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Our Town: After the Mandarin debate

Original post made on Jun 20, 2007

When the Palo Alto school board voted 4-1 two weeks ago to adopt a Mandarin immersion program starting next year, a long, rancorous debate was over. But the aftermath resembles rubble after an earthquake.

Read the full story here Web Link

Comments (36)

Posted by no more bonds, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 20, 2007 at 10:13 am

"There's going to have to be a lot of work and a lot of reconnecting" to pass a bond measure next year, Price said. "What will be critical is how the board members position themselves."

PACE is now on the forums telling us how they are going to spend the money from the recent grant. Better technology for those in MI, etc. Sorry, what is the role of the board again? Oh, that's right, it's just a vehicle to get more money to be spent by a few special interest groups.
Go ahead and approve a request for a $772M bond measure, I'm sure you won't get any opposition to it. ;>


Posted by Tulley, a resident of El Carmelo School
on Jun 20, 2007 at 11:05 am

Editor, it's interesting that you chose to have Grace Mah, a proponent of MI, speak for those of us who are opposed to MI. So she gets a voice as a proponent as well as a voice to sum up the opposing views through her own filter (spin?). Thanks. That's pretty much been the scenario all along so I don't know why I would expect anything else at this point.


Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2007 at 11:08 am

Mah forgot to mention several of the biggest issues of this debate:

*Lack of Transparency in government (ie: undisclosed source of funding for 'study', and start up costs for special interest programming)
*Serious breakdown in decision making/policy setting process
*Trust and Respect issues (one sided feasibility study that read like a marketing brochure for MI, lack of appropriate data to backup the oncesided claims therein)
*Board failure to represent the interests of the overall student population and tax paying community that elected them.
*Special Interests politics
*Lack of sound strategic planning processes and goal setting governing the decision making process in PAUSD.
*Charter Laws - threat to PAUSD, and considerable confusion about the true cost of charter vs choice programs.

This is nothing less than a crisis of leadership and a crisis of long term strategy in PAUSD

This author made a mistake in his first sentence. The debate is not over, its just begun.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2007 at 11:20 am

The debate will not be over for at least three years when it will be known where the MI program will be placed after the pilot. Then it will turn into a MI debate for middle school.


Posted by Tulley, a resident of El Carmelo School
on Jun 20, 2007 at 11:35 am

And of course, there's the ever-present insinuation that all opposition is traced back to racism. That one comes up in every article, this one included, and Grace is skilled at making sure it's there while posing as the peacemaker. She's sure got the local reporters believing it. I suggest that the reporters, and Grace too, focus instead on some of the issues raised by parent in the thread above for the next story about "the aftermath" in this community.


Posted by back to basics, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2007 at 12:28 pm

Now that we seem to have the immersion program figured out when will the PAUSD staff spend an egual amount of "staff time" on our declining English/writing programs in the schools?


Posted by dott31, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 20, 2007 at 1:34 pm

Back to Basics, I appreciate your point. Why not an immersion program in the speaking, reading, and written composition, both creative and expository, of correct English? I'd love my grandchildren to find out that "gonna" really means "going to."


Posted by Disgusted, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 21, 2007 at 7:50 am

The School Board displayed for all to see their inability to make a decision based on facts, not fear, and by doing so have further damaged any trust they may have had with the local community. Shame on you BOE for ignoring the majority of parents in Palo Alto based on a hunch that Grace Mah might file for an M.I. charter school. I have always supported the schools, but will never vote for any school bonds until we have a Board who looks at priorities for all students, not just those of a vocal few. The Board had made a decision on MI and should have had the backbone to stick with their original decision. You were fooled by the M.I. proponents and don't deserve the support or trust of our community any longer.


Posted by still curious, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 23, 2007 at 8:47 pm

The racism discussion in the context of MI has always been of keen interest to me. It will be interesting to see if after 3 years the composition of the MI classes looks like the overall demographics of the palo alto schools.


Posted by Disappointed parent, a resident of Ohlone School
on Jun 25, 2007 at 8:30 am

As a parent of two Ohlone students I find myself very disappointed in the school board's reversal of their decision on MI. This will be the primary factor in my future school board votes. All this talk about the community coming back together and forgetting our differences is absurd. What comes next is our trying to cope with the damage to the Ohlone community and the difficulty of explaining to our children why there is suddenly a group of specially selected children on their campus who are given elitist treatment. Thanks Grace Mah for creating a problem that goes against the goals of our society for the rest of us to cope with.


Posted by Appalled, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2007 at 11:29 am

"Thanks Grace Mah for creating a problem that goes against the goals of our society for the rest of us to cope with."
Why stop at thanking Grace? Let's also thank Jocelyn Tseng, Shan Philips, Elaine Chien, Mark Joing, Nico Janik, Daunna Minnich, Susan Fineberg, Nerissa Wong-VanHaren and David Yen for their commitment to PACE, and for signing the infamous letter that led to a re-vote by the Board of Education. Then let's thank Camille Townsend, Barb Mitchell, Dana Tom and Many Lowell, the 4 board members who voted it in, along with Sup. Callan and Principal Susan Charles for their support.
If any of them feel uncomfortable having their names attached to "creating a problem that goes against the goals of our society" (because let's face it, MI is more than just a "wonderful program") they should do some serious soul-searching for why they were/are involved in pushing MI upon the district. They should take their single-focus blinders off and acknowledge the destructive side-effects.

Let's have them publicly state that yes, future bond measures may fail because of their involvement, solving the overcrowding issues are aggravated because of MI, serving potential MI students is more important than serving potential Ohlone students, cramming 600+ students on the Ohlone campus is acceptable (of which most additional parents don't even value the Ohlone Way), and that serving a tiny group of MI students is more important than taking care of the district as a whole. Oh, and that destroying the unity of the district with a boutique program is justified.

If they cannot 1.) acknowledge the destruction and then 2.) claim it's still worth it, then they really ought to question their role in getting MI approved.


Posted by Erik Krasner-Karpen, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 25, 2007 at 12:46 pm

Some of us need to remember what we“re talking about here.

We are talking about local politics here. We are talking about elementary school here. We are talking about a single program at a single elementary school here. We are talking about a single cost-neutral program at a single elementary school here (actually, not quite cost-neutral, since we“re getting $200K just to try it out.) We“re talking about a single study and a single board vote, having to do with a single program in a single elementary school in a single district in a single small suburb here.

If you should feel the need to get yourself worked up, remember what we“re talking about here.

It“s not a matter of “long-term strategy“. There“s plenty of precedent for choice programs in this town, and there are well-defined rules for choice programs in this town. It“s not a matter of “trust“, except to those who think it“s a breach of trust every time a politician disagrees with them. It is in fact a matter of a special interest, as are all sports, art programs, music programs, debate teams, student governments, newspapers, literary magazines, Key Clubs, Black Student Unions, and advanced classes offered in the PAUSD. As a matter of fact, our district spends a great deal of its time catering to students“ special interests.

It is not, however, a matter of any great import. It only affects the kids whose parents volunteer to participate in the program. It doesn“t spell life or death for anyone. And supposing that it should somehow end up poisoning young minds, we can make it go away in three years.


Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 25, 2007 at 1:01 pm

"It is not, however, a matter of any great import. It only affects the kids whose parents volunteer to participate in the program. It doesn“t spell life or death for anyone. And supposing that it should somehow end up poisoning young minds, we can make it go away in three years."

Erik,

I have been around these threads for quite a while. I would only say that yours is, simply, the most naive I have seen.

I will leave it to others (from all sides) to explain why.


Posted by enough already, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 25, 2007 at 1:14 pm

Go easy on him, John. He's a Paly student and one of the first to go through Spanish Immersion, just to put things in perspective.
"It only affects the kids whose parents volunteer to participate in the program."
I was going to reply to this statement, but WOW! Where do you begin???


Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2007 at 1:21 pm

Well, for starters 'we can simply make it go away'. Huh? If you thought preventing it from getting started was difficult, time consuming and conentious - lets see what happens in three years when we try to 'make it go away'. When was the last time you saw something 'just go away' from PAUSD. It will take an act of congress to make this go away.

I'd hardly say music sports and AP classes are 'catering to special needs'. Those are all very common standard needs that you'll find in every school district of PAUSD caliber across the nation. And all students have the opportunity to partake of those activities - ESPECIALLY at the elementary level. Not so with MI, only a few elementary students will have access.

Secondly (off the top of my head) lack of strategic process is indeed a long term strategy of planning to fail at designing a school district that provides equitable excellent education to all students. Total lack of rational plannng for the future. This program will permanently (see point one) take up an entire choice program which IS a scarce resource in this district - we have limited ability to absorb new choice programs. What qualified this one to take that spot? Absolutely nothing other than 'showing up'.

Ask yourself what PAUSD WILL NOT be doing while our district staff is focused on implementing a significant new program that hardly any one in the district wants, or benefits from.

for starters...


Posted by Bill, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 25, 2007 at 2:14 pm

Erik, at the most elementary level, any new lottery program at Ohlone displaces other kids
who would otherwise be there if it expands. And there are plenty of those right there in that
neighborhood. Thus "overflow" problems increase, and innocent parents affected spend
more of their own time and money driving displaced kids to remote schools. Imagine if all
el schools were entirely lottery schools ! ... Every new kid in any new lottery program gets us
closer to that point. For every happy lottery winner there is an unfortunate displaced kid.
This is true because schools are at capacity, unlike when the present lottery schools were
started. An excellent "coping with excess kids" type of argument can be made for getting
rid of lottery programs for the foreseeable future.


Posted by Appalled, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2007 at 3:08 pm

"Some of us need to remember what we“re talking about here."
And some of us need to UNDERSTAND what we're talking about here.
"We“re talking about a single study and a single board vote..."
No, Erik, we're talking about TWO board votes. Had it been limited to one, it would've made more sense.
"It is not, however, a matter of any great import. It only affects the kids whose parents volunteer to participate in the program."
That's easy to say when you yourself have benefited from a limited-access lottery program. How do you suppose it affects the kids and parents who DON'T get in? And over the years there have been plenty of them. Think about it. What we haven't seen from the pro-Immersion side is any acknowledgement of the negative impact of their programs. They're like ostriches - it's easier not to think about it than to honestly examine the pros and cons.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2007 at 3:20 pm

Erik, though to be admired for his courage in signing his name, is a young man in high school who was one of the first to go through the SI program. So, yes, his comments are naive, and he is on a completely different planet than what we are talking about. That is to be expected.

We are all happy for him and his good fortune, I am sure, but what the rest of us are concerned about is the precedent for how new programs begin, how to prioritize them and assure they are part of the strategic plan, and the precedent for establishing programs that are good for all ( or not). It is a much bigger picture than simply how great it is for the graduates of the program ( which few deny).

There is no way a graduate of this program, unless s/he is horribly mature and able to separate him/herself from the personal effects, is going to understand what it feels like to be one of the denied. S/he cannot understand what it is like for someone who had no access to anything at all until 6th grade, and therefore had no chance at all to become "fluent" without a great deal of private summer work and money.

All this was fine, few were too concerned, because we all believed that this wouldn't happen again until everyone had foreign language, because we all believed our district has learned. We are simply appalled at the process that brought this about, and that all this energy and money went into establishing yet another lottery program for a few to create hundreds more disenfranchised students before establishing a "vent" for foreign language interest that can serve all.

Don't confuse this with envy. It is not. It is about how you believe public education tax dollars should be spent, and what you believe a public education elementary school should look like. There would be a lot fewer problems with this if there were an acceptable alternative for people who wanted foreign language for their kids but not immersion.



Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 25, 2007 at 8:02 pm

Erik,

There isn't room at Ohlone for this program--the only way room is being created is by planting cubicles on the campus and giving short shrift to the families already on Ohlone's waitlist.

You went through SI. Great, but immersion programs have an attrition problem because you can't simply fill in the spots in the higher grades. They are a particularly inefficient use of classroom space.

Ohlone's program is more in demand than SI, so why are we bumping a popular choice program for one for which there will probably less demand, but a longer waitlist because of the very limited number of spaces.

Local politics, by the way, matter, so does due process. The MI program was voted down very several solid reasons. The board reversed its vote because it felt threatened. That's an awful precedent.


Posted by oh brother, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 26, 2007 at 9:48 pm

I'm still stuck on the whole idea that Mandy Lowell and Dana Tom reversed their decisions because, they claimed, they are against charters. What exactly do they think this choice program is, with nowhere to go in three years, but practice for MIers to run their own charter school if they don't get a school facility in three years?

I fully believe PACE would have submitted a charter application, I do not believe they could have gotten a charter off the ground. That will be a different story in three years, maybe even in three months with the prep from this summer, compliments of PAUSD.

An experienced principal recently told me that charters are really hard, and that there are really only two truly successful charters she knows of (Bullis is one of them; apparently not even the ones run by Stanford in EPA make this list).

I personally think if PACE could get a successful language charter going, more power to them. But going about it this way through an unwieldy choice program is really dumb. Plus the rationales of the board members make no sense -- in three years, PACE will be infinitely more prepared to actually do a charter because of this choice program. If threatening a charter is truly a threat, why help this group get the experience to make good on the threat the next time they want more, which is definitely in the offing?

As much as PACE members bandied about charges of racism whenever it suited their purposes, some of the ugliest things said were by PACErs themselves when people started suggesting a charter in Mountain View. Given the bigotry expressed by PACE at that suggestion, it seems all the board would have had to do was threaten to rent space in MV when the charter got big enough that the district had to supply space.


Posted by Give me a break, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2007 at 12:16 am

You bunch of cry babies!!! How many of the children who don't get into a choice program, immersion or not, even notice that they've been missed from a lottery? It seems that the parents are the ones who are scarred for life. Thank goodness you don't project that negativism onto your children. PLEEEEEEEEEEEESE get some perspective on this.

The choice programs DO NO HARM to those not in the program. How many of Erik's classmates resent his ability to speak Spanish fluently? Do they regard him as a pariah? How many people regard his parents as outlaws? Given that they have participated and contributed greatly to all the schools their children have been in, they certainly have paid back to the schools and the children in a multitude of ways.

Get a grip. The neighborhood schools are great. And a new choice strand at Ohlone isn't HURTING the kids who don't get into it.

As for those Ohlone kids who won't get in. So many of you are in denial that there's Ohlone kids who welcome MI, and would sign up for MI. THEN, the Onlone wait list goes down, allowing more Ohlone kids into the campus. What hogwash to say that Ohlone kids off the wait list are denied Ohlone access.


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2007 at 6:10 am

Give me a break: you have no clue what you are talking about, and sound extremely young.


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2007 at 6:11 am

you also reveal that you still need to develop an ability to see the forest beyond the trees...


Posted by parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2007 at 8:35 am

If the lack of getting in to a choice program is of utterly no consequence, then why are we even having this conversation? Seems like the people that are wining about needing these choice programs are the crybabies in that case.

Give me a brea, I think your argument is the best I've heard yet for closing down all of them (because everyone does cry so much about them, and because they cause unecessary effort to be expended), because NO ONE WILL MISS THEM when they don't have them.

Isn't this what you just said???

I couldn't agree more! Lets just get back to standard neighborhood school offerings and cut out all this waste of time monkey business catering to all these special interest, obsessive, "big ideas". Which are really nothing more than loudly demanded little ideas coming from people who are focused extremely narrowly, only on what they see in the mirror.


Posted by tired of bickering, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 28, 2007 at 9:06 am

Give me a break -

"How many of Erik's classmates resent his ability to speak Spanish fluently?" I don't know how old Erik is - but the non-SI kids would not have even felt he was a classmate. If you talk to any of the non-SI kids from Escondido, they will tell you that it was definitely an "us vs them" while they were there. The non-SI kids were second class citizens. At some point there was only one class of non-SI kids, they were "stuck" with the same kids every year.

They went on field trips and the SI kids wouldn't talk to them, or would talk only in Spanish. So yes, the program directly hurt the kids in the school who were not part of it.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2007 at 9:12 am

Kids don't miss the chance of learning a language fluently in elementary school, say that to the many high school students struggling to learn a language for the first time and needing to do well for graduation and college requirements. Some very bright students in other subjects find languages really tough and would have had a much easier time if they had had classes from kindergarten.


Posted by k, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 28, 2007 at 9:50 am

On the other hand, languages come easy to some students - many who started in 7th grade in the normal district fashion are doing really well and enjoying their foreign language studies. My idea that I suggested to a board member is to start offering foreign language studies in 6th grade, just try to move it a little bit earlier while benefitting students district-wide.


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2007 at 1:38 pm

to deny the fact that people can become fluent after kindergarten is to deny the fact of the multiple thousands of people who move to another country and become completely fluent, albeit accented, as adults.

of course you can start in 7th grade and still achieve fluency, even by 12th grade, if you are motivated, at all inclined in this area, and devote a couple summers to intense study for 6-7 weeks locally, or better yet to living in the target area with the target language.


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2007 at 1:40 pm

agree with k, start "rolling in" a language program for all, starting with foriegn language for all in 6th grade, preceded and followed by an option for 4 hours per day intense summer school in the language.

Over the years, roll it back a grade per year. Within 6 years, we have full language options for all.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2007 at 5:08 pm

My point above is that for those who find learning a language difficult, particularly when they have had no language training, learning for the first time that all languages do not follow the same grammar rules, pronounciation, etc. comes hard when they first start in high school. Even a start at 7th grade would be helpful. But for some bright kids, they have no idea that a language will be difficult and yes, they do have determination and can do it. However, for some who find other subjects difficult too, they are now taking on another difficult subject which they need to do well in for graduation. For those who have started earlier, it does come easier for them and then when they start learning for high school credit they have an easy A.
This doubly affects them because instead of having an elective which is fun or something they are really interested in, they have to do an elective in a tough subject. For those who have been lucky enough to start younger (either in an immersion program, in language at middle school, or in FLES in another district) they then have an easy A. And remember, the way the electives are set up in middle school, there is not enough room in the language classes for every student to take a language so some will always have to wait until high school.


Posted by can't wait to vote!, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 28, 2007 at 6:22 pm

I am glad to see this issue alive & well.... even though the Board thought it woud silence it by their vote. Too chicken to deal with it with transparency, intelligence, & competent planning.

I, for one, can not wait to vote - making clear my opinion with my candiate selection. (And for anyone currently on the Board reading this: if you are one of those who reversed your vote on the MI issue, kiss my vote good-bye!)

As I wrote to all of the members of the Board before their first decision, it is a complete PAUSD failure that the MI program would be allowed to happen before ALL students in Palo Alto schools are given instruction in a foreign language. My 3 children (1 @ Jordan, 1 entering Paly, 1 @ Paly) were not able to have any instruction in a foreign language in elementary school. The 2 older not until High School! Shame! Shame! Shame!


Posted by Give me a break, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2007 at 4:11 am

Sorry, I'm not young, nor naive. I'm just practical. The reality is that the kinder kids who don't get into a choice program do not notice or care. It's the parents and adults who are all worked up about it.

I never said that the lack of getting into a choice program was of no consequence. How's that for double negatives? I said that getting into a choice program was good for those getting in, and not harmful for those who don't get in. The neighborhood schools are fine. The curriculum (currently without any formal foreign language lessons) is fine. It will get better when the world language task force does its magic and we get something going. But maybe it will be from 6th grade down, maybe from kinder up, maybe from 3rd grade out. There's a lot to consider in how to roll it out, but given the support (and that may come in part from a parcel tax) from the community, it's entirely possible.

Meanwhile, the support for MI, with the lower cost, new grant money, and committed parent group, is well within practical reality.

For those high school kids who wish they'd learned languages earlier, why didn't they ask their parents for language lessons? Their parents obviously didn't feel it was a priority compared to sports or music lessons. And it's not clear if they had taken lessons earlier that they wouldn't have resented the extra class time and homework. Like many of the kids in after school programs who hate it. And quit.

Life's unexpected, and there's no counting on what might happen in your younger child's future. There's also no crying over spilt milk over your older child's missing education.

You make your best decisions with all the information that you have now and go for it.


Posted by you can't have it both ways, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 29, 2007 at 10:16 am

I said that getting into a choice program was good for those getting in, and not harmful for those who don't get in.

You're are basically agreeing with parent then - if it's not harmful for those who don't get in, all choice programs should be shut down.
Since, by your own argument, if it isn't there, you can't get in and it doesn't matter anyway since it isn't harmful that you didn't get in. How's that for a cicular argument?

In the end, your comments just don't stand up.


Posted by A Grown Up, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 29, 2007 at 10:18 am

Dear Give Me a Break, My children are tuned in to their school environment and to the students within it. Without my saying a word they will quickly pick up on the changes at Ohlone and will come home asking for a discussion of it. Then I will have to try and explain once again that although our values and the stated values of this country are equality, fairness, education, color blindness, and democracy, in practice things don't always work out that way. I will have to explain once again that there are always some people who want things to be more equal just for them and that once again we have to be "tolerant". This is difficult. We are now considering moving our children to private schools because this district demands too much that we tolerate the whims of special interest groups.


Posted by Carren, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 29, 2007 at 6:56 pm

Dear Mr. Give Me a Break

I have sacraficed quite a bit (both financially & otherwise) to live in the PAUSD - in order to provide my children with the opportunities & ambiance of such a community. I work hard, & pay taxes. I volunteer @ the schools. I should NOT be paying for any foreign language classes! Especially when a select few will be given an opportunity not available to all. The data on foreign language acquisition in children is well known - it needs to be started as young as possible. Until all our elementary students can take a foreign language in the elementary years, no special subset of students should be allowed to avail themselves of such a fundamental necesssity. After all our elementary schools are teaching foreign languages, then a MI program would be no problem.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2007 at 9:22 pm

How dare someone say that we should be paying for after school language programs for our elementary schoolchildren instead of sport or music. At least, all the MI proponents said that when it was suggested that they send their children to private school for language immersion.

Elementary language for all and no immersion until such time as we get it is the only logical choice.


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