Here's a letter I just sent to the School Board. What do people think of the idea?
Dear Board Members:
Possible Compromise on Mandarin Immersion
The upcoming availability of the Garland campus in three years (2010-11) offers, I believe, the chance for a solution that could be acceptable to people on both sides of the Mandarin Immersion (MI) debate. It would go like this:
1) the Board acknowledges that MI is feasible but that there is no obvious home for it and considerable opposition to it right now. It then tables MI’s implementation until a vote in late 2008.
2) the Board immediately commits to reopening Garland Elementary in 2010, an idea that has had wide support in the AAAG process.
3) the Board explicitly reserves space at Garland ready for two strands of MI in three years time, if MI is decided in the interim to be the right thing for the district to do.
4) the Board commits to reserving at least two strands at Garland for neighborhood children.
5) during 2006-7 the Board runs a World Language Task Force charged with addressing how best to serve the language needs of all students in the district. It pays particular attention to bringing PAUSD into line with its peers as per the recent PIE benchmarking report.
6) the Task Force makes sure to conduct a thorough review of the Spanish Immersion program to determine its true costs and value to the community.
7) the Task Force arrives at consensus on which languages need to be taught in the District and recommends which languages should be offered as immersion programs.
8) the Task Force offers solutions for offering languages to all in the elementary grades (FLES) and sets in motion a plan to do that -- quite possibly, though, running at a slower pace than implementing any immersion programs it advocates. In other words, a new immersion program wouldn’t have to wait for FLES to get going to start up at Garland in 2010.
9) when Garland opens, if MI is supported by the Task Force, it is placed there.
Call it the Garland Compromise, if you like. Here’s the reasoning behind it:
1) placing MI anywhere before 2010 will be deeply problematic and traumatic to boot. This model gets MI in place in just a few years, but takes it out from under the cloud of opposition and suspicion that currently surrounds it.
2) supporters of MI can embrace this plan. If MI is as essential to the District as they claim, they have nothing to be afraid of. MI will come through the Task Force process with very strong support and be implemented about as quickly as it might have been anyway. Gaining the support of the Task Force process would also effectively erode most of MI’s opposition. If MI has Task Force approval, there will be very few good reasons to oppose it—something that is far from clearly the case to a great many people right now.
3) THERE IS NO RUSH. MI does not have to be passed right now. There is no grant waiting to be collected. We have a feasibility study that will be just as valuable in two years as it is now.
4) MI is currently a VERY divisive issue in the district. Look at how betrayed many of the people who put hours and hours of work into passing Measure A now feel. Passing MI now will not heal that divisiveness. Indeed it will further embitter a great many people who are otherwise key supporters of the PAUSD.
5) this compromise promises MI a home very soon, so long as it has been supported by a group specifically tasked with thinking about PAUSD's future language needs. This would both solve the location dilemma, then, and overcome the criticism that MI was implemented without a consideration of the District’s real language needs.
6) this prevents opponents of MI from arguing that MI is an ad hoc program being implemented by a reactive Board. Instead, it would clearly be the product of a proactive process. MI implemented in this way would be widely supported.
7) it gives supporters of neighborhood schools guaranteed space at Garland, too -- much like Escondido's non-SI parents have – considerably mollifying the complaint that MI will diminish the neighborhood school model. Waiting to place it at Garland also means no opposition to MI from parents in schools that currently only serve their neighborhoods (and who can be guaranteed to fight tooth and nail to keep them that way), again avoiding a divisive fight.
8) it recognizes that even if MI is revenue neutral, it does present real costs for the District in terms of closing down other options -- for the use of facilities as neighborhood schools and for the provision of other languages in immersion programs. This allows for the costs and benefits on each side to be fairly weighed.
9) it offers a logical way to determine which language programs to support rather than voting them through on a first-come-first-served basis. It answers the very real problem of what we do when the next set of wealthy parents come asking for a French, Hindi, Korean, Farsi, German, Italian or whatever program. It means we don’t just go with the next group in with a proposal, or reward only those with access to money. It lets us work out how many immersion programs we can have before we run out of space and have to say sorry to all the rest.
10) it addresses the problem with the argument popular among MI supporters that we can just do MI now and implement FLES later: by acknowledging that unless we first have a thorough discussion of language provision in the district to determine the particular languages the district really needs to offer and the form in which that instruction should be undertaken, MI will always remain discredited. It also overcomes the objection to MI on the grounds of equity because the Task Force will have recommended ways to implement FLES as well as which immersion languages to support before MI is up and running (even if FLES takes a while longer to get going).
11) finally, following this course would mean the district had clearly and publicly acted responsibly, planning for language instruction for all, fairly and from the ground up. Designing from the roof down, as I would argue we are doing now, means creating a house that will most likely fall on us sometime soon and hurt everyone inside.
To sum up, I strongly believe that there are more compelling reasons to wait a short time and get this right than to push MI through ahead of its being considered by a World Language Task Force and risk having made a wrong and deeply unpopular decision. I hope you agree.
Thank you for reading this long message. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the idea when you have the chance.
Happy holidays and best wishes,