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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?

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, May 28, 2013, 8:44 PM

Comments (57)

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Posted by Monroe
a resident of another community
on May 29, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Redwood City has Spanish Immersion, Union City has Farsi, Chinese in Palo Alto...Indian in Modesto...then allow Ebonics in Oakland! Soon, no one will be able to speak with anyone.


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Posted by Stanley
a resident of Encinal School
on May 29, 2013 at 6:14 pm

There is no way that immersion programs are cost-neutral. There are special meetings galore, special mailings, special problems to resolve, special, special special. All that effort and all that money for a chosen few. This group of parents is trying to manipulate the school district into absorbing the cost of after-school language instruction. Additionally, grades with immersion classes have a degree of segregation, because you are either IN the immersion class, or you are NOT in the immersion class. MPCSD please stop catering to special interest groups. Instead, please offer a smaller amount of language instruction to THE ENTIRE STUDENT POPULATION.


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Posted by la entrada parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on May 29, 2013 at 6:45 pm

Thank you Stanley. La Entrada has a Mandarin program that was pushed by a small special interest group and it is reflected in the numbers of students that actually attend. It would be interesting for everyone to have an exact number of students in Mandarin 1 and 2, verses the Spanish, Latin and French that is offered. Also note, students pick the language they want, so it's too bad that this small group of parents doesn't take advantage of our local language schools or private institutions instead of costing the district an enormous amount of money for such a small, special group of students.


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on May 29, 2013 at 8:12 pm

I'm not a parent, but I'm wondering if the "it's only fair" argument has been offered by the pro-Mandarin parents given that there is a Spanish immersion program? What is the cost of the Spanish immersion program & would the cost be similar for Mandarin immersion? I went to private school & learned Spanish, but not in an immersion program, so I don't know what it takes to get something like this started in a school district.


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Posted by LookWithin
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 29, 2013 at 9:32 pm


Using these arguments, we should deep six the Spanish immersion program immediately.

We all know that having a second language does amazing things for brain development. So much the better if that language improves our kids' ability to navigate the world.

Afternoon and Saturday morning programs are no match for daily immersion or bilingual programs...we've done both afternoon and Saturday programs. And starting younger makes it easier to learn Mandarin - a pretty tough language for non-native speakers.

We have a rather small Chinese population in MP public schools...something like 6% - but many of us who are not Chinese are quite interested in a Mandarin education as well. Many of us pulled our children out of afternoon and Saturday programs because we learned that a couple of hours a week is simply not enough exposure to make an impact.

Look around you...beyond Menlo Park. Beyond California. Many, many US schools now offer Mandarin for non-native speakers as well as native speakers. These communities believe it's the future and they want their children to be prepared.

Interest in Mandarin is not some sneaky plot by a sinister few. Some of us believe this is a critical part of our children's development and we would appreciate an open discussion. I tried to have this discussion with the "powers that be" in 2008 and was pretty much told that Spanish was the option because it takes fewer years to learn and therefore costs less. Short-sited much?? Kudos to the parents who are trying to enable that discussion for the next generation of elementary school children. I sure wish them luck.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 30, 2013 at 2:50 pm

It does cost money! There is a dedicated administrator for the Spanish immersion program. Why didn't they hire a Spanish speaking principal who could do this. So there is a lot of expense!


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Posted by Member
a resident of another community
on May 30, 2013 at 8:30 pm

A school in Orange County in SoCal has a Mandarin Immersion Program and it is cost neutral. The parent group responsible for fundraising pays for everything related to the program. So all those special meetings, special mailings, etc that somebody previously mentioned is all MIP related. The group pays for textbooks, instructional aides, technology, conferences, etc. it can be done...


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Posted by Scott
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 1, 2013 at 7:09 am

A someone who's kids are too old to benefit, it does not have to be cost neutral. It needs to be cost effective. Mandarin would be money well spent.

I think jumping to immersion is a mistake, as it excludes.

I would favor adding it to Hillview as a course.


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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 Norman
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 2, 2013 at 5:42 pm

All of this is behind the curve. A child in China cannot graduate from high school without passing an English exam; English is and will be the world's language. This isn't about the big world its about parents wanting their children to keep their culture intact. All well and good. Have after school special classes for it. Also, there is no proof that children go on to use their foreign language skills in the broader world. In fact, its a big waste of educational time. Anyone saying I'm a Neanderthal on this subject let them show some facts.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jun 2, 2013 at 9:30 pm

To Willows Parent,

" 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."

In response to your quote above, the spanish immersion program in menlo park is NOT cost neutral. You've seemed to address every other response on this blog EXCEPT mine. Are you denying that there is a special administrator who just handles spanish immersion? It's a position that wouldn't exist if there wasn't an immersion program. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, but be honest in your portrayal of the program that does indeed cost more than some textbooks in spanish.


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Posted by A selfish parent
a resident of another community
on Jun 2, 2013 at 11:51 pm

As a father of three children attending Mandarin immersion in another state, I hope Menlo Park decides not to create the program. Thirteen years of Mandarin study might be the only advantage my children have over Menlo Park students when everyone applies to Stanford in 2024.


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Posted by Central Menlo parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 3, 2013 at 12:16 pm

There is no way I am in favor of using my tax dollars to pay for a program which benefits a small special-interest population. If they want to pay for it themselves, then go for it.


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Posted by Norman is right
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 3, 2013 at 2:31 pm

English is and will be the global language standard because it represents an amalgam of so many different language roots and "being there first" matters. Mandarin does not share this common linguistic history. Whether China becomes the world's leading economy or implodes in environmental and social chaos will not change this. You heard it here first in the world famous Almanac Town Square.

More importantly, I cringe at the notion of obsessed parents trying to position their kids with training in a particular language largely aimed to give them a competitive advantage in the "economy of the future". The key is cognitive development, challenging the child, and developing an analytical mind. If you really want to help this along, tell them liberal arts, outside of philosophy and certain linguistics programs, are for entertainment and not for serious thinking.

And to "selfish parent", if you think knowing a second language, fluent or not, is what will give your kids a leg up in applying to selective schools, you've got a whole lot-a-learnin' coming your way. My advice to you: don't set yourself up for disappointment. It has become a crap shoot.


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Posted by Norman is right is also right
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 3, 2013 at 4:39 pm

Having worked in admissions at Stanford, I have to laugh at the idea that learning a not-so-exotic language will give your kid any boost at all. Or that getting into any school will provide your child with a real advantage long-term. Plenty of Stanford grads pulling espressos around here! Far better to support your child's own innate intellectual curiosity -- whatever direction that may take -- and to nurture individual interests and talents, which may or may not be language related. Maybe your kid excels at baking lemon meringue pies, and who knows? That skill might provide his optimal path to success and happiness!

As a district parent, I think it's great that we have the Spanish immersion program, even though I don't have a child participating. Spanish is the official language of almost every country in the western hemisphere, and our area is full of Spanish speakers. But Mandarin? I don't see it. I'm old enough to remember the era when Japan was going to be the next superpower and all the kids were supposed to study Japanese. Decades before that, Russian had its heyday. Offer Mandarin in middle school and high school, but no need to devote the resources to an immersion program. This seems like an ill-disguised ploy for some parents to get their kids free training that would otherwise cost a boatload of money.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jun 3, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Why don't residents see the benefits of learning Chinese in today's world?

I have several friends who are fluent Mandarin speakers (but not Asians) making lucrative careers in law, international business, diplomatic services, and academia who owe a lot to the start and inspiration they got in their high school Chinese classes. The classes (not in Palo Alto) were a great start.

High School should be about the real world. The world has changed since you and I went to school. Learning any language is a huge educational asset -- be it Chinese, Spanish, German, etc.


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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 3, 2013 at 6:06 pm

neighbor:

you're right, learning any language is an asset. If parents want their children to learn another language, they should pay for it. As a tax payer, I am not interested in providing a "private school" education to public school students. If they want to learn a foreign language in an immersion program, let their parents foot the bill. I'm not interested in paying for it. My taxes are high enough already thank you.


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Posted by Norman is right
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 3, 2013 at 6:13 pm

@neighbor,

No doubt learning more than one language has value if you look at the data around student performance for monoglots versus polyglots.

Your friends who have made lucrative careers in "law, international business, diplomatic services, and academia" and speak Mandarin are effective people who would have had lucrative careers -- even if they spoke English and Slovenian.

My point is not about the value of learning another language. My point is that the notion that we have an immersion program centered around Mandarin is largely, albeit not exclusively, driven by some notion that "China is the future". Want proof? Sample the comments above. It's naive, ignores a lot about the history of the world, narrow, and smacks of trendy nonsense.

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.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jun 3, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Look at who produces our food, our clothing, our industrial produces and look at who is buying our financial institutions.

If we are going to finesse our way out of the increasing Chinese ownership of this country, maybe it's a good idea to speak their language.

Language instruction is not a luxury, it is a proper part of the CORE curriculum of any self-respecting education system.


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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 3, 2013 at 7:21 pm

neighbor:

instruction in foreign languages doesn't mean immersion. I took French in junior high and high school. I took Spanish in college. Mandarin can be taught just like any other foreign language in school. Immersion and its attendant expense are not required. If you want immersion, pay for it yourself.


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Posted by @neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 3, 2013 at 8:02 pm

@neighbor,

Feel free to tremble in front of the "great Chinese economic machine".

You sound as if you have not seen the living conditions of the average Chinese citizen.

You sound like you may look at shiny Shanghai and think, "Wow, the whole country is so advanced."

You apparently don't know that the number one destination to purchase residential properties for the monied class in China is .... the USA.

And no, I don't think there is any logic to your remark that we learn Mandarin to "finesse our way out of the increasing Chinese ownership of this country". I don't recall my command of English helping me finesse my way out of my mortgage. If you have been able to do this, please help us all out and share the knowledge.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jun 3, 2013 at 8:49 pm

In your reply, you put some phrases in quotes that I never wrote. Please don't attribute statements to me that I didn't use...e.g. "Wow the whole country is so advanced" Don't know where you got that. Or, perhaps it was just feeble sarcasm.

You say the "monied class" (as you call them) is buying up our residential properties -- my point exactly, only I'd add that investors from China seem to be buying everything in the U.S.

As I said earlier, truly preparing American professionals to interact effectively with China would help our economic and political interactions. Even Americans who don't pursue such careers -- but merely want to interact with their Chinese-American colleagues, friends, and neighbors -- would also benefit from some language ability. Immersion is a fast, effective, and economic way to accomplish the acquisition of a new language.

When we learn another language we improve our interactions with people of different backgrounds ..and it's also good for our own personal intellectual growth. A good investment in the future in this new world on several measures. A bargain in fact...just like math and engineering education.


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Posted by another neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 4, 2013 at 12:16 pm

how about english immersion?

but seriously, do we really want to give up a chunk of our libraries to books that only a few students can read? It will be very costly for our schools, and we need the money to be spent on everyone, not just a small niche constituency.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jun 4, 2013 at 12:31 pm

[Post removed because the "neighbor" name is being used by another poster in this thread. This comment can be posted with another user name.]


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Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of another community
on Jun 4, 2013 at 1:11 pm

As someone who has watched the Mandarin Immersion process in Palo Alto, I would suggest talking to Ohlone School parents in both the MI and non-MI groups.

A couple very general issues:

Immersion classes in Palo Alto are much smaller in the 4th and 5th grade than comparable classes at the other elementary schools. If kids leave the program, they can only be replaced by students fluent at grade level in BOTH languages. So after 1st or 2nd grade, if a student leaves, it is hard to fill their spot.

Although technically the kids are together at lunch and recess, they self-segregate (this happens at both our Immersion programs) something that doesn't usually start to happen until middle school.

There is a lot of resentment from parents whose children get NO language instruction (the majority of the elementary kids).

Neither Menlo Park or Palo Alto needs programs that attract additional students. We already have over-enrollment issues.

You can't count on donations to keep the costs neutral, it is against state law not to provide a totally free education.


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Posted by Fed up
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 4, 2013 at 1:33 pm

If you have an immersion program, you need to be able to provide that program for everybody who wants it. Otherwise you are offering that program to a few on the backs of everybody else who is shouldering the cost. If language immersion is the wave of the future, then Menlo should offer one or two or three language choices and EVERYBODY gets an immersion program. Otherwise you are ghettoizing the English program. The only time those principals get excited on the kindergarten tour is when they talk about how amazing the language program is. The regular kindergarten has become nothing special, full of the kids who couldn't get into the immersion program.

If you're not offering the immersion program across the board, then make the new campus the language immersion campus. That will make it the most desirable and over subscribed of the campuses, according to the support the program apparently has.

How about a little bit of language instruction for EVERY STUDENT? It's probably too costly.

Just ask San Francisco about their language programs. The English programs at those public schools that offer Spanish or Mandarin are awful and shunned by parents. The language immersion has its own problems--they are not truly teaching the Common Core standards in addition to instructing in Mandarin. Its just too difficult a language. It consumes their time, and parents pick up the slack by teaching the rest of the material at home on nights and weekends and through tutors and therapists, etc. After a few years of Mandarin immersion, many children transfer to private school to catch up with their peers.


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Posted by Norman
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 4, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Lets see some proof that the benefits so stated in the 'replies' actually occur. Helps business? Helps interpersonal relations? Even so, at what cost? Get your heads out of the touchey-feely clouds.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jun 4, 2013 at 3:07 pm

A friend's daughter, who learned Chinese, worked in Beijing in Contract Law helping companies negotiate fair contracts. Another works at the Embassy there as a translator.
Another works in air photo reconnaissance for our government. Another is an anthropologist working in China.

Terrific careers. None of these folks are Chinese. They all learned Chinese as a second language.

BTW: I don't appreciate people posting with my ID....Mr./Ms. whose post starts with "Stop Already"

[ Editor's note: The comment by the other poster using the "neighbor" user name was removed.]




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Posted by Norman is right is also right
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 4, 2013 at 9:40 pm

I know quite a few people who have studied or worked abroad, often using a language they acquired in school (including Mandarin!). None of them attended an immersion program as a 5-year-old. They made the choice to learn that language rather than having it forced on them. Our current education model starts most kids in foreign language when they are in sixth grade and have a firm grounding in English. That's still young enough for children to become fluent, but old enough so that the students have some input into the decision.

There is no free lunch. Kids' time and attention spans are limited. As Fed Up points out, mastery of other subjects is going to suffer, and along with it, standardized test scores and grades. So much for using Mandarin acquisition as a lever to get into an elite college!

English is a global language. Mandarin is not, and it is unlikely that it ever will be, no matter what happens to China. From a linguistics perspective, Mandarin is far less evolved than English. Although I think it's a great idea for kids to study another language, along with learning a musical instrument and playing a sport -- all enriching and horizon-expanding activities -- I expect this Mandarin fad will blow over soon enough. Unless you've got relatives in China or family members who speak only Mandarin, why would you want your kids to learn it? And if you do want your kids to be learning it, shouldn't you -- not the rest of us -- be footing the bill?


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jun 4, 2013 at 10:49 pm

Again...the case is very clear. The modern world is international. Immersion teaches another language faster and cheaper and more thoroughly. Even though English is a kind of lingua franca in today's world -- it is necessary but not sufficient.

In one of the wealthiest communities in the U.S., I find it a bit disingenuous to say that language instruction is too expensive.

Kids who learn another language -- whether it's Mandarin, French, Spanish, German or whatever -- get into better universities, even if their intended major is Engineering or Biology, but certainly if it is Business or Computer Science.

We have great public education in this area -- but our kids deserve a curriculum that can respond to change and prepare them for success in their world, not the world of the past. The truth is that much more will be demanded of them than of any other generation.


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Posted by Norman is right is also right
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 5, 2013 at 12:27 am

How odd to insist that a successful curriculum must include instruction in an archaic language. Better, methinks, to give children training in logic. Perhaps they will develop the ability to construct meaningful and hyperbole-free statements, a talent that is notably lacking in many posts on this thread.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jun 5, 2013 at 9:11 am

Mandarin is "archaic." A billion speakers of the language would beg to differ. Wow...thinking (wishing?) the Mandarin language will go away is out of touch...at best.

BTW, "methinks" (your archaic word) that training in Logic is essential as well, and language is ONE OF the subjects that provides it.

I don't know why language instruction seems so threatening to you, but I can speculate.



Footnote: Students who excel in Mathematics usually excel in Language studies as well. Both subjects hone and enhance brain development.


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Posted by Norman is right is also right
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 5, 2013 at 9:57 am

From a linguistic perspective, Mandarin is relatively archaic. That doesn't mean it will disappear any time soon. There are many primitive languages and dialects in use around the world today.

No need to make sweeping and fallacious assumptions about others' motives. My concerns pertain to the allocation of scarce resources. I was a language major in college. I have three children who are fluent in multiple languages. But they have acquired those languages as part of their regular curriculum.

I am not sure why math skills even merit discussion here. It is best to expose children to a variety of disciplines, and to support them as they develop their skills and address their weaknesses. Requiring a young child to subordinate other academics to the acquisition of the language du jour is shortsighted and ill-advised. If a parent makes that choice, so be it, but we taxpayers should not have to fund that decision.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jun 5, 2013 at 10:19 am

Mandarin is archaic? How do you define "archaic" --- "out of use" or "old"? Neither Mandarin nor English are "out of use." Both languages are old, and they are used daily by billions of people.

Where do you get this absurd statement "Requiring a young child to subordinate other academics to the acquisition of the language du jour " I never wrote or even thought such nonsense. Pure hyperbola.

BTW: Resources in Menlo Park are not scarce. It's a matter of will.

Before you reply with more politically tinged pronouncements about educational policy and curriculum, know that I choose not engage further.

Have a nice day.


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Posted by Monroe
a resident of another community
on Jun 5, 2013 at 10:22 am

When China becomes a democracy, with equality and freedom of speech and empowering women, then let 'Jo Sun' ring out for equality. Until then, review the speech by Teddy Roosevelt encouraging and welcoming all people from all nations living here to unite in one language, ENGLISH. E Pluribus Unum!


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jun 5, 2013 at 11:01 am

Ooops -- Monroe made me break my intention to opt out, because his post was so bizarre.

Wouldn't you want to be able to understand what the Chinese are saying in your business dealings or for our national security, economy, and diplomacy interactions. Why do you think we depend on linguists to gather intelligence?

I'll say it again: Language training provides intellectual benefits and enhances our understanding of people we will and must deal with in this world. It is a skill that definitely should be taught in school.

I don't really believe Monroe and Norman believe their own polemics. Their political line seems downright Soviet in it's narrow mindedness, even it is comes from the opposite side of the political spectrum.

Or, maybe they just like to provoke a response. It worked.

Now, talk amongst yourselves.


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Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 5, 2013 at 2:59 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

lets do this. Parents that want their kids to take Mandarin can fully pay for it and not use tax $s for personal classes !!


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Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 5, 2013 at 4:13 pm

I've heard most of these opinions expressed in a different community in earlier years. I oppose Mandarin immersion at public expense. My native Chinese friends who speak Mandarin have sent their children to private language schools at their own expense. That's how it should continue.

Fluency in Mandarin takes many years. That "neighbor from another community" who thinks he's the only anonymous poster who can be allowed to so designate himself, might think that Mandarin is useful everywhere in China. It isn't. China has 6 major dialects. In China, it takes kids 6 years just to learn the Chinese "alphabet". Since the written Chinese is the only common language for people from different parts of that huge country, immersing our kids for the time necessary to become verbally fluent in 1 dialect alone appears to benefit primarily 1 group. What about parents who want their kids to learn Cantonese?

Gunn HS is full of visiting Chinese teens who've been sent alone to Palo Alto to live with aunts, uncles, cousins, etc so the kids can get into the ESL program at Gunn, which we pay for. Maybe work out an exchange program & send our kids to China so they can immerse with a family there & learn Mandarin in situ?

The 6 years it takes to learn the characters necessary for written competency in mandarin could be better spent learning other subjects, just in case they kids don't end up being lawyers in China.


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Posted by Diane
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 5, 2013 at 5:52 pm

Let's look at this way. I'm not convinced that the Ghysels and Liner combo can handle providing a quality instructional program for our students in one language. They couldn't even get it together to handle setting up a TK program. I'd hate to see what they would come up with if they even tried to start a Mandarin program!


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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.

Recent Articles:
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


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Posted by Willows Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 6, 2013 at 8:56 am

The following links were cut off from my previous post due to "too many URLs" error, so here they are in a follow-up post:

4. "The Benefits of Bilingualism": Web Link
5. "Being Bilingual May Boost Your Brain Power": Web Link
6. "Language Programs Flower in Utah's Schools": Web Link&


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Posted by Refreshing
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 6, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Amazing passion from some of these pro-immersion parents. I guess if their ranting can save them tens of thousands of dollars, it's worth their time!Interesting enough that Willows Parent's diatribe failed to note that there were actually three Normans, including Norman is Right, and Norman is Right is Right.

You can quote studies that prove just about anything. Perhaps these gung ho parents should put their money where their mouths are and start their own private school like the GAIS. Why should their kids get free language instruction when others pay for that privilege? German is an important language too!

There's an obvious need for Spanish instruction. Other languages, less so, although you can make cogent arguments for just about anything. If parents can get their way by being strident, where does it end? Everyone wants to save money.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jun 6, 2013 at 5:45 pm

Stunning "Refreshing" calls the Willow Parent's posts a rant. The only ranting has come from the anti-immersion folks and Norman in all of his iterations. Shame on you all.

Willow Parent: Thank your for the rational and factual post. It gives me new hope that MP hasn't become populated with misanthropes and racists.


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Posted by Norman
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 6, 2013 at 6:37 pm

I'm taking flak for things I didn't purport. All I've said is to show proof that Mandarin immersion or for that matter any foreign language studies have the benefits associated with the time spent on them.

We have all the touchy-feely stuff like 'being part of the world', 'China is the up-and-comer (it used to be Mexico)', 'makes a person well-rounded (whatever that means), etc. But how about a survey of a few thousand people that took languages to see how they finally used them and what's really the joke, how much they even remember.


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Posted by Willows Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 6, 2013 at 10:31 pm

Based on the tone of the comments and the same location of Central Menlo Park, I honestly thought the 3 Normans were one and the same and just being reincarnated under different names to state a point. Now with this clarification, so thank you "Refreshing" and "Norman", most of the notes in my prior post to "Norman" should be directed to "Norman is right" and "Norman is right is also right" (apologies to the original "Norman").

Back to "Refreshing", I'm shocked and dismayed that you would consider my earlier post a "diatribe" and part of a general "rant" by the immersion supporters. I actually spent significant time and thought composing those notes, specifically to focus on the facts (including sources and data) to address everyone's concerns, intentionally avoiding any emotional or personal attacks, which are just simply counter-productive and detracts from the real issues. My post was just lengthy because there are fundamental assumptions that need to be corrected and I combined all of my responses together as I didn't have time to answer comments immediately as they were posted.

I agree that you have to look at studies and their results carefully, as they can sometimes be misleading if you don't understand the larger context, the other position, or know to ask the right questions. However, this doesn't mean the data or results are wrong, so I wouldn't use the position that "You can quote studies that prove just about anything." to avoid acknowledging my points. If you believe that the articles and data I referenced are inaccurate or misleading, please point them out and explain why. Did you even review them? This is where we can start to have a constructive dialogue and hopefully reach a better understanding of each other's position. Since you obviously oppose the idea of immersion, I imagine you could review these articles and research with a very critical eye. I'd also like to see any studies or data that contradict what I've stated, so let me know if you find any.

Also, please help me understand your argument that we should start our "own private school like the GAIS. Why should their kids get free language instruction when others pay for that privilege?" Should the Spanish immersion parents have created a private school too or is Spanish the exception because "There's an obvious need…" that doesn't apply to Mandarin? I thought I made it pretty clear in my previous 2 posts that there is also a compelling case for Mandarin, so this isn't some random, unfounded initiative. Incidentally (just to give you some anecdotal data so this isn't meant to be taken as an official position), at one of the February or March school board meetings, one of the GAIS board members made an emotional plea to give them more time to relocate before terminating their lease. She tearfully acknowledged (paraphrasing here) that although German may not be that useful of a language, she fell in love with a German, and maybe should have married a Chinese man...

Finally, regarding your comment on getting free language instruction, please refer to my question in 4c) from my previous post, "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) from taking advantage of it…?" The only non-cynical reason I can think of is that you have a vested interest in the success of private schools, so please explain.


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Posted by Norman
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 8, 2013 at 4:37 pm

I looked a couple of the 'proof' websites as to the value of bilingualism but they are for kids that are raised in bilingual house. Thus I would take it that the Mandarin immersion parents already have bilingual kids so they are on that track.

But if bilingualism was so beneficial then why are Spanish speaking bilingual kids doing so poorly. In this Friday's Palo Alto Weekly (p5) a Santa Clara and San Mateo county study shows that only 22% of Latinos are proficient in Algebra whereas 'Whites' are 57% and 'Asians' 76%. If bilingualism was so good for a person why hasn't it helped Latinos? To me it shows that the general theory doesn't work in practice and that other factors make a difference.

The same piece tells us the Palo Alto is at the bottom of the barrel with regards to helping Latino students. Better Palo Alto educators focus and spend their energies on this group rather than on a group that are already doing quite well.


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Posted by Norman is right is also right
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 8, 2013 at 9:12 pm

Outstanding point, Norman. [Portion removed; ethnic/racial stereotypes do nothing to advance an intelligent and responsible dialogue. See terms of use.] The #1 indicator of academic success is being born to affluent parents!

Even if the Mandarin programs are not a short-lived fad -- and research and statistics suggest otherwise -- our educational system does not have unlimited resources. Using public resources to widen the gap between rich and poor seems not only imprudent but amoral.


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Posted by Willows Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 8, 2013 at 10:18 pm

To "Norman": Actually, no. Most of the children who enroll in immersion do not speak the target language at home. One of the challenges is whether there are enough native speakers to support a dual immersion program, so somewhere between 1/3 (minimum) to 1/2 (ideal) of the class.

I found this article on the Palo Alto Online edition: Web Link, so is this the one you're referring to? It seems like it, but there are some inconsistencies with your note so I'm not 100% sure. If it is, then this article is reporting results based on *race and socio-economic status only*, not language ability: "Palo Alto has closely and publicly tracked the performance of its minority and low-income students in recent years, measuring progress against goals set in 2008." There was no link or reference to language ability, bilingualism, or language immersion, so is this just an assumption you're making?

Also, since I'm already writing this comment in response to you, I'll also address your prior note on how much people use or can remember the foreign language they studied in school. This is exactly one of the points I was trying to make in distinguishing between traditional foreign language electives/after-school/weekend programs and immersion programs that start in kindergarten.

With the former program, it is very difficult, and probably rare, to achieve true fluency, much less literacy, especially if you started later in school and don't speak the target language at home consistently. So I wouldn't be surprised if people don't remember much beyond being able to order in a restaurant or carry on a casual conversation, much less use it in their professional day. I couldn't even do that much with the French I took for multiple years in high school.

This is why immersion early on is important. You create the foundation when language acquisition is easiest and foster that in an immersive environment to achieve true proficiency/biliteracy, which is a skill and a gift you'll have for the rest of your life.

To "Norman is right is also right": The immersion programs in public schools are available to ALL students, regardless of rich or poor. If anything, this is an argument to get it into the public schools, so that those who can't afford a private education can have similar opportunities. Regarding public resources, have you read my previous notes??


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Posted by local parent
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Jun 9, 2013 at 8:20 am

Curious why Willows parent is insistent on the immersion program. La Entrada, the only Menlo Park middle school to offer Mandarin has a regular language class, like it does with the French, Latin and Spanish classes offered. As the local high school doesn't even offer Mandarin, I'm wondering what good an immersion program would do and where your child would use it after middle school?


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jun 9, 2013 at 9:35 am

Local parent: Willow parent is trying to inject some facts into this discussion.

Where would your child use Mandarin? Are you kidding?

The answer: In the modern world.


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Posted by Willows Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 9, 2013 at 10:41 am

To "Local Parent": Towards the end of the article, there is information on separate efforts being led by different parent groups to bring Mandarin to Hillview and M-A, so there is momentum. Also, we need to start somewhere and the earlier in the school chain, the better. With Mandarin immersion, there will be a pipeline of students to feed into a program at the secondary schools.


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Posted by Norman
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 9, 2013 at 12:24 pm

In the old days people from foreign countries set up their own after school programs so their language and culture could be taught to their children. We had Polish, German, Irish, Chinese, Japanese, etc schools (and still have some of them). It wasn't done at public expense as we are now being sedcuced into falling for.

As an aside, I would love to see a secret ballot given to the kids of the Mandarin immersion push to see if they want to study in Mandarin or English. My guess is that without parental pressure maybe only 10%-20% would want it.

Also, immersion is just another term for Bilingual Education mostly foisted on hispanic familes by the same touchie-feelies that like the concept now. In 1997 Ron Unz put forth Prop 227 ostensibly against bilingual ed. It passed with 61% of the vote. Though it had an opt out provision in it which allowed parents to still opt for bilingual ed. Turns out only 10% did, so these parents/children were being held back before. The 90% did not want 'immersion'.



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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jun 9, 2013 at 1:13 pm

Norman -- this isn't "the old days" anymore. BTW, in the old days schools limited their language instruction to Latin (!), German, Spanish, and French.

The old days are gone....language instruction remains essential in schools and it needs to adapt if our children are to become prepared adults.

[Portion deleted. Please avoid accusation of racism.]


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Posted by Norman
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 9, 2013 at 4:44 pm

RE: Neighbor of another community:

You say, "..(foreign?) language instruction remains essential in schools and it needs to adapt if our children are to become prepared adults."

I say, Prove it.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jun 9, 2013 at 6:26 pm

Norman -- I won't be bullied by childish "challenges." I think you are coming from a very narrow-minded place. But, let's disagree about this subject. Give it a rest.


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Posted by Norman is right is also right
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 9, 2013 at 7:52 pm

The proponents of immersion remind me of my high school teachers. Each year, on the first day of school, they would proceed to tell us why their subject was the most important one in the school. And truly, all the arguments were valid, but that didn't mean that any of them was correct.

Language is important, but so are the STEM areas of study. In some cities, there are science/math immersion schools. Although I think our kids get a decent education in those subjects, a STEM-focused school would enable them to be competitive in a world that is increasingly tech dependent. Other districts also have schools that focus on the arts. I do think our MP schools are deficient in this area, although research shows the importance of working the fine arts parts of the brain.

I trust that our district will take a holistic approach, and not make decisions based on who is screaming the loudest or spins the lengthiest arguments with the most footnotes. In a district that's running out of room, setting aside space and allocating teachers to a program that appeals to a limited subset of the population would be a gross misapplication of resources.


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Posted by Willows Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 11, 2013 at 10:38 pm

"Norman is right is also right": I'm becoming increasingly baffled by your posts. You consistently issue incorrect and misleading statements, and often end up contradicting yourself. I subsequently post detailed corrections with references, but there is no acknowledgement (are you even reading my comments?) and your response is to try even harder to find another angle that you think may work, sometimes weaving in personal/emotional attacks, and then continuing to perpetuate the myth of immersion being a huge cost, which I've attempted to dispel multiple times, so please let me know if something still isn't clear here with respect to the concept of cost-neutral.

Language immersion and the other programs you mentioned are *not* mutually exclusive. These are examples of *choice* programs, which by definition, apply to a "subset of the population" (doesn't mean they're not popular), and some districts have implemented multiple choice programs or have selected an entire school to be a school of choice. If your fundamental issue is with choice programs that don't apply to all students, then that's the bigger issue you need to argue, but don't take it out on the Mandarin immersion initiative. If you don't support Mandarin immersion for personal reasons, then that's your opinion, but don't cloud the subject with false and misleading arguments as in your last sentence (again, which I've already addressed in prior posts).



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