Since last year, I’ve noticed that the Mandarin Immersion (MI) program has became more and more of an issue. Although the board voted to adopt MI, the issue was handled in a way that led to many unwanted consequences, such as many unhappy parents, a divided community, and an overworked school board.
Let me say up front that MI would not benefit any of my children. It’s having a scientist’s conscience that has driven me to want to serve my community. I have used my research approach to study the MI issue. First, I put the MI issue into the category of “foreign language education for K-12.” Second, I searched for all related historic and current information I could find in that category. Let me briefly present my research results here.
1. On January 5, 2006, President Bush launched the National Security Language Initiative (NSLI). Chinese is listed as a “critical need” foreign language. NSLI provides $24 million to help critical need languages education in K-12 through FLAP (Foreign Language Assistance Program) grants.
2. On May 19, 2006, the Department of Education’s OELA published a notice inviting applications for new FLAP grants.
3. In fall 2006, many school districts received FLAP awards:
Saint Paul Public School District was awarded a FLAP grant of about $680,000 for the Chinese Articulation Project.
Michigan’s Lansing School District received an $801,556 three-year grant. The grant will fund the expansion of a program in Mandarin Chinese.
These facts show that MI supports the national strategic interest. While PAUSD’s school board was fighting over the MI issue, other school districts in the nation were rapidly advancing in Mandarin Chinese education with the help of federal grants. My observation is that the board did not properly handle the MI issue. This mistake cost us dearly. It cost time, resources, and harmony in our community. This was partially due to board members not having solid experience with handling federal grants. This lack of relevant experience limited their vision to have only a local (rather than global) perspective. A board with members having diverse backgrounds and experiences could have prevented this kind of mistake. An independent scientist would be a good choice for the board.
I was invited to be an NIH grant review panelist. I know that federal grants not only provide financial assistance but also support strategic directions and critical needs of the nation. I want to contribute my experience to PAUSD.
Let’s look forward. The nation is giving PAUSD another chance!
Recently, California Congresswoman Susan Davis introduced legislation—the U.S.-China Language Engagement Act—which provides $20M for 2008, and $25M for fiscal years from 2009 to 2012 for K-12’s Chinese language education. PAUSD cannot afford to lose this new chance to win a federal grant for its Mandarin Chinese education. My experience in handling federal grants will help tremendously for PAUSD to win in the next round of FLAP grants. Winning a grant would save PAUSD a lot of time and resources. There would be no more fighting over the MI issue.
In 2008, we will start two MI pilot classes. I suggest that the admission policy should include two clauses. First, applications from non-Mandarin speaking families should be accepted with priority. This is designed to guarantee a fair and general access to Chinese language education. Second, students from Mandarin speaking families should constitute at least 30% of the total enrollment. This will make the “immersion” environment more realistic and challenging.
I believe that with all these done, we’d have harmony back in the community!