Updated: Wed, Aug 13, 2014, 4:58 pm
Uploaded: Wed, Aug 6, 2014, 8:15 am
Backers of Mandarin immersion program plan charter school in Menlo Park
Rebuffed in their efforts to start a Mandarin-language immersion program within the Menlo Park City School District, a group of parents are working to instead start a new kindergarten-to-eighth-grade Mandarin immersion charer school, the Menlo Mandarin Immersion Charter School.
According to Carol Cunningham, who had led the effort to start the program as part of the Menlo Park district, the goal is to open the new charter school in the fall of 2015, with two classes of kindergartners and two classes of first-graders.
In the lower grades, up to 90 percent of classes will be taught in Mandarin, she said, with the percent gradually lessening in upper grade levels to an about 50-50 ratio by fourth or fifth grade.
"We want to equip our children with the 21st century skills that will be demanded by an increasingly competitive and global society," Ms. Cunningham said. The founding families want to "create innovative learning opportunities, based on sound educational models, because we believe that families should have a choice when it comes to public education."
The group has many hurdles to leap, according to the suggested schedule on the California Charter Schools Association website, an ambitious timetable. "The average team takes a total of 1-3 years to complete the entire process," the website says, "depending on whether they have an established team and vision at the outset, their authorization environment, and a number of other factors."
Ms. Cunningham said that because the group has been working with the district for so long, they have already done much of the background work needed to start a charter.
The group plans to present its petition to start the charter school to the Menlo Park City School District within four to six weeks, Ms. Cunningham said. The district will then have 30 days to hold a public hearing.
The petition must be signed by at least 80 district families interested in enrolling children in the kindergarten and first-grade classes for the 2015-16 school year, Ms. Cunningham said.
If the district turns down the charter school, the group can appeal to the San Mateo County Board of Education.
A meeting to provide information about the proposed charter school will be held on Sunday, Aug. 24. A second session, from 1 to 3 p.m., has been added in addition to the original 3 to 5 p.m. session. Both are at the Parents Place, 200 Channing Ave. in Palo Alto. Child care and activities for children will be provided.
Scheduled speakers are Grace Mah, member of the Santa Clara County Board of Education; Ling-Chi Wang, University of California at Berkeley professor; Thomas Sudhof, a biochemist and 2013 Nobel laureate in Physiology or Medicine and Stanford University professor; and Amado Padilla, a Stanford University professor whose research includes "studies involving second language learning and teaching, and strategies for achieving bilingual proficiency."
Those planning to attend are asked to send an email with the number attending and the name of their home school district to email@example.com by Aug. 15. Space is limited.
In April, the board of the Menlo Park City School District declined to take any action on a request to start a Mandarin immersion program by fall 2014. "I know it's simply not something that the district can do at this point in time," board member Terry Thygesen said then.
The planned charter school would eventually have classes for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. It will, according to the school's website, "integrate the development of bilingual and biliteracy skills in English and Mandarin with a Common Core-aligned STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) curriculum, using an interdisciplinary, collaborative, and experiential approach that nurtures the whole child."
Among the details still to be worked out are what the class sizes would be and where the school would be located, although it would be within the district, according to Ms. Cunningham.
If children from within the school district do not fill all the available slots in the school, children from outside the district would be admitted, according to the charter organizers.
The school has 13 founding members, Ms. Cunningham said, who span a variety of disciplines, including education, high-tech, finance, legal, marketing and neuroscience.
A quote from founding member Thomas Sudhof is prominently featured on the charter school's website: "Immersing a child in multiple languages is more important for a child's development in the first 10 years than learning math or science because the structure and content of the languages a child speaks become part of the person's intellectual repertoire."
Posted by MPCSD Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Aug 12, 2014 at 3:08 pm
I was an early poster on this thread and was interested to go back today and read all the comments that have been posted since. As I read through them, I become more and more concerned about a theme that seemed to run through more than one of the posts. In order to feel that I was responding intelligently, I decided to start from the beginning and take a closer look at what each poster said and went so far as to print them all out and do some highlighting.
Of the 43 posts, 23 were submitted by people in favor of the program. That would seem relatively split down the middle, until you look closer and see that 22 of those 23 posts were submitted by either Neighbor or MP Parent. The final one came from JustTheFacts, who clearly states that she has done her research on the subject, and is fully on board. I appreciate the links she supplied and that she is upfront about the fact that she's an interested parent.
If I hadn't looked more closely at the posts, I would have assumed that there was much broader interest in the program from Almanac readers, rather than just these couple posters. I especially liked when MP Parent and Neighbor riff off each other for six straight posts, complementing each other on what great points they're making.
MP Parent does not state that she has any direct link to the committee, but she does seem to imply it, and as a district parent who is interested in the program, this person certainly has a right to convince the rest of us. That being said, I think it would be appreciated at this point if MP Parent would state what their official connection to the program is. On the other hand, Neighbor, who seems to have such strong views on the subject and is definitely out to convert, is from "another community." That being the case, his objective is very much unclear to me.
I'd like to dispute one argument that each of these posters made.
First of all, MP Parent asks, "Is it fair to deny the demand from those who WANT their children to learn Mandarin? Those parents are also tax payers, don't they deserve what they want for their kids?" In a word, NO...or, better stated: Not Necessarily. She later states, "So allocating a portion of the public fund to educate these kids is completely legitimate and is not taking anything away from other kids-every kid has the same entitlement for getting the education he/she wants." And, again, I say NO. Just because you want it, doesn't mean you get to have it. YOU feel that Mandarin Immersion is well worth the price, I'm not going to necessarily disagree, as I believe there are pros and cons, but you can't use the argument that just because you pay taxes and YOU think it's a great idea that you have an entitlement to it. You could extrapolate that to all kids of crazy, or not financially feasible things. My opinion is that it is not essential to our district and if it effects the funds going to my child's education, I am going to be vocal about it. If it has no effect on me, go for it. But I have a problem with the logic that you deserve to have the funds handed over because you pay taxes and you want it for your kids.
And this ties into my larger issue, that I have with one of Neighbor's main points, and the reason I decided to post today. In the 14 posts from our Neighbor (from a different community) he refers to how wealthy Atherton and MP are no less than five times. "one of the wealthiest communities in America," "will not drain resources...in one of the richest towns in the U.S." "this community can definitely afford it." When I originally read through these posts, I did not realize that all these comments came from the same person. Without looking at each heading, I assumed that there were multiple people out there with this mindset, and I mentally prepared my vehement objections. But, lo and behold, it's just Neighbor (from 'another community'). Well, Neighbor, as a member of this community, I'd like to let you know something. I live and own a house in Menlo Park. I pay taxes and send my children to our public schools. I appreciate the fact that my family may be more well off than many in this country, and make sure my children know, understand, and appreciate this fact. Part of how I do this is by explaining to them, that, yes, we CAN afford both a Play Station and an X-Box, but no, we don't have both because we make choices in life. Yes, we could afford to go to Hawaii, but not if we want to visit Grandma. Because even if you are wealthy, there is a limit to your funds. And just because you can afford it, doesn't mean that you need to buy it. This holds true with public funds. In fact, as referenced by Peninsula Resident, due the cap that is placed on state funds, there is such a limit to the funds that supply our district that we have a non-profit that supplements it. Without the MPAEF, there would be NO art, music, or librarians in our district (among many, many other resources and benefits). It fills in when the regular funds end.
So, if MPCSD opens a charter school, will the regular funds end even earlier? I happily give to the MPAEF, but am not thrilled with the idea of having to pad it to make up for funds lost due to a boutique charter school, opened on the wants of a handful of parents. And don't get me started on the idea of yet another referendum.
Posted by MMICS Supporter
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 28, 2014 at 2:32 am
There are a number of misconceptions with respect to 1) charter schools, 2) language immersion programs, 3) the value of Mandarin, and 4) cost/funding that I will attempt to clarify. It's extremely important that the community has this information in order to form an educated decision/opinion, instead of an emotional one based on assumptions. Also, please note that the school is not just based on Mandarin immersion. It integrates innovative curriculum with progressive teaching methods to develop 21st century skills for college and career readiness in our dynamic global society.
1)Charter schools provide families with a choice when it comes to public education and I think most people support having choices. Starting a charter school is also a *lot* of work and not some "crafty" ploy to circumvent the system.
The Charter Schools Act of 1992 states that:
It is the intent of the California Legislature
to provide opportunities for teachers, parents, pupils, and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently from the existing school district structure, as a method to accomplish all of the following:
a)Improve pupil learning.
b)Increase learning opportunities for all pupils, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for pupils who are identified as academically low achieving.
c)Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods.
d)Create new professional opportunities for teachers, including the opportunity to be responsible for the learning program at the school site.
e)Provide parents and pupils with expanded choices in the types of educational opportunities that are available within the public school system.
f)Hold the schools established under this part accountable for meeting measurable pupil outcomes, and provide the schools with a method to change from rule-based to performance-based accountability systems.
g)Provide vigorous competition within the public school system to stimulate continual improvements in all public schools.
-California Education Code Section 47601(a)-(g)
2)Although counter-intuitive, language immersion programs are actually much more cost-effective than enrichment programs. The reason for this is because you are delivering the core curriculum/state standards in the target language (and you can only do this starting when kids are young), teacher and facility costs don't increase. Budget constraints were the reason why Spanish For All was eventually discontinued, but Spanish immersion survived. In fact, many school districts are able to run immersion programs cost-neutrally (or close to it), and even revenue positive as in Minnesota's case, and no, districts don't have to hire a separate administrator to run the program.
Also, immersion is *the* most effective method for developing advanced proficiency (bilingualism/biliteracy) and academic competency in both languages, whereas enrichment programs provide limited exposure only, so you don't gain the cognitive (and other) benefits. Developing true proficiency in other languages is actually a priority at all levels of our government, even in our own school district. You can refer to the State's and County's Seal of Biliteracy programs, as well as the MPCSD's strategic plan. Some educators even believe that immersion will become the norm for education in the future.
More information and research, including the cognitive benefits of bilingualism and academic achievement data (which I don't believe are "narcissistic"), are available in the white paper posted on the menlomandarin.org website, so I would encourage you to read this.
3)Learning any language is excellent for cognitive development and in fact, one of the charter school founders, who is a neuroscientist and 2013 Nobel Laureate in Medicine, believes it is more important for a child's development in the first 10 years than learning math or science (because learning multiple languages expands the brain's capacity and stimulates learning in all subject areas)!
However, there actually is an added benefit to learning Mandarin specifically, not only because of its tonal nature and characters, which builds connections between both hemispheres of the brain (English speakers are only using the left side), but because it is also the most widely spoken first language in the world and 3rd most widely spoken in the US. In addition, China has the second largest economy in the world and one of the fastest-growing, expected to surpass the US in the next 10 20 years.
According to our US government, Mandarin is 1 of only 2 critical languages, which means there is a strong demand, but limited supply. The challenge is that language takes many years to develop, so by the time you realize you need the skill, it's too late, and the US is trying to play catch up. Also, education has a long time horizon, so educators have to be progressive (forward-thinking, innovative, visionary) to anticipate the skills and needs 15+ years out. We know enough about China's rising economic and political influence to anticipate the practicality of Mandarin for many generations to come, so this isn't some "crap shoot". If others believe that the future language should be something else, then I highly encourage you to present your case (and supporters) to the school district, as the parents did with Mandarin.
4)Cost is a sensitive topic and understandably so. However, charter schools are unfairly targeted. As one commenter indicated, it is actually to the district's financial advantage to approve the charter school, which is probably a surprise for many people. The district actually retains a larger share of the property tax revenue than what the charter school will receive, so the charter school needs to educate these district children with less tax revenue than if they were to attend the district's schools. Also, the funding follows the student, so charter schools will receive the same ADA for out-of-district students and they aren't getting a free ride on the backs of Menlo Park taxpayers. Therefore, charter schools do not siphon money away from the district nor its programs. In fact, it's the opposite.
In terms of facilities, the charter school needs 80 in-district signatures of families who are meaningfully interested in enrolling in the school in the first year in order to receive classroom space. Even then, this space is usually leased to the charter school based on a couple of different methods, so again, there's no free ride here.
One final note, learning Mandarin doesn't threaten English or challenge its dominance in the world. Learning other languages actually improves English, and the academic achievement data consistently indicates that children in immersion programs outperform their non-immersion peers, even on tests of the English language. However, if history is any lesson, we should remember that there were many great civilizations and powerful countries that have risen and fallen, so what is clear is that nothing lasts forever and the US is not immune. If anything, we are already losing our competitiveness in many fields and if we keep denying the impact of globalization, we will be victim to our own "narcissism".