how lucky the kid will feel.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 5, 2007 at 3:07 pm

Gee, now how do you know if your nanny's literacy is up to snuff in a language you neither read nor speak? I mean, this gets a sort of Marie Antoinette quality to it . . .


I agree it's a real concern, just not my immediate one. I checked out SI and realized that I wasn't the right parent for immersion. I wanted to be able to track my child's progress firsthand. This was before I realized that there were these research gaps and some anecdotal indications that English comp. suffered. (And, no, I don't want to hear about grade-level performance. Given how truly awful English writing skills are these days, grade-level isn't nearly good enough.)

In other words, I wouldn't choose immersion as my child's primary form of instruction, though I would love to do it over a series of summers along with some schoolyear instruction.

I do think Mandarin's this five-year-plan's fad. There are reasons to learn it, but keeping a language means using it and most of us don't spend long periods of time in China or Taiwan. Use on a daily basis is limited if it's not spoken at home. On the other hand, I could, use Spanish every day, which means I would retain it. Heck, my Spanish vocabulary keeps growing and I've never studied the language, just because I see it and hear it--and I'm way too old to learn languages easily.

But, anyway, your concern is a real one and there's no question that this is going to be experimental. Yes, Monica Lynch is a native-Mandarin speaker and teaches at Ohlone. But teaching the Ohlone Way in Mandarin isn't something anyone's done. I don't buy Susan Charles premise that it will be all the same. Our kinders enter Ohlone having already learned thousands of words in English, seeing written English and, at the very least, knowing most of the alphabet.

I think it's quite possible that kids with learning disabilities are going fall through the cracks and quite possibly end up with a serious disadvantage in English. Unfortunately, I think no one but the parents will care. And Palo Alto parents being Palo Alto parents will think learning disabilities are not something that their own kids would ever possibly have. Particularly ones who want their kids to have the big language edge.

So not to dismiss your concerns, but at least there's a choice aspect here--we're not forcing Mandarin immersion, though it sounds like my offspring can start counting tonally to 10.

Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 5, 2007 at 5:52 pm

There's a choice aspect that magically morphs into a ethnic biase, when logical and smart and motivated parents realize its a bad plan to put a non-mandarin supported kid in an 80% mandarin classroom to flounder around... The mandarin speakers will prevail in this program.

You sort of fell into one the proponents oft stated arguments: If you don't like it, don't put your kids in it.

Sort of like smokers in a bar who say, if you don't like it don't smoke. Segregation and favortism has a second hand effect on everyone in the district.

Posted by A.J.
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 5, 2007 at 6:03 pm

It's after 6 pm, and I was planning to go to the meeting tonight and can't! Please, please, please, Can someone please print out my suggestion above and take it along? Even if you have to hand it to the members of the BOE at the meeting? OhlonePar? (I hope someone sees this!)

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