Parents push for Mandarin immersion program
Original post made
on May 29, 2013
With China on a path to becoming the largest economy in the world, the interest in teaching children in the United States the Mandarin language is also growing apace. And given the climate of business innovation that keeps Silicon Valley a key player in the global economy, why shouldn't local schools offer Mandarin immersion programs to prepare kids for the global marketplace many of them will be competing in?
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posted Tuesday, May 28, 2013, 8:44 PM
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Posted by Willows Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 2, 2013 at 4:27 pm
I'll respond to some of the specific comments to provide clarity on this topic, as there are a few inaccurate assumptions that are fueling unnecessary negativity:
1. "Monroe": Mandarin is the most common first language in the world. In addition to the growing economic and political influence of China (which has the fastest growing economy in the world and is expected to surpass the US in the next 5 - 20 years), the globalization/flattening of our world, and our geographic location, there is a compelling case to learn this particular language.
Also, the goal of immersion is to develop bi-literacy in *both* English and the target language. There may be a delay in English skills in the early years, as programs tend to emphasize the target language in order to build a strong foundation. However, the children catch up in later grades, and what I found to be most impressive is that the general research and specific data I've reviewed from local schools indicate these children perform at levels equal to or better than their mono-lingual peers, even in tests on the English language, and they've also developed proficiency at intermediate to advanced levels in a second language!
2. "Stanley": There is a common misperception when it comes to the cost of immersion, but we wouldn't even be having a conversation with the District or seeing the phenomenal growth of immersion programs, especially in public schools, if this were a major obstacle. I'm not saying it's free, but the program can be designed so that it's cost-neutral or minimal cost to the District, as "LookWithin" commented. With established immersion programs and supporting organizations willing to partner, we avoid having to reinvent the wheel and can leverage best practices and curriculum. Also, there is no additional cost for a teacher because you have to have one to teach these students regardless of program. There may be additional costs for library/classroom materials, possibly textbooks, and teacher development/training, but many of the programs rely on donations from the parents to cover this. What I've heard, which makes sense, is that the parents in the immersion programs tend to be very generous with their time and/or checkbook, probably more so than if there were no immersion program, so in the end, I believe the schools may actually benefit more.
It's also really important to distinguish between immersion and after-school/weekend programs because they are very different. The former aims to produce fully bi-literate children, who can read and write (and think) at intermediate to advanced levels in the target language, by using language as the medium to teach the standard curriculum. The latter is more of an enrichment program and it is difficult to achieve true fluency, much less literacy. Also, it is an additional academic or subject area that cuts into schedules and other activities, so is usually met with resistance by the students, and even parents. Incidentally, I believe that rolling out a foreign language/enrichment program to all students is much more expensive than immersion and is not something that all parents would even want.
This leads me to your last point about a "degree of segregation", which is valid, but not necessarily negative, as immersion is a choice program (offered to *all* students) that parents choose to participate in, so this separation isn't forced on anyone. Also, I understand there are certain times when the children all come together during the day (i.e. recess, lunch, performances/assemblies, etc.), and I believe that opportunity increases in the later grades as the instruction shifts to a 50/50 balance between English and the target language, so this separation isn't in entirety. I'm sure there are also other creative ideas or solutions to even further reduce this division.
3. "la entrada parent": Please refer to my explanation above to "Stanley" regarding the misperception of cost. Also, I want to note that many parents are not fortunate enough to have the resources to pay for private school, which costs $20K+/year and is considered expensive by most standards, especially if you have multiple children to think about. On top of that, we already pay a premium to live in a good neighborhood/school district, so why shouldn't our kids have the same opportunities as those more "privileged"? Other school districts are getting it, as we witness the *explosion* of immersion programs in this nation, and the Bay Area, over the last 7 years, so we're actually behind the curve.
4. "Parent": Please refer to my explanation above to "Stanley" regarding the misperception of cost. Also, I would caution against making assumptions about cost just on the basis of a Spanish immersion administrator. I encourage you to check with the District to confirm.
5. "Scott": The reality is that most, if not all, of the immersion programs are extremely popular (including our own Spanish immersion), which is a testament to the support these programs have, but as a result,they are over-subscribed, which means that some families are excluded. However, I would not want to prevent some families from having this opportunity or hold our kids back just because there are not enough spaces for everyone who wants one (and having Mandarin would actually provide another outlet for this demand). On the contrary, if parents feel so strongly about having it available for all children, then we should lobby the Board to open the new O'Connor campus as an immersion school. I've read that some schools around the nation are completely converting to immersion. Maybe this is the ultimate solution we should be driving towards…
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Posted by Willows Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 6, 2013 at 8:54 am
I've been researching the immersion debate in detail for a number of months and have spoken at length with several experts and many leaders who have successfully (and even unsuccessfully) launched immersion programs in Bay Area public schools, so I consider myself relatively knowledgeable on this particular subject, including the valid and perceived issues.
The single common thread (and misperception) throughout most of the anti-immersion posts is centered around cost and the unwillingness to spend "my taxpayer" dollars on a program that benefits a small group or should only be accessible through a private education. We clearly need to start at the beginning with an understanding of the immersion model and why these programs are effectively cost-neutral, meaning there is little to no additional cost to the District *over and above* the cost it would already require to teach these children anyway.
In an immersion program, you are basically delivering the standard curriculum using another language. The reason this method is the most effective in developing proficiency is that it starts at a young age, when language acquisition is easiest, and the learning occurs naturally and is absorbed through normal interactions as part of learning our standard curriculum. It is not a separate language class or subject area that requires additional teachers, aides, facilities, or even a full-time/dedicated administrator*, which I believe are the bulk of a school's expense. Our taxpayer dollars, which *don't* increase, would still need to hire the same number of teachers/aides regardless (only some would now be bilingual instead of English only), and you'd still have to provide the same number of classrooms and textbooks because these are still District kids that need to be taught, so there's no impact to how our tax dollars are allocated nor an impact to other programs as a result of having immersion.
The above point needs to be understood before any meaningful discussion can occur. Otherwise, people get stuck on the assumption that this is an "enormous" expense, costs a "boatload of money", and/or my taxes will increase and refuse to consider the bigger case. To think about it another way, if these assumptions were correct, why has the growth of Mandarin immersion programs in the US been so explosive over the last 7 years, especially in public schools? The Bay Area alone added at least 8 or 9 during this same period, with another one on the way in the next year or 2, and that's just in the public schools. Refer to articles #1-3 and #6 below for more details.
Any additional costs to start up the program (i.e. Chinese-language resources, appropriate classroom decorations, audio-visual aids, supplies, games, etc., to create a classroom environment friendly to, and supportive of, both teachers and students) could be fulfilled by donors (we've already received interest from an outside foundation) and not impact the District's "core" budget. Hence, cost-neutral to the District. To "palo alto parent", the reality is that many schools, including ours, do rely on donations to keep the quality of our programs high. These donations are not "required", but there is an expectation set because otherwise, non-essential programs will and do get cut. I've also spoken to several Districts in the Bay Area, who were all very willing to share their curriculum and materials, so we can leverage this, in addition to their experiences and best practices, so we're not reinventing the wheel. Major publishers are also starting to produce translated textbooks and there are various consortiums that share training, materials, and leverage buying power and influence among textbook producers.
*I have information from a reliable source that the cost for the Spanish immersion administrator (at least the portion of her time that is allocated to the program) is not significant enough to be a major expense. Also, for "Parent", I never denied there was an administrator for Spanish immersion and did respond similarly in my original comment, nor did I say the additional startup costs for Spanish immersion was only for textbooks.
There are several additional points that need to be corrected, clarified, or expanded, mostly in response to "Norman"'s comments, due to multiple contradictions and inaccuracies i.e. "Norman" support Spanish immersion, yet seems to denigrate immersion, and then states that, "Now, you can make a much more compelling argument that every child should be in an immersion program with some sort of additional language training. Each district takes its pick, but it becomes the standard educational paradigm.":
1."Norman" stated, "The key is cognitive development, challenging the child, and developing an analytical mind.", and "Better, methinks, to give children training in logic." Being a language major in college and having children fluent in multiple languages, I'm surprised that he hasn't acknowledged how learning more than one language does have a direct impact on cognitive development, including increased higher-order critical thinking and problem solving skills, in addition to cognitive processing benefits, including perceptual discrimination and organization or spatial reasoning. However, these benefits are only achieved if you are a true bilingual and not just moderately fluent, so foreign language electives/after-school/weekend classes (in the absence of a committed immersion environment at home) won't develop this level of biliteracy, as I explained in my original comment on the differences between these types of programs. Refer to Ellen Bialystok's research on cognitive benefits as well as articles #4 and #5 below.
2. Related to the above point, the research consistently demonstrates that immersion students perform as well as, and even better than, their non-immersion peers, even on tests of the English language. At the same time, the immersion students have also developed proficiency (speaking, reading, writing, and thinking) at intermediate to advanced levels in a second language, which is impressive. I have received published results focused specifically on Chinese two-way immersion programs in the Bay Area, in addition to actual test score comparisons from another local program, which are all consistent, so would be happy to share the detailed data if anyone is interested. "Norman", your statements that, "Requiring a young child to subordinate other academics…" and "As Fed Up points out, mastery of other subjects is going to suffer, and along with it, standardized test scores and grades." is just inaccurate and you lose credibility when you make irresponsible remarks like this. Do you apply these statements to Spanish immersion as well, which you note is "great" in your view?
3. When we talk about preparing our children to be global citizens and to prosper in a 21st century global economy, China is/will be a major contender, which isn't just a fad. Just in terms of sheer population and global reach, we are talking an order of magnitude greater than Japan and Russia. Preparing for the global economy requires visionary/strategic leadership, progressive ideas, and an open mind as we are preparing our children for jobs that haven't even been imagined yet by the time our kindergartners graduate from high school and college. Think about all of the innovation that's happened around us in the last decade, much less the last 2 decades, and the jobs and gadgets/services that have been created as a result, which we never would have thought possible or imagined back then. Education should evolve as well, which I'm sure many parents have experienced when comparing our schools and looking back at their own childhood. Also "Norman", the key term and perspective is now *global*, not just "western hemisphere". So from a global perspective and due to our geographic location and proximity to Asia, I have a hard time believing that you don't see Mandarin as making sense? In looking at the Menlo Park census data as well, the Asian population has increased 43% between 2000 and 2010, which experienced the largest growth by about double. To add on to "neighbor"'s list of people using Mandarin to help in their careers, I also know people in the medical profession who have relied on their Mandarin to save lives, and several others who use it in their work related to business negotiations, customer interactions, and in the legal field brokering business deals with media companies.
4. To "palo alto parent": I also am aware of the issues you raise, a couple of which I believe are the truly valid (but not insurmountable) concerns, and this is my understanding: a) I understand that the K/1 classes are typically sized a bit larger in the beginning to account for attrition and then combined into 1 class in the later grades (if there are multiple strands) to maintain parity, b) Yes, this separation is inherent in embedded choice programs. However, in talking to the principal at one of the local schools, she said that the kids normally hang out and play with their own classmates anyway at lunch/recess, so this separation isn't necessarily unique to immersion students. She also said that there are other activities, projects, and field trips that bring all of the students together to minimize the division, c) I can understand the resentment, or exclusion as one other person commented, but because the cost structure (not sure if this is the right term) is fundamentally different between immersion and foreign language enrichment classes, immersion is actually much easier to absorb from a financial perspective. As I stated earlier, if the community believes that foreign language should be provided to every student and we want to do that cost-effectively, then there should be a push to open an entire immersion school or a plan to convert all schools to immersion, which some schools in this nation have done. So in the end with this concern, my question is, at no additional expense to the general taxpayer or impact to other programs and all upside, why would we want to prevent those who get the opportunity (even if it's only a small group) to take advantage of it, versus holding everyone back? Having immersion doesn't preclude a school from providing a foreign language program to all students as Menlo Park attempted (so they're not mutually exclusive), but cost does, which is why Spanish For All was ultimately cut, d) Attracting more people to the district is a double-edged sword, so there are benefits as well, which include more housing turnover that results in more property tax revenue and increased property values. We are already dealing with over-enrollment regardless, so this isn't going to be an issue specific to immersion. However, I wouldn't think this would be a primary reason we should not consider a program, e)I addressed this above.
5) To "Fed up": I actually spoke with a parent who has children in the SF Mandarin immersion program at Jose Ortega or Starr King and was very happy with the program. She also explained to me that these schools were poor performers to begin with and located in less than desirable neighborhoods, so the District decided to place the Mandarin immersion program there to attract "higher" performing students and boost their test scores, which is a strategy I know other schools have used too. So perhaps this explains the English program issues you observed? Regardless, I doubt this would be the case in Menlo Park.
6) To "Downtowner": a) Most of the people who would benefit from the program are not native Chinese speakers and cannot afford a private education on top of living in Menlo Park. Immersion is their only practical hope of developing biliteracy in their children. If you understand that cost should be taken out of the equation, as I explained above, would you feel differently? What about the question I posed to "palo alto parent" in 4) above, b)Despite having multiple dialects, the national language and language of business in China is Mandarin. Even though there are various dialects, most people speak Mandarin as well, c) What information do you have that it takes 6 years to learn the Chinese alphabet? Are you referring to zhu yin or ping ying, which is based on the English alphabet? I expect children would be learning characters as well, so based on your source, how many characters do they learn in this time? Mastery of any language, as with any skill, takes time. There is a perception that Mandarin is extremely hard, but this is usually the perspective from a western speaking adult, which is why it's so important and easier to learn language at a young age. As a very young child, learning any language in an immersive environment is not considered difficult or hard by them, as it just is what it is. I see that very clearly in my own children who are bilingual.
1. "Mandarin Immersion Schools: Where We Stand In 2013": Web Link
2. "Chinese Immersion Classes Growing Across States": Web Link
3. "Natrona County School Board OKs Dual-Language Immersion In One School": Web Link